Agile Content Strategy for Marketing and Documentation

Andrea Fryrear on Content Marketing

Scrum PlanningSometimes content can feel like the tortoise in an agile marketing department full of hares.

The labor-intensive nature of most content does involve more time than other agile campaigns, but that doesn’t mean content can’t keep up.

Establishing a Rough Content Up Front (RCUF) approach will allow your content creators to keep pace with the rest of the agile marketing department.

RCUF also makes it possible for technical content teams to run parallel with development sprints, avoiding common issues like tech debt and writer meltdowns.

A Clarified Definition of Rough Content Up Front

When agile teams use RDUF (Rough Design Up Front) they are trying to create a design that is just finished enough to guide their development for the next couple of sprints.

They fully expect the design to change and evolve as the project progresses; this is often referred to as “emergent” design.

Rough Content Up Front works the same way. We want a strategy in place that will guide our content marketing efforts for the next two or three sprints, with the expectation that the strategy will evolve as new priorities present themselves.

The farther in the future you’re looking the rougher your content strategy will be. As you get closer to the present the roughness gets smoothed out because content gets into more polished, finalized forms. If you’re creating content about coffee, the progression might go like this:

content evolution

Characteristics of a Rough Content Approach

If you’ve never used one before, a rough content strategy might make you nervous at first. Compared to a Big Content Strategy Up Front, rough versions look flimsy. But their flexibility actually makes them stronger.

How Far to Extend Your Rough Content

In its extreme form, an RCUF view will not extend any farther into the future than your current sprint. So if you are doing 2-week iterations, you will only plan content for the next two weeks.

This is often too little planning even for the most agile of content marketing teams because content can require coordination of multiple employees, assets, and departments and must, therefore, be scheduled in advance.

A good compromise is to establish a very rough version of your content strategy for the next three or four sprints, with a less-rough version governing your content creation for the upcoming sprint.

The strictness of your review and publication procedures will dictate how far in the future you will lock down content. Some teams that need legal sign off may have fully committed schedules weeks in advance, while teams with fewer restrictions could keep a rough content strategy right up until it distributes the content.

What to Include in your Rough Content Strategy

I suggest rolling all of your content types into a single RCUF strategy rather than creating separate ones for email, blogs, web content, etc. This will help you identify areas of overlap and reuse possibilities that might not otherwise be apparent.

All important marketing events should be part of your strategy, even if you’re not entirely sure what the content around the event(s) will look like.

This is why I prefer to have my RCUF strategy reach about four weeks into the future. Here’s the calendar I’m using right now:

Sticky notes are my friend. They let me quickly shift article topics, which is great if a particular topic resonates with our audience and we want to extend coverage, or if a news event comes up that we need to cover.

We run one week marketing sprints in our department, so I can pivot the strategy very quickly if shifts happen, but I can also plan longer term projects and experiments.

Make sure you have a way of indicating which content requires interdepartmental cooperation so you can communicate changes to the relevant team members. For example, if you’ve got a graphics department working on art for a big ebook release that gets pushed back, you need to relay that to them.

RCUF for Technical Documentation

We use this approach at MarketerGizmo and our sibling company SurveyGizmo not only for marketing but also for our technical documentation, and it significantly streamlines our documentation process.

Those creating technical documentation should have an RCUF that is closely aligned to the rough design that the development team is using. This way technical writers can let their content emerge gradually alongside the design.

For writers who need lots of time to stew on topics and/or edit, this rough approach may be difficult. But it will avoid the highly irksome situation where your documentation team creates a Big Content Strategy Up Front (BCUF) only to have it completely derailed by changes in the product they are writing about.

The destruction of a BCUF can sap far more time and energy from your writing team than if you had started rough and fine tuned as the software evolved.

You’ll Love Your RCUF Strategy When…

  • A press-worthy event comes up that your content creators need to cover. They have to push back projects to write press releases, make graphics, and record video. Your strategy can flex to accommodate the fluctuation with minimal disruption.
  • One of your blog articles gets picked up by a major industry source, which prompts you to expand coverage of the topic with an infographic and SlideShare deck. On deck projects from the next two sprints can simply be pushed back, letting you ride the wave of free promotion for as long as possible.
  • Data reveals that your video marketing is getting tons of engagement and performing far better than expected. Resources need to be reallocated to increase your video output. An RCUF means you don’t have to wait for weeks for people to finish their long term projects; instead, they can finish the current sprint and then transition rapidly to the emerging popular channel/medium.
  • Your marketing department wants to newsjack a current story but doesn’t think they can create any assets in time. You get to say, “Sure, we can get some content out this afternoon to support that.” Try to have a camera ready to capture their looks of awe.

RCUF for Content Creators Everywhere

Whether your words and images support marketing or documentation, an RCUF will help you avoid rework and let you fully embrace the ebb and flow of your market and audience.

Establish how rough your strategy can be how far in the future to make sure neither your quality nor publication schedule suffers, but almost all content strategists can use a rough content strategy to make their lives simpler.


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