How to Boost Your Content Marketing Team’s Efficiency

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May 20, 2020 10:00 am

Efficiency is rarely a primary concern for content marketing teams. We talk about quality, conversions, and brand alignment. The awesomeness of what we do and the results the work provides are usually our major concerns. Systems and processes take a back seat.

However, particularly in uncertain times, having a system becomes vitally important. It lets us do the right work at the right time with as little waste as possible.

A growing number of marketing leaders are experimenting with methods and tools for boosting agility to improve the efficiency of their teams. According to a 2020 survey by AgileSherpas of 637 business owners, marketing directors, and managers, there’s a huge growth in understanding the need for marketing process optimization.

The report shows that 42% of marketing teams in North America have adopted practices from the Agile methodology for boosting marketing efficiency, while 95% of traditional marketing teams with an interest in Agile are planning to adopt it within the next 12 months.

42% of #marketing teams use #Agile to boost efficiency according to @AgileSherpas via @AlexNovkov @cmicontent. #research Click To Tweet

Interest is one thing; launching a full-scale marketing transformation is another. It can be overwhelming. To help, this article explores the most popular Agile practices you can start tomorrow. You can apply them together or separately. Either way, you can boost your marketing efficiency to maximize its awesomeness even in the face of uncertainty.

Plan in iterations

The planning process often is far from efficient, especially in larger organizations. Planning content marketing in excruciating detail for the year ahead is an old-school, still widely adopted approach. It’s one of the main culprits for inefficiency.

In theory, it gives direction and a good overview of your content marketing strategy, but this approach breaks down under changing circumstances. When unplanned barriers appear, most (if not all) elements of the original plan must be changed to account for the new reality.

Not only does this create chaos and uncertainty within your team, it generates a lot of administrative overhead to revise your plan documentation. It wastes time that could otherwise have been spent on execution.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that innovative marketing leaders are experimenting with an Agile approach to plan in short-term iterations. A fundamental shift, Agile plans create a shared understanding around the long-term goal, while allowing the team to figure out the details along the way.

#Agile marketing is a shared long-term goal that allows the team to figure out details along the way, says @AlexNovkov via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

To illustrate the difference between the traditional approach and planning in iterations, let’s use a typical content marketing plan.

Traditionally, a content marketing plan for the year ahead would document all the content assets to create and deliver, including titles, target keywords, campaigns to support, publishing dates, authors, and as many other details as you could collect.

With Agile planning, you start with the desired results from your content marketing strategy for the whole year (e.g., generate 2,000 marketing-qualified leads from the blog). Then, you would anticipate the effort required to achieve those results (e.g., publish three SEO-optimized blog posts per week and actively promote each for three weeks on social media).

Recognizing that many things can change along the way, you don’t waste time detailing the blog posts and their titles, nor do you lay out posting dates on your social media calendar.

Instead – after agreeing on the deliverables – you lay out the blog post specifics for the following month and keep your social media calendar flexible. If something unexpected happens that makes your originally planned content irrelevant, you can respond swiftly and act decisively.

Repeat this process each month to remain agile and account for changing circumstances.

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Keep your work process visualized

Even flawless planning doesn’t guarantee perfect execution by the team to deliver the desired results. Unfortunately, ad hoc tasks often derail the planned work and require marketers to multitask, expanding the time it takes to finish everything.

Visualizing the process step by step, including individual tasks, can shed light on your team’s day-to-day activities and draw attention to undesired scope creep that usually goes unnoticed or distracts lower priority ad hoc tasks.

Workflow visualization is a fundamental part of the Agile methodology because it provides this transparency and creates a bridge between your team and other marketing stakeholders.

#Workflow visualization creates a bridge between your team and other stakeholders, says @AlexNovkov via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

You can apply it easily by putting a Kanban board in an accessible place in your office or setting up a digital project board using a platform like Trello. When work in progress and the backlog of assignments are visible to everyone within your company, prioritization becomes easier.

If you update your visualization often enough, your team board gives an instant progress report. This eliminates the need to schedule unnecessary meetings with stakeholders or prepare long status updates. Also, if an ad hoc request arrives, you can quickly compare its importance to current assignments and act accordingly to keep your efficiency high.

Visualizing the workflow also allows everyone to see the big picture. This helps them focus their efforts where they have the most impact.

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Limit work in progress

Humans are good at starting new work but not so good at pushing it past the finish line. That’s why marketers often find themselves working on five or more projects simultaneously. Despite everybody working like crazy, little gets done. To put it simply, the more you try to do at the same time, the longer it all takes.

To make matters worse, frequently switching from one context to another results in poorer quality work and additional time to rework the less-than-desirable deliverables.

To avoid these problems, marketing leaders embracing Agility have found a simple solution: Limit the amount of work you allow to be in progress at the same time.

At first sight, this seems counterintuitive because of the cult of multitasking. In reality, limiting work in progress (WIP) allows individuals to boost productivity significantly by protecting their focused time. On the team level, it prevents distractions and allows members to quickly finish what has been started. It forces the team to work to reduce the amount of time tasks spend waiting in the process.

When you start a task, put it on hold to work on another assignment, then go on to another assignment – and repeat this several times – you end up committed to multiple work items that are not actively progressing. As a result, they end up taking a lot more time to be delivered.

Applying WIP limits allows team members to deliver value more often at a higher quality because they can focus their efforts and avoid switching contexts frequently.

Keep your meetings short

Marketing professionals are extremely prone to attending a lot of meetings even when they don’t provide much value. Importance is equated to the number of calendar invites. It leaves little time to sit down and focus on value-adding work.

In fact, long meetings without a clear agenda are among the biggest time wasters. They easily go off track and produce little to no value for the organization, while hindering the efficiency of your team.

Long meetings without a clear agenda are among the biggest time wasters, says @AlexNovkov via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Forward-thinking marketing leaders have found a remedy by adopting daily stand-up meetings. They are the most widely implemented Agile practice for marketers, cited by 58% of Agile marketers in our 2020 report. They are short, on point, and on foot … literally.

The stand-up meeting is an efficient way to gather your team and communicate progress and workflow impediments. As the name suggests, everybody stands, which contributes to the brevity of the conversation.

During the meeting, everybody on the team gathers with the project board in view and answers three questions:

  • What did I do yesterday?
  • What am I planning to do today?
  • Am I blocked by anything?

The goal is to keep the meeting to less than 15 minutes. If further discussion on something mentioned by a colleague is necessary, the affected team members can discuss it separately after the stand-up meeting. If the concern is a big issue that requires a dedicated meeting, it is scheduled for another time.

Do frequent retrospectives

The last Agile practice on the list for boosting the efficiency of your marketing team is related to revising your team’s work process frequently and identifying room for future improvement. This kind of meeting is known as a retrospective or retro.

In an Agile context, this can take the form of a meeting among your team members only to discuss three fundamental topics about your process:

  • What should you start doing?
  • What should you stop doing?
  • What should you keep doing?

Retrospectives are extremely important for continuously improving the performance of your team and sharing new knowledge.

Depending on the way you work, you can hold retros in various cadences. For example, if you’re practicing Scrum, the retrospective should happen after each sprint. If you’re working in a continuous delivery workflow, you can schedule a weekly or biweekly retro. The goal is to analyze the way you work frequently and inspire process ownership within your team.

It’s important to remember that these retrospectives are for your team. Stakeholders and company leaders should not be invited. To facilitate the desired spirit of innovation and participation from everybody, team members should feel safe to open up about problems they are experiencing and propose creative solutions without worrying about ruffling anyone’s feathers outside the team.

Put Agility into action

Adopting Agile marketing doesn’t have to be an intimidating process. By simply planning differently, visualizing your work on a Kanban board, limiting the amount of work in progress, and managing the process with stand-ups and retrospectives, you stand to gain huge process efficiencies.

These straightforward steps can help you join the ranks of Agile marketers who already enjoy efficiency, quality, and business alignment.

Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used). 

Content strategy and technology also can play a big role in helping your content marketing team be more efficient. Join us this August for the rescheduled, now virtual, ContentTECH Summit. Register today!

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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