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Getting Started with the Agile Marketing Navigator: Customer Stories



Getting Started with the Agile Marketing Navigator: Customer Stories

We recently introduced you to Agile Marketing Navigator, a flexible framework for navigating agile marketing for marketers, by marketers in the article “A new way to navigate agile marketing.” The navigator has four major components: Collaborative Planning Workshop, Launch Cycle, Key Practices and Roles. Within these categories, there are several sub-pieces for implementation.

In recent articles we covered the Collaborative Planning Workshop and the Launch Cycle. Now we’re going to dive into our third stop on your agile marketing journey — 6 Key Practices

The Agile Marketing Navigator is intended to be a flexible framework, so these 6 Key Practices are suggestions, not requirements. You can mix and match them. You can do all six, or just two or three. You can combine them with some of your own practices. There are a lot of valuable practices out there, but the reason we chose to hone in on these six is that our team of marketing executives and agile coaches all saw real proven benefits from them.

Today we’ll talk about the first practice — Customer Stories. This is a practice I wrote about in a 2021 article, “Writing customer stories to improve team collaboration,” so you can see I’m a pretty big fan of them. But not always, and not for every team.

What are Customer Stories?

A Customer Story is gives everyone a more well-rounded perspective on the work the team is setting out do do, and is inclusive of all work required to create value to the customer.

Customer Stories are derived from user stories, a longtime popular concept among Scrum teams in software development. They are the late 1990s brainchild of Dr. Alistair Cockburn, stemming from a need to bring together business people and tech people to have a conversation. The idea was that handing over lengthy requirements documents from “the business” to “the developers” was inefficient and a lot got lost in translation.

In 2001, Ron Jeffrey put a new spin on them with the 3C’s — Card, Conversation, Confirmation. In 2004, Mike Cohn popularized the practice within agile software development in his book “User Stories Applied For Agile Software Development.”

While user stories work well in software development, the focus is more of a technical one about how a user of a website or software system uses a feature. A customer story in marketing is about the target customer we’re trying to reach and what benefit that customer will receive from the marketing tactic we deliver.

Here are a few examples of customer stories:

  • “As a realtor, I want a landing page where prospects can go so that I can build up my sales pipeline.”
  • “As a healthcare provider, I want to get a weekly email update on vaccination rates in my community so that I am better prepared for a crisis.”
  • “As a mom of two, I want a buy one get one free offer on back to school shoes so that I can save money.”
  • “As a new homeowner, I want to receive a brochure on where to find a qualified pediatrician near me so that my kids are well cared for.”

One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen in coaching marketers rather than software teams on how to write customer stories is the level of thinking. Software teams have an easy time coming up with a story about a small update, whereas marketers need to think in much broader terms. Instead of this being a battle to fight, exploit the way that marketers ideate naturally.

While my examples above are extremely specific and cover a single deliverable, such as a landing page or an e-mail, it’s okay to start with a general story such as:

  • “As a realtor, I want to build up my sales pipeline so that I can grow my business.”

From there, a lot of teams like to ideate on what tactics align with that story such as building a landing page, launching an email campaign, etc. Either of these approaches works. One is the more traditional way, and the other is the way I’ve learned to be agile about teaching this to marketers.

The goal of course is a shared understanding of the work.

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Which marketing teams should use Customer Stories?

Any teams that deliver marketing to customers can use Customer Stories. They are a great way to have a conversation as a team and to look at work differently. It also helps if you’re accustomed to siloed work and passing work from person to person. The Customer Story gets everyone on the same page.

So, when would you not use them? If the team thinks they are already performing well and doesn’t want to spend the time on them. However, I’ve found that a little bit more time upfront leads to better teamwork and a more customer-centric delivery of valuable marketing content.

Catch up on the Agile Marketing Navigator series!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Stacey knows what it’s like to be a marketer, after all, she’s one of the few agile coaches and trainers that got her start there. After graduating from journalism school, she worked as a content writer, strategist, director and adjunct marketing professor. She became passionate about agile as a better way to work in 2012 when she experimented with it for an ad agency client. Since then she has been a scrum master, agile coach and has helped with numerous agile transformations with teams across the globe. Stacey speaks at several agile conferences, has more certs to her name than she can remember and loves to practice agile at home with her family. As a lifelong Minnesotan, she recently relocated to North Carolina where she’s busy learning how to cook grits and say “y’all.”

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For a Better Long-Term Content Strategy, Find a Purple Audience



For a Better Long-Term Content Strategy, Find a Purple Audience

“The stock market is not the economy.”

When the stock market is up, it doesn’t always follow that the economy is great. When the stock market crashes, it doesn’t always mean the economy is bad.

That’s as true today as it was 25 years ago when I first got into marketing. And it’s a great reminder to avoid basing business decisions on faulty connections.

Over the years, I’ve learned an adjacent lesson about content and audiences: Popularity isn’t a sign of differentiation. People don’t necessarily regard what is popular among online audiences or the media as high quality – or even true.

If you successfully chase trends and feed popular content to audiences, you have not necessarily differentiated your content. On the other hand, differentiating by taking a contrarian or highly niche view of what’s popular doesn’t always work either. How do you blend popularity and differentiation?

#Content popularity isn’t a sign of differentiation, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Red and blue ocean strategies

In their 2004 book, Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne explain red and blue ocean strategies for marketing. Red oceans are crowded markets where popular products abound and cutthroat sales and marketing strategies rule. Blue oceans are undiscovered markets with little or no competition, where businesses can create new customers or die alone.

In strategic content marketing, most businesses focus on the red oceans – offering short-term, hyper-focus feeding. They look to drive traffic, engagement, and conversions by getting the most people to consume the content. So a red-ocean strategy focuses on topics and content that have proven popular with audiences.

But this strategy makes it difficult to differentiate the content from everyone else’s.

This myopic view of content often prohibits testing the other side – investing in a blue-ocean mindset to find and create new audiences with less-popular content.

Short-term, hyper-focused #Content feeding often prohibits the mindset of creating new audiences, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Finding a blue niche in a red world

I recently worked with a financial technology company that provides short-term loans to small businesses experiencing a cash-flow crunch. It’s as sales-driven as any team I’ve seen.

When they started, they put much of their marketing and content efforts into a blue-ocean strategy, targeting small businesses that will need a loan within a month.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Five years ago, this company wasn’t the only one to recognize the massive opportunity in fast, easily accessible, short-term lending. A red ocean of new customers who needed these loans grew in a relatively robust economy (and historically low interest rates).

The value of these loans grew from $121 million in 2013 to just over $2 billion in 2018. And competition for this audience’s attention grew, too. As short-term, low-funnel content on accessible lending saturated the market, this strategy became less and less successful because so many fintech companies pursued it.

My client’s team knew they couldn’t only count on this red-ocean audience for new business. They recognized the need to invest time in building a new audience – larger, more established, long-term borrowers.

This audience wouldn’t produce immediate lead generation. But the company wanted to diversify its product line and better support the new audience’s loan-related needs.

The genius of this strategy was teaching, targeting, and building demand for new ideas from a niche within the red audience. Put simply: They created a purple audience by targeting a blue audience within the red one.

The blue audience the team targeted consisted of fast-growing smaller businesses that would soon evolve into established, long-term borrowers. These businesses might want to know the benefits of the short-term availability of cash. The team focused the new learning content platform on teaching companies that don’t need a loan now about the benefits of having a solution at the ready when they do.

The purple audiences took time to develop. But when those audience members entered the red ocean, my client company stayed top of mind because it had bucked the popular trends and offered completely different content.

3 triggers for targeting purple audiences

Deciding to invest in cultivating a purple audience requires some thought. These three considerations can prompt the move to a different audience hue.

1. You’re ready to hedge bets on current efforts

So many companies double down on their content to the point where their strategy incorporates the same content at every stage of the customer’s journey. Why? Because everybody is talking about it.

I see some B2B marketing organizations deliver the same “why change” thought leadership content to prospects as they do their customers. Shouldn’t your customers’ needs and wants change after they purchase your solution?

Developing thought leadership you believe is important but current audiences aren’t yet thinking about can be an excellent hedge.

You shouldn’t deliver the same thought leadership to prospects AND customers. After all, your customers’ needs and wants should change after they buy.

2. You believe the consensus is wrong

Many companies fold their content marketing like a lawn chair because their content goes against the consensus. Last week, a chief marketing officer told me, “Our CEO says we can’t go out with that thought leadership message because people will disagree with us.”

You don’t have to invest the entire budget in a contrarian idea. But if you genuinely believe the world will eventually come to your point of view, build the content infrastructure that supports that opinion and experience a multiplier on the investment.

3. You see an opportunity to steal audience

Look at the most popular content, and you see all your competitors fighting over the eyeballs seeking that topic, trying to outrank everyone on search, and fighting a red ocean of potential audience members. Then, look up and ask, “What’s next?”

You might see a slight trend. Or, as my fintech client did, you may notice a niche blue audience in the red audience. Investing in that content can pull audiences from the popular content into your fledgling purple audience.

SAP’s content site The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience illustrates this concept. During the pandemic, the team, led by Jenn Vande Zande, adjusted its editorial focus to steal a segment of the red-ocean audience seeking COVID-19 coverage. Jenn and team designed the content to appeal to people looking not just for lockdown news but also for the most up-to-date practices and industry information for businesses on customer experience in the COVID-19 era.

SAP created a purple audience.

Get colorful

As a marketer, you should think about new audiences. How can you address them with content that may not be widely popular now but can help them better prepare for what you believe is coming tomorrow?

That’s a better question to answer for long-term content marketing success.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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