To an outsider looking in, a bigger content marketing program seems to be better.
Heftier budgets, growing teams, and a steadily increasing flow of content seemingly prove a department is doing its job.
But most content marketing job descriptions don’t include phrases like, “Keep producing more content every quarter indefinitely,” or “Hire as many content marketers as the budget will allow.”
Instead, we were hired to do things like, “Drive traffic and leads to owned media properties,” or “Improve customer retention year over year.”
If we’re not sure that publishing three pieces per week is actually delivering on these requirements, we shouldn’t bump it up to five just because we can. When it comes to the ROI of content, increasing the size of our “I” isn’t automatically going to bump up our “R.”
Instead, we need to scale our content marketing efforts strategically.
By ratcheting up our content quality, intelligently expanding our budget, and increasing the impact of our current content team, we can keep our focus on getting better instead of just bigger.
The common factor in making all three of these scaling strategies work? An Agile outlook on marketing.
What It Means to Scale Content Marketing
It turns out that the old Volkswagen ad may have been on to something:
Recent data seems to suggest that content marketers have been thinking too big lately.
In 2016, data management company Beckon reported that brands created an average of 300% more content than they had in the previous year.
Engagement, however, remained flat over the same period. According to their data, 19 out of 20 content pieces will get little to no engagement.
But don’t rush out to double your output in the hope of doubling the number of pieces that your audience engages with. Beckon’s team hypothesizes that teams without solid content production processes in place risk more than just wasted effort. “The worst-case scenario,” they report, “is that low-quality content is actually hurting the perception of the brand and, ultimately, sales.”
This is the problem with equating scale with quantity.
When we try to do too much at once, the quality of what we produce takes a nosedive.
Known as context switching, the amount of mental energy we exert jumping from project to project is enormous (and more than a little depressing):
|Number of simultaneous projects||Percent of time available per project||Loss to Context switching|
Data source: Scrum by Jeff Sutherland
Clearly, just doing more isn’t the answer. We need a better way to increase the impact of our content marketing efforts.
Option 1: Systematically Increase Your Content Quality
Chances are everyone on your content team is already doing the best they can in their given environment. They’re not producing low quality work just for fun.
That means if you want to improve the quality of the work, you’ve got to change the way it gets done.
Agile marketing helps elevate the quality of the content a team produces by getting them out of panic mode, allowing them to consistently review their process and themselves, and keeping them from constantly getting derailed by external demands.
Consider the differences between the automobile manufacturing efforts in 1960s Japan versus those in Europe (there’s a connection to content here I promise).
As Dr. James Womack reports in The Machine That Changed the World, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan were using Lean and Agile methodologies to run their assembly lines, while Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW were not.
The Japanese manufacturing plants spent an average of 16.8 hours making a luxury car, and there were 34 defects per every hundred vehicles.
In Europe, luxury car production took 57 hours, and they had 78.7 defects for every hundred cars produced.
As Dr. Womack puts it, “the German plant was expending more effort to fix the problems is had just created than the Japanese plant required to make a nearly perfect car the first time.”
Likewise, Agile content teams can focus on quality the first time; they don’t need to go back continually and address content defects.
What’s more, thanks to space for continuous iteration and improvement created by Agile methodologies, Agile content marketing teams will just keep getting better over time.
Option 2: Scale Your Content Budget
With so many options for content distribution, amplification, and media production, many content teams can effectively scale their operation by increasing their budget.
In fact, Beckon’s team suspected that a lack of budgetary support might be contributing to the content invisibility they saw:
“The second problem behind lack of engagement may be low levels of media dollars driving traffic to those content pieces. In other words, our content creation abilities may be outpacing our media budgets to support that content.”
But closing your eyes and vaguely throwing money in the general direction of content isn’t going to help your cause.
You’ve got to understand what’s currently working so you can build on a foundation of proven success.
Once again, Agile content marketing teams have an advantage here. By releasing work more often, they gather a larger pool of data based on actual audience behavior.
For example, in a six-week timeframe a traditional content team might release only one big piece of content, while an Agile content team could release content three times:
And Agile teams can get more out of every dollar they spend. Brands whose marketing teams are committed to Agile optimization report an average of 12.7% boost in return on marketing spend. This bump is thanks to their ability to frequently optimize and reallocate budgets, what Scott Brinker calls an increase in marketing’s management metabolism.
If an Agile content team reviews and adjusts their budget every two weeks, and they’re competing with a team that only does so quarterly, the Agile team responds six times faster than the non-Agile team.
It’s obvious which team will get the best results from their budget increases.
Option 3: Scale the Team’s Impact
Your final option for scaling up your content marketing efforts is to get more out of your team.
Note that I’m saying get more out of your individual writers, or your editors, or your graphics folks.
You need to scale up the impact of the content TEAM.
In a study of Yale students in a computer programming class, the fastest students outperformed the slowest by a ratio of 10:1, yet they all got the same grade.
Ten times faster is a pretty major advantage.
But if you zoom out to the level of teams, the difference is even more dramatic. Studies have examined 3,800 different projects, from accounting to software development to tech projects. Across the board, if it took the best team one week to perform a task, it took the worst team two thousand weeks.
As Jeff Sutherland, one of the co-creators of Scrum, puts it:
“So where should you focus your attention? At the level of the individual, where you might be able to get an improvement of ten times if you can magically make all of your employees geniuses? Or at the team level, boosting productivity by an enormous magnitude even if you merely make your worst teams mediocre?”
The Scrum methodology was designed specifically to improve the productivity of teams performing complex knowledge work, which is why many marketing teams have chosen it as their Agile approach, but Scrumban and even Kanban offer similar benefits when applied correctly.
Finding team members who have content AND marketing chops is hard, and growing competition for this skill set is going to make it more challenging in the future. But Agile teams are more than the sum of their parts.
When done right, adopting an Agile approach to your content marketing will allow you to scale the impact of your current team without making a single hire.
How Will You Scale Your Content Efforts?
Doubling the number of blog posts you write every month is a simple way to scale your content marketing, but it’s by no means the best.
Instead, I hope you’ll adopt an Agile marketing approach that will allow you to improve your content quality, stretch your budget to its limits, and help your current team become more effective.