My grandfather is a retired cotton farmer, so growing up I heard a lot about rain.

I was familiar with what happened to our grass when the Texas skies withheld moisture, but it turned out, crops are equally imperiled by oversaturation.

For my grandfather’s cotton plants, flooding was just as dangerous as drought. And now, in a world where anyone with a laptop and internet access can become a content creator overnight, content marketing faces similar dangers.

The waters are rising as more and more content pours in, and the common reaction is to open our own faucet wider, increasing content production to compete. But our audiences are just as fragile as my grandfather’s cotton plants. They’ll abandon brands whose content efforts hit a drought, but they can also be wiped out by a flood of mediocre content.

Content marketing’s newest challenge is to regulate the flow of content by focusing our efforts only on content that will make an impact on our audience. That may sound like a daunting prospect, but taking an agile approach to content marketing makes it possible.

The Content Creation Paradox: More Content, Less Impact

As the benefits of content marketing have become increasingly well documented, adoption has accelerated exponentially. Now, the volume of work being produced is staggering.

According to eMarketer, 60 percent of marketers create at least one piece of content per day. Recent research from the Content Marketing Institute found that 93 percent of B2B marketers currently use content marketing, and 70 percent of them plan to produce more content in 2017 than they did in 2016.

It’s clear that we’re delivering a deluge of content, yet huge portions of it are ineffective. Depending on your source, somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of content created by B2B teams goes unused by sales.

And even if some content gets attention from sales, much more of it disappears beneath the surface of the content ocean without creating so much as a ripple. A study conducted by TrackMaven found that while the output of content per brand increased 35 percent per channel over the course of a year, content engagement decreased by 17 percent. A similar study from Moz and Buzzsumo revealed that half the millions of blog posts they analyzed had two or fewer Facebook interactions. Three-quarters of them had no external links.

Whether it’s ignored by sales, our external audience, or both, this ineffective content represents a huge amount of wasted budget and hours.

Optimizing For Outcome, Not Output

Clearly, content marketers need to figure out how to make impactful content and avoid
this wasted effort. First and foremost, we have to start optimizing content for outcomes, not output.

Outcomes, specific behavior changes for specific people engaged in specific activities, are how we change our audience for the better. (They’re also, conveniently, how we deliver on business objectives that prove the value of our content marketing initiatives.)

Output, on the other hand, is exclusively measured in volume. It centers on hitting a particular publication cadence – how many blog posts, videos, podcasts, and infographics did we release in a given period of time? The current content flood stems largely from an output-focused approach to content marketing. We’ve been so worried about producing more content that we’ve forgotten to produce content that matters.

Optimizing for outcomes requires us to first understand our audience’s behavior, including who is exhibiting that behavior under what circumstances. Interviews, surveys, and online research are usually necessary to establish a connection to our audience.

Where, you might be asking, does research fit in with agile content marketing?

For those who imagine agile teams flitting from one project to the next like hyperactive butterflies, the suggestion of up-front research may seem out of place. Contrary to popular misconceptions, agile is not about charging in without a plan and then capriciously changing direction every other day. Like any good marketing effort, agile content marketing requires some strategy and deliberation before work begins.

But, because agile teams can use a flexible, iterative approach to content, they need less of this labor-intensive research to get started. Agile content marketers have the luxury of using minimum viable content to rapidly learn and adapt.

Minimum Viable Content

If we want to make waves in the content flood and change our audience’s behaviors, we’re going to need to throw boulders, not pebbles. But throwing boulders is hard work, so we need to make sure we’re throwing the right ones before we invest time and energy to toss them into the content ocean.

Testing the waters with regular releases of minimum viable content helps agile content teams get in sync with their audience. Then, when the time comes to build a boulder by producing a massive, resource-intensive piece of content, the team is confident it will deliver expected outcomes.

Based on the idea of a minimum viable product, minimum viable content is the smallest content release that does one of two things:

  1. Successfully achieves its desired outcomes
  2. Proves or disproves a hypothesis

As an example, let’s say that recent feedback has led us to believe that our audience consumes a lot of video content. Expanding our content efforts to include video would, therefore, be likely to increase our subscriber base.

Rather than spend months planning the video shoot, writing scripts, investing in expensive video equipment, editing the footage, and promoting the final product with an expensive ad campaign, an agile team would instead create some minimum viable content to test this theory by identifying the smallest piece of content that would prove or disprove our hypothesis. In this case, maybe it’s a few informal yet informative recorded video chats in which our content team shares tips and best practices related to a common challenge our audience faces.

We create the minimum viable content in a couple of weeks, distribute it to the audience, and see what happens. If the conversion rate of viewers to subscribers is strong, we have proven that video is a good option for reaching our audience.

Now it’s time to start iterating.

Agile Content Marketing Iterations

Once they have zeroed in on the content that will deliver the desired outcome, an agile team begins to expand on it, adding additional details and value. Because they forgo heavy up-front planning in favor of frequent releases, agile teams can easily approach content this way.

Most agile content teams release something every week; others use two- or three-week long iterations. This frequency allows agile content marketers to remain connected to their audience and focused on the behavior change they want their content to produce. They still produce a significant volume of content, but the focus is on outcomes, not output.

Also, rapid iteration gives agile teams many opportunities to put minimum viable content in front of their audience. They learn, adapt, and respond often.

The overall vision and message of their content remains consistent, but they steadily add value for their audience as time goes on. They gather more and more data about what content drives the results they’re after, making it ever more likely that their target audience will feel the impact of their content and respond.

 

By testing the waters with minimum viable content and focusing outcome rather than output, agile content marketers avoid contributing to the content flood. Instead, they create well-planned rivers that carry their audience to a specific destination.

Unlike my grandfather, who constantly lamented his inability to start and stop the rain, content marketers have control over the flow of content. If we adopt an agile approach to content marketing, we can save ourselves (and our overwhelmed audiences) from drowning in a flood of content.