The Content Waterfall Trap

The Content Waterfall Trap

September 2019 | Digital Marketing

In a world of always-on and content marketing, a well managed campaign calendar has become very important.

Talk of agile has been everywhere, particularly since Agile Development became one of the hottest software trends on the planet. This methodology has revolutionised software development, enabling the rapid update cycle commonly seen among mobile apps and web services. Its tenants have been applied to other areas of business too, with marketing being no exception.

In fact, marketing is probably an even better use case for the agile methodology than software development. The core principle of accelerating release schedules by breaking down development cycles into smaller chunks of time with a fixed length is tailor-made for a world of always-on campaigns and perpetual content publishing.

The Calendar

Marketing departments have long been governed by the campaign calendar. Every marketer's world is dictated by a busy stream of events, mail drops and advertising campaigns all plotted to build a broader message. Shifting the work required to execute that calendar into weekly or monthly sprints is really only a natural progression for the typical marketing team.

Most enterprise marketing departments will probably already operate one part of their operations through agile methodology: namely, their website updates. If a corporate website is large enough or important enough to merit continuous development effort, then some variation of agile will be used to plan and then deliver those updates. Rapid release cycles aid SEO and accelerate the ability of marketers to quickly respond to any usability concerns and market trends that affect their most valuable asset.

The Sprint

Web teams always have a long list of content updates, UX enhancements and bug fixes to work through. Every part of the business has their own priorities that need to be added onto the site, and balancing them is a real challenge given the limited number of developers and the enormous scale of the typical website. Short sprints allow the development schedule to be managed much more flexibly than traditional methods, with content and structural updates being published on a specific day every week or two.

Everything else should be aligned to fit that schedule too. In many campaigns, development of the campaign pages is the most complicated and time-consuming part of the launch. The live date of every aspect of the campaign then shifts to fit the web publishing schedule. Build the idea of progressive enhancement into campaign schedules, so that content is added to the campaign gradually over time rather than being launched all at once. Not only does this reduce delays in launch but it also gives early previous visitors a reason to re-engage with the campaign.

The Campaign

Content development is often planned and developed as part of a wider campaign. All too frequently, the full content package is written and launched at the same time. This creates bottlenecks and is often unnecessary because much of the later stage content isn't needed at the beginning of the campaign. Second and third phase content will be produced and uploaded weeks before anyone actually reads it.

If this is a familiar problem, then the entire concept of a campaign needs to be redefined. Many teams plan campaigns on a quarterly basis, introducing new themes and new messages every time. This is justified by the need to keep messaging fresh and evolve market trends. In reality, quarterly campaigns only exist because marketing budgets are allocated on a quarterly basis. Creating a new campaign every three months is the easiest way to justify that spend and prove successful outcomes.

The Buyer

However, quarterly campaign launches rarely align with the needs of the buyer. Many B2B buying cycles take longer, so themes have a life far beyond the current quarter. They should be continuously reviewed and reprioritised based on results and market conditions, but not so drastically. Campaign themes are typically defined at the start of year planning, so should be planned to last the full year. Drip feeding new content about each theme on a regular cadence over an extended period of time works far better than launching everything at once.

Everyone knows that content has a life far beyond the quarter it launched in. Reusing old content is best practice for a reason, but new content is needed too in order to stay fresh. Doing so introduces the risk of appearing disjointed and confused when promoting different messages at the same time, particularly if some of that links through to old content. However, this is why effective targeting and personalisation is so important.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.