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When it comes to marketing, all of us want to work smarter and faster. In order to do that, marketers need to have not only the know-how, but also excellent project management and organization skills.
Today we’re talking to the guy who literally wrote the book on agile marketing, Jeff Julian.
Jeff is the co-founder of Enterprise Marketer, the author of Agile Marketing: Building Endurance for Your Content Marketing Team, and an event speaker. Today he’ll tell us all about how to boost your efficiency and become more agile as a marketer.
Some of the topics we’ll talk about today include:
Nathan: Hey there, I’m Nathan from CoSchedule and you are listening to the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Yup, if you’ve been a long-time listener, you might be a little thrown off right now. We used to call this podcast the Actionable Content Marketing Podcast. You might be asking yourself, why did we ditch that word ‘content’? The answer is all about focus. CoSchedule, as a Marketing Calendar tool, has been growing super fast. In 2013, you had to use CoSchedule with WordPress, now CoSchedule is the hub where you start any marketing project and that could really include a podcast like this, an Instagram campaign, traditional brochure ware, I mean you name it.
Our thought here is that content marketing is just another arm of marketing. It’s an approach we obviously love at CoSchedule. It helps you prioritize helpful, educational and entertaining content, so good, that your audience actually seeks it out themselves without you necessarily pushing it upon them. That said, there’s a lot more actionable marketing advice you can gleam from this podcast well beyond just content marketing. There you have it. That’s why we changed this podcast name to the Actionable Marketing Podcast.
With that said, today, you and I are picking a very smart person’s brain on Agile Marketing. As marketers, we all want to get more work done faster, am I right? Project management and organization are pretty important things you’ll need to do in order to do that. That’s why we’re literally talking to the guy who wrote the book on Agile Marketing, Jeff Julian. Jeff is also the co-founder behind Enterprise Marketer. He speaks at events like Content Marketing World and he’s got a lot of actionable advice to help you boost your efficiency as you execute your marketing projects.
Let’s talk with Jeff. Hey Jeff, thanks a lot for chatting with me about Agile Marketing today.
Jeff: It’s exciting to be back on the show with you.
Nathan: It’s been a while. We’re talking about I think I was in the Midwest Marketer maybe 2 years ago or something like that.
Jeff: That was one of the first marketing podcasts I did, I’ve been podcasting for a little over 10 years now but now you know things changed, we’ve moved on from Midwest Marketer onto enterprise marketer so we definitely need to have you back on the show.
Nathan: I would love to be back. Actually, that’s a good transition because Jeff, I was just wondering if you could tell me about Enterprise Marketer and what you do there.
Jeff: Our passion is finding practitioners, finding the enterprise team. What we mean by enterprise team is more than one or two marketers, a group of people who are gathered, they want to learn, they want to create return on investment for their efforts and we want to build a community for them. The idea as practitioners who go out and create content about marketing and really stir up the pot. Let’s get the conversation a little deeper, let’s continue to address the marketing issues deeper than that 100 level.
Nathan: I think that really ties into the conversation we want to have today because you’ve been such a big advocate for Agile Marketing which definitely solves a problem. I was just wondering if you can give us a definition of that for this conversation. What is Agile Marketing?
Jeff: It’s hard to define because it can mean so many different things and usually whenever the term comes out, people will pull it into different directions so it’s very confusing on what it means. But the idea behind Agile is it’s a process that’s 100% customer-focused that allows for integration with your existing processes but taking those tools that you understand and putting them into incremental release states with estimates, the understanding of what we’re building, who we’re building it for and giving the team some sustainable pace rhythms that will allow them to go out and build these efforts that we’re doing over and over again. There are several practices and frameworks that you can put into place to be Agile but the main gist is how do we get our teams working more efficiently in a measurable fashion that we can then use to see are we doing a good job at what we’re setting up to build.
Nathan: I’m sure you’ve had some experience with Agile before really applying it to marketing project management. I can just sense that there’s something deeper there. I was wondering if you could just share some of that experience with us before you start applying those concepts to marketing.
Jeff: I started my career as a software developer. My first full time job was when I was 18 years old and I built 17 production systems in that year. I’ve dug really deep, really fast. I became known for software development. I wrote a book on SharePoint. I was Microsoft’s most valuable professional and XML, one of eight in the world when I was 22 years old. I started an online blog community back in 2003 and we grew to 4000 bloggers and over 100,000 blog posts before we sold the site. I had to use planning techniques that I was used to and I had already implemented agile pretty much in everything in my life because that’s how I wrote software. We would implement it in the content creation as well. I would work with companies like Microsoft and a few other software vendors to help them get started with their content efforts using Agile approaches too and I just continued to roll from there.
Nathan: You mentioned that agile is a lot about frameworks and processes that make you work a little bit more efficient. I wanted to break down some of the different terminology and different ways of thinking through agile marketing so I guess maybe we’ll dive a little bit deeper into that. I was wondering if you could explain what an Agile Marketing team looks like.
Jeff: Scrum is an Agile approach and it has the most barriers, most foundation points, more like Legos. On your team, you have somebody who set up as the Scrum master and what that means is they are the process owner. When it comes to setting up meetings, when it comes to questions about the process, reporting on the process, getting the tools ready, running interference between the content creators and then also those people who are outside. The person who holds the whip is the Scrum Master, that’s one role.
The highest priority role but one teams never really get right at first is the content owner. In Agile, they call it the product owner but we’re not building a product, we’re building contents. The content owner, their job is to prioritize and own the backlog. Backlog is the term for the things that we’re actually creating. This is a list of the different items that we want to create and the sort order on that is the priority. The highest item on the top of the list is the one that we’re going to be building next. That content owner works with the target personas, works with the business, does that whole alignment of our effort to make sure that we have business value coming I but we’re also providing value to the audience. It’s a very hard role, lots of responsibilities goes into that.
Finally, we have content developers. I don’t say writer or graphic designer or editor because those are all roles that will start to go away and just become part of a list of talents or a list of skills that you have. The content developers then becomes cross functional. That’s why we unify around, we all create content.
Nathan: You mentioned that content owner is the person who owns that backlog. I’m sure you have some ideas for how marketing projects get prioritized, there’s probably some Agile frameworks there. I was wondering could you explain how do you prioritize marketing projects?
Jeff: It depends on the type of marketing project you’re doing. If you’re doing the campaign and it’s an email campaign or it’s just email and advertising campaign, you got three months. Your priority should be based off of what do I need to build first so then I can build on it. Maybe it’s the brand specification, maybe it’s the style, the approach, maybe it’s the actual official ad first and then after that we build content related to that ad.
If it’s a website and you’re building content effort to redo the content on your website, that’s what I hear a lot. What are the content elements that you can use to make it to where you can show steering too many people, you can show influence, you can show potential customers your website and get their feedback first so then you can continue to build more content later. There’s no reason to start with the pace that’s five levels deep when you’re going to be showing them the front page and get that lower [00:10:25] off your websites as fast as possible, that’s a priority.
If it’s a content marketing effort, that’s where really my passion is because I love companies that really embrace content marketing. Then that priority is always in flux because it’s based off of the response of the audience, because you’re always trying to create something that they like. Think of it like a restaurant. It’s cold outside, you’re not going to put ice cream on your menu as your main thing. You’re going to have chili, you’re going to have things that make you feel warm inside and that’s the way your audience works too. What are they learning, what do they want to know and how have they continued their journey and that’s how you base your priorities. It may make sense to you to create this next piece of content but maybe that’s not the one they want right now.
Nathan: It’s almost like you use data to improve. Content is data, you look at what you are already publishing, what’s working and you build upon that in a way.
Jeff: That goes back to your scheduling, too. Maybe they don’t want a post today even if it’s the best for SEO and that’s the thing you’re going to get the highest amount of views and things like that. Maybe a post a day and that email that goes out with it is actually hurting you more because no one can consume it. You all look like Lucy on the Chocolate Line, stuffed down at your throat and it’s like, oh I have all those articles I want to read but I can never get to them because they’re publishing too fast. Maybe that’s an issue and you learn that from the data and then you can start embracing different types of content or make the content that you’re creating more valuable in releasing all the source schedule and that’s all things that you find in the data but then your process needs to be able to change, adapt to that and that’s where Agile fits in.
Nathan: I love that connection with Lucy. We’ll have to include a gift of that in the show notes.
Jeff: So many things we can learn about sales and marketing from good movies and good TV shows.
Nathan: Yup. Jeff, something that you talked about was estimating. You mentioned that’s a really big part of Agile. I was wondering if we could dive a little bit deeper into that area. How do you estimate the time a project will take to complete?
Jeff: Sure. It depends on the team and it’s fine because right now we’re actually downstairs. My wife and I, part of our backlog was to create some planning poker cards that we can distribute with our workshop. We’re talking about the scales that we’re using in the cards because you have 52 cards. I don’t want to take them all up with different types of sequences, I want to change based off of the need for marketing.
I like the planning poker approach. Planning poker is a game that you have a deck of cards in your hands and has numbers. Those numbers represent scale to you. The idea is the higher the numbers are, the larger the gap is between them because when you think about estimating 12 days versus 13 days, that’s impossible. Nobody understands that gap because it’s so far out and it’s in the grand scheme of things. There’s not that much difference. But one and two days, there’s a big difference there. The further you get out on the planning poker sequence, the more gap there is between there.
Some teams don’t like that. I like that approach because it allows me to then accurately start to see what does reality look like compared to these numbers that we’re coming up with. That way, when we go into planning, I can do some calculations, some math to see what our efficiency is and then be able to set ourselves up for success instead of failure.
A lot of other people like the idea of maybe small, medium, large, extra large and then they know how many extra larges that they can fit in there. That works for content too because typically, you’re creating an asset that’s very familiar or a lot like the last asset you created. You can say that they’re pretty much the same size. We can do three blog posts a week, we’ll give that a size of a large.
Nathan: It’s almost like if you get too many of those extra large projects or some things just on pointable, I guess you could break that down into smaller projects, right?
Jeff: Yeah. Exactly. You really need to drive that size, that scope, whatever that is back to a number that you can measure. Marketing teams are getting head over the head right now saying, look, you’ve always been a cost center but now you’re an important cost center. We really need to measure return on investment. It’s so hard to do that just by looking at the price of salary and the amount of agency work you do and then pull that back to see overall effectiveness on marketing. It’s hard to calculate that.
But you turn it on its head, you get estimates and then you start tracking actual time it took to develop that then you can start to see this piece of content actually cost us a number and we know what that number is because we know how many resources that took to work on this, we know here’s the estimate, here’s the actual, other things that looks like this will probably this much money. Now we see what the return is, based off of the data and we can say or we actually having effective marketing. Is there good cause versus revenue for this?
Nathan: I’ve always thought content shouldn’t ever be the result, content produces results. I think what you’re saying too is we should be looking at the amount of effort that we’re putting into something versus what those results are. I haven’t heard a take like that before but that is really smart.
Jeff: Just because 2017 is the year of live video, doesn’t mean spending 10 hours prepping for a live video, doing the one hour love video and having 10 people watching and actually no sales occur. That’s not as valuable of an asset to your organization as it would take maybe to write one compelling piece of content that a thousand people see over the next six months and then actually you can track two returns on that. You have to look at that, you have to start weighing at the benefits, there’s always that opportunity cost that we do need to learn, do things and we need to adapt and the we become more digital but at the same time we need to be able to say what’s actually working. Usually, that opens up the conversation of ‘do we have the right systems in place to track what’s working in our marketing efforts?’
Nathan: I think it boils down to measurement there. Jeff, I want to circle back just a little bit, let’s just say we have the project estimated now, we understand how long it’ll take to complete. How do you actually break down a project and assign it with team members at Agile?
Jeff: At first usually, it looks more like an assembly line and that’s the problem we’re trying to solve. The reason that the Agile process is so popular is because there was this tiny little company called Toyota, something you might have heard of.
After the war, they adopted lean principles that they learned from manufacturing different types of things in their automotive division. By doing that, they broke the assembly line and were able to start producing more and more vehicles than Ford or anybody in Detroit was able to do because they had an assembly line. If you have an assembly line, if you run out of tires, the whole thing stops.
Wherein a lean manufacturing model, you never run out of anything because when you start getting low of that item, somebody’s put to work to build that particular item. There’s always a rotation of assets.
Content developers need to get that same rhythm to say, I don’t know how to use Photoshop, I’d better learn because we only have one designer so let’s go take a class on Photoshop, so that way I can always put the graphic up there and write the content and edit somebody else’s content and make it to where I’m a more valuable resource to the whole team.
Nathan: I was just going to pick on that, too. I was just going to say I think, that’s why you said there’s no such thing with content developers as a graphic designer versus a writer. Because of this, it’s cross functional.
Jeff: Yeah. It’s not generalist. We’re not trying to make generalist of everything, we’re trying to become more specialized in more things. Take my book for instance, the Agile Marketing book. I created the cover, I did the graphics on that, I did the layout inside, I wrote every chapter, I did a lot of the editing but I also had other people edit, I wrote the website for it, I created everything that went into that book because I’m a cross functional kind of developer, I can do all those things. When you look at our podcast, I created the equipment set up, the video set up, the entire booth set up, the multiple cameras, the TV studio, all that stuff we have, I put all that together. I record everything, I edit everything with Premier Pro, I created all the graphics for, I write all the show notes and I built the whole website that actually host it. I’m a cross functional developer when it comes to marketing and I’m an extreme case because I’m a nerd, and so I love to take into that stuff, I love photography, I love videography, I love telling stories, so it just make sense but marketers need to start embracing more of those talents.
Nathan: I think it really goes back to your whole thought of when a writer’s done and the graphic designer isn’t available, the project just is at stand still. I’ve seen that happen before and it’s not a pleasant experience for anybody on the team to have that.
Jeff: The things is if you look at CES this year, everything was about AR and VR. If the world truly has moved as fast as it has, or in the past decade, we have no iPhone and now we all love the iPhone, we can’t live without it. Imagine how quick the VR and AR is going to start being embraced. If it’s already in the home on the platforms, or the gaming platforms, Facebook’s in it, Amazon’s in it with Echo and Alexa and Microsoft’s in it with HoloLens and the search engines being the thing that powers the whole thing. Every large company is pushing out something this year in AR, VR technology.
One thing that doesn’t actually work on any of those is written text. Because the robot has to read it if it’s on Alexa or it’s scrolled across the screen, if you ran a VR mask or AR and that’s not a fun experience. All of a sudden, you have to really embrace things like video and audio and experiences- real experiences, live experiences, and you have to become amore well versed marketer with more than one type of content.
Nathan: That really boils down to skill acquisition. If you think about you can do anything that you set your mind to, you just actually need to do it. I think that that’s totally possible.
Jeff: If you’re going to go run a marathon, you don’t go sign up for that marathon, show up, put your tennis shoes on for the first time and go. You go outside, you run as hard as you can, you stop, you pant, you breathe, you turn around, you still see your door and you walk home the first time and ten after three or four months, you can get away with running a couple of miles without stopping. And then after a year, maybe you can do a half marathon.
Marketers, you got to stop and say, okay, what’s that first step I need to take into doing something like this? Maybe it’s recording the home video of my kids at their birthday party and actually editing it in iMovie and doing more than just start and stop on that. Maybe it’s trying to get on Instagram and putting up richer images that aren’t taken with your phone, that are taken with a real camera. Figure out what that is and take that baby step and then you continue to develop those rhythms and those practices and learn how the pros are doing it.
Nathan: Jeff, I think that’s really good advice to something that we could definitely all learn from. Start, improve as we go, not shooting for perfection, all that bits really seem to tie into Agile.
Something that I wanted to talk to you about is, again to circle back on this whole idea of managing the projects, how we figure out who does what. I’m wondering if you could share how do you hit deadline with Agile? How do you make sure that you are publishing what you’re supposed to be publishing?
Jeff: We have to stop and think about what our marketing teams, where the pressure is, where is it coming from, where is the pressure to get done coming from. Some of the times, it’s just psychological pressure like we were told as kids, we had to have all A’s and we never could and so we put this false pressures on ourselves. How are we going to get all this stuff done and really no one in the organization is doing that.
But sometimes you do have pressure to get things done based off of different things that are out of your control. When that happens, typically, your team then gets weighed down, they get tired, they get exhausted and you see a lot of people leaving at that point.
What I like to do is to say for your team, when we go into a Scrum model or Sprint model that whatever’s up on the board, whatever we start with and we say we’re going to get done this week or these next two weeks, that the team commits to that. By committing they just say, we’re finishing that. If it takes us an extra day and we have to work evenings, if somebody’s not doing an awesome job and we have to sit down with them and teach them how to get better, whatever it is we’re going to get done. That’s our skin in the game.
By doing that, we can than send the message to people above us to say look, here’s the pace that we can sustain, that we can do over the next two years with this content marketing effort and we’ll be here and we won’t be over burdened with all those other stuff because we’re truly building amazing content for our customers and we’re building it at the pace that we found through estimating and through exercising of that estimate into reality. Your team starts to become more like a pride of animals where you start to see the weak ones that are being hoarded out. You find out who’s not working and you let them go excel other places and you find those new people and you embrace them and you teach them and then they become much stronger players over the time.
Nathan: I think that’s an interesting thing to think about taking on projects as a team that way. It goes back to what you were saying about just looking at the task list or the backlog and tackling the next thing available. If you commit to a group of projects for a two week sprint and it just needs to happen, the team really steps up I would think.
Jeff: That’s one of the issues with Kanban. A lot of people love Kanban, they use it, it’s another Agile approach we haven’t talked about but there is no time box. There is no Scrum master prescribed, you can have one but they’re not there and it allows the team to just be an honest representation of what we’re working on. Because of the bucket limits it has, you can only have a certain number of items within this column, it does require that you actually move things forward. It is an effective Agile process.
But in software development, it was effective because we had the rhythms of using Agile and Scrum to then start to loosen up things to take off some of the training rails that were there and to allow us to be more agile when requests were coming in and we started to release in different fashions. I don’t think marketers are there yet, right? We don’t have good project management process, planning, rhythms built. Having as many training rails as possible to have our teams become more effective and then after that we adapt Agile based off of our own findings and not the findings of software developers. I think that’s why we really need to take Agile.
Nathan: Something you just mentioned was based off our own findings. I wanted to pick your brain on let’s just say we hit our deadlines. How do you end a project with Agile?
Jeff: Because content marketing is the thing that never ends, it’s like that song that goes on in the loop. We need to continue going a steady pace overtime that’s consistent, that delivers on the increment that our audience is looking for. There is never an end. The content backlog will continue to grow and shrink based off of our developing of it.
I like to put in rewards and put in the process wins for our teams. After we have a successful sprint, let’s go out to lunch. Let’s buy lunch as a company, let’s do something fun, let’s go out and break out of our room or something, let’s spend half a day ideating on this particular audience. People want to do good work and they want to do different things at work that will help them be better, it’s just you have to consider what those rewards are.
Sometimes, it’s straight up buying them cool stuff. If you guys rock it, and you’ve done three great sprints in a row, I have developed point systems internally before where the more accurate you were on your estimates, the more honest you were, the less debt you had in the content you created, then the more points you built and the higher the points you get, the more stuff you could buy. The point might have equal $2 and now you’ve got 100 points, so you can go on Amazon and buy something for $200. That would help you order something you want to tinker with. Maybe it’s a new type of book, maybe it’s a camera, something along those lines, you’re trying to create different content or a pair of a really good headphones because people are making noise. Whatever it is, give it to the people.
Nathan: I could see myself thriving on that because I drive on a challenge and the point sound like that’s something that I would really want. As you earn them, it’s challenging.
Jeff: I was so jealous of all those kids that had the Pizza Hut cards, the more books you read, the free personal pan pizzas you got. I never got one because I sucked at reading. I was jealous of all of the kids with the gold stars and all the points because they followed the plan. The plan was developed for them. Figure out what each member on your team needs and what plan would work for them and then reward them when they make progress, when they make movements forward, when they help the team win.
Because let’s be honest, we’re working directly with sales now and sales are still commissioned, their salaries are based off of the number of leads that they actually close. THe more those leads are going to be coming from marketing, we’re not going to see them, they’re not going to put marketing on that commission. We need to figure out what makes marketers happy, what makes marketers want to stay and work with sales to create qualified leads and then over time, just like we’re hearing about the idea of tips going away in restaurants, the idea of commission based sales will probably go away the more the decision is made on the customer’s side and not so much during the persuasion portion of the sales process.
We’ll have to find ways to incentivize other groups but with marketers, it’s pretty cut and dry, they all want to go to conferences, they all want books, not all, majority want books, they all want to network, they want free time to learn, they want to try to embrace new things, they want to define their skills and so those are great ways to reward teams for doing good work.
Nathan: I love it. Jeff, if I could, I’d give you two points for this awesome talk today. I guess that wraps our conversation today. I want to just say thanks for sharing everything on Agile in general, the prioritization process, what a team looks like, how to come up with a backlog pointing. This was all a really great conversation. Thanks, man.
Jeff: There’s a more thorough dive through it in the book. Try to keep the cost way down on it and it’s available on Amazon if you check it out. Just go to Agile Marketing and then just hit me up if you have any questions, you’re digging into the thing, I love working with people who are playing with Agile. And I love to help you guys out.
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