Deadlines don't belong in a digital world
The very word 'deadline' is laced with negativity, which is not surprising when you consider its origins:
The word has morphed into a somewhat less dramatic concept, yet for many, it still incites a feeling of dread. It implies a rigid and immovable timeframe for task completion, which if overstepped has potentially damaging consequences.
Necessary cut offs
Deadlines do have their place. Certain things like submissions for a competition, the printing of a newspaper or the filing of taxes need a restricted timeframe or cut off point to keep things moving forward.
Event planners know all too well the logistical stresses of a hard deadline.
Deadlines are meant to be broken. And I just keep breaking them.
Sarah McLachlan, Canadian musician
The effect of a deadline
Academic research has found that, when given a deadline, a complex task is seen as an even greater and more immediate challenge, regardless of when the deadline is set for.
Scientific America reported:
"Simply imposing a deadline—whether it was two or eight months away—reversed the mind’s relation between work and time. Faced with a deadline, volunteers saw difficult and complex tasks as looming all too close."
Prioritising activities around deadlines, and the inevitable procrastination a long deadline can create, can have a negative impact on our minds. Putting off tasks until a deadline, has been found to kill brain cells.
The shift in perception and emotional response to a deadline is likely to lead to additional stress, restrict creative thinking and redirect focus to just getting the job done rather than completing the task with excellence.
I love the sound deadlines make as they whoosh past
Done vs done well
In reality most work has variation. Think of the operating table. A surgeon faces an anomaly during a routine operation that she needs to address or a life is at risk. Does she just stop work in progress and stitch the patient back up because she has another operation scheduled for the afternoon? Of course not, she addresses the problem, adapts, completes the surgery and re-schedules the later operation.
Or perhaps the car mechanic facing an immediately unidentifiable problem. He’ll test, repair, test, repair as necessary until there is an entire solution and the vehicle is roadworthy again. Or would you prefer to hit the highway in a deathtrap because he's time strapped?
One forges one's style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines
Emile Zola, French novelist
Breaking down the process of a task into smaller, more perceptively easier stages with room for mistakes, learnings and change will surely reduce stress, allow room for creativity and ultimately result in a job done well as opposed to a job just ... well ... done.
Today the word 'deadline' still infiltrates many aspects of the business world and the creative process of content generation has not yet escaped its imposition. Should it? Yes... Yes it should.
Without some sort of time scale in place nothing would ever get done, but that doesn't mean content creators across businesses need to bend their backs in submission to hard deadlines.
In today’s digital environment, content publishing is about reaching and serving the right audiences, where and when needed, and not just about churning out to deadlines.
Publishing deadlines are a hangover from the age of print, where come the stroke of the deadline, any 't's or 'i's left uncrossed or undotted were destined to remain just so. Take the world of publishing; an environment devoted to the written word where traditionally 'deadlines' had significant prominence. It's still so easy to conjure up that image of a journalist sweating over an article in the early hours of the morning with the deadline of next day's news looming over him.
Publishing is, by its nature, about deadlines, and deadlines are toxic
Jan Karon, American writer
But expectations have somewhat changed when it comes to deadlines for journalists. In the age of the Internet, news content gets published digitally almost as soon as it is written. Newspapers now publish stories almost instantaneously online and provide continuous delivery of content. News websites are literally updated by the minute.
Content goes agile
Every business that embraces content marketing faces the same challenge of creating outstanding, engaging content whilst at the same time achieving core business goals.
More projects are completed on time following the switch to Agile marketing, says over 1 in 4 senior marketers
In response to this we are seeing more and more focus being put on agile and iterative marketing.
Just how are modern B2B marketers integrating agile principles into their content marketing strategies to drive reader engagement and ultimately reach business objectives?
Breaking the cycle of deadlines
A change in approach:
The software development model
In the fast paced and ever changing world of technology the ability to be able to adapt, learn and change has become standard practice. And probably best exampled in the world of software development.
Take a risk and keep testing, because what works today won’t work tomorrow, but what worked yesterday may work again.”
Amrita Sahasrabudhe, Vice President of Marketing, FastMed
In 2001, a group of software developers met at the Snowbird Resort in Utah to specifically discuss a new software development methodology that had been evolving in reaction to a traditionally heavyweight approach that was deadline oriented, micro-managed and heavily regulated.
This gathering and rumination of like minds culminated in the publication of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Agile as a methodology champions an iterative and incremental approach to management and is widely recognised today. It has been adopted not just by the software development world but by many industries and businesses and across many different disciplines.
Agile guiding principles:
- Individuals and Interactions – in favour of rigid processes
- Working Software – ever evolving work in process
- Customer Collaboration – learning from what customers really need and want. Creation of user stories to inform this.
- Responding to Change – being prepared to refine and improve on a continual basis
General benefits of agile
Higher quality output – testing is built into the process
Higher customer satisfaction – feedback is built into the process
Increased control – greater transparency around progress and performance
Increase success-rate – between regular testing and feedback cycles, project failure is less likely
Agile content marketing
An Agile approach makes a lot of sense in our ever changing online digital world, yet few marketers have taken it onboard for content creation.
Content needs to be high quality, relevant, accurate and original to perform – all things that can be tested and improved upon through an iterative approach.
Online publications are no longer just a catalogue of finite pieces of work but rather provide the fluidity of an ever changing, constantly updated source of information. They literally adapt and respond to fresh news, new information and improvement continuously.
Benefits of agile content marketing
- Fast response to changes in the market
- Production of rapid campaigns that can be tested and optimised over time
- Continuous ability to test content and repeat what succeeds
- Allows for input from other departments to inform content marketing efforts
- Provides data that can help inform the direction of campaigns and projects
- Allows for collaboration with team members to prevent a myopic approach to content generation
What does this involve?
If a headline isn't working, change it. Article not ranking in search? Tweak the subtitles. High bounce rates? Surface the key points higher up the page. A short news piece out-perform the norm? Plan a feature on the topic.
A live content piece is not a finished content piece. It can evolve and strengthen over time through the analysis of performance data and anecdotal feedback.
Potential pitfalls when marketing goes agile
Six barriers to agile content marketing success
Knowing where your business could fall down will aid success and make the road to agility far less bumpy.
1. No direction
Adopting an agile approach does not mean starting out without a vision. Knowing where you are going and what your objectives are is crucial to success.
Software developers don’t just randomly ‘create’ – they know what the bigger problem is their looking to solve. They just keep an open mind as they progress and learn from different efforts to solve that problem.
Given that many content marketers are still operating without a documented strategy in place does not bode well to the success of a content marketing plan. But keeping that plan flexible and adaptable to new learnings is crucial.
What are you biggest challenges around agile marketing?
- Lack of time and resources for training
- Lack of buy in from leadership
- Lack of understanding of principles
- Hierarchical structure. People in silos
2. Low volume of creation
Planning is essential but do not hyper focus on the editorial calendar. Time and resources are valuable and you don’t want them all deployed in planning when they should be creating. And crucially it needs to be flexible to allow for adjustments along the way.
3. Non-integrated approach
An agile approach requires the commitment of the whole organisation. A content team could create some well executed and meaningful work in an agile manner only to have its distribution delayed by another team whose approach differs.
The traditionally deadline driven executive that focuses on trying to avoid mistakes could easily hinder progress by focusing on the minutiae, expecting it to be perfect first off, not allowing for mistakes and thus embarking on a lengthy review process sooner than necessary.
4. Lack of time and resources
It’s become a bit of a content marketing mantra … ‘we lack the time and resources’. Training up a core team in how to adopt an agile approach is key to ensuring success. Investing in this upfront will pay dividends in the long run.
5. Not knowing your tools
There are numerous tools out there that can massively aid an agile and responsive approach but many marketers remain unaware of them. Taking the time investigate how to strengthen your content marketing tech stack pays off in the long run.
6. Skills gap in data analysis
Marketers are drowning in data. And data is only ever any good if you know how to properly read and act on it. Two things can help here. Make sure that your strategy has clearly defined objectives to ensure that you know exactly ‘what’ you need to measure. And secondly, having a granular and effective analytics platform installed to capture all the salient data that you need.
If marketers cannot derive meaningful information from the mass data available to them, their messages and communications can look like a tangled ball of string, instead of the great, integrated marketing campaigns that they originally planned.
Peter Andrews, Marketing Lecturer