One of the big advances in the technology world in recent years has been the rise of the Continuous Delivery philosophy. Whereas IT companies used to do big monthly or quarterly “pushes” of code, they now push code all the time, or nearly all the time.
The upshot of this is that where it would have taken months for customers to get new features, now much smaller updates get pushed to the customer every day, sometimes hundreds of times a day.
How Does Continuous Delivery Apply To Marketers?
As marketers, many of us plan out quarterly campaigns on Excel spreadsheets, down to precise pieces of content that will be delivered, months in advance. This is how things used to be done in the development world, until developers consistently found that they were delivering projects late, that the spec didn’t match what was needed, and that it was hard to achieve alignment between functional teams. Sound familiar?
We can, in my opinion, learn something from the developers and adopt something like Continuous Delivery for our marketing workflow. Here’s why I think that would be a good idea:
- Reduce Risk. The main reason for pushing new pieces of content (such as a section on a website, or a piece of collateral) out fast and then iterating is that risk is lowered. Large pieces of content require thorough and detailed checking to catch any bugs, and often need sign off from board-level people (for whom proofreading is a menial, back of the line activity). If you push content out in large chunks every few weeks, there’s often lots of waiting before that content actually makes it live.
- Freshness. There’s nothing worse than working on a new piece of content, and then having to come back to it and make amends weeks later. If I push content live as soon as it is ready, it’s a lot easier to come back to if a few words need changing here and there. I also don’t have to worry about a backlog of content growing (months old, forgotten about blog posts awaiting sign off). I can concentrate on going to work on the next thing.
- Customers get new information faster. I think we can agree that customers receiving new information from us faster is better, right? It’s a waste having pieces of content sitting around for weeks whilst waiting for a few changes in wording.
- Fast feedback. The sooner a piece of content is “live”, the faster we are getting feedback from the market. This can come in the form of marketing analytics, direct feedback from the customer, or other metrics such as lead velocity. Very often, we don’t know the next piece of content that will be needed until we get feedback on how our current pieces of content are doing. As valuable as refining content internally is, it’s never as valuable as getting the content into production. Having content out there in the market will get you feedback that you will never get internally.
- Cloud software – For this to work, you need to be working with software like Google Docs, or better yet loading content directly into a CMS like HubSpot, Eloqua or Pardot and managing it proactively from there. If you’re passing round Word documents in email with filenames like “Draft VERSION 1 OLD DO NOT USE.doc”, you’re obviously not going to be able to get stuff done this fast.
- Polyglot teams – This approach works best when you have marketers that can “wear many hats” and quickly make the amends needed to push content into production. You may well have a designer on your team, but everyone should know how to crop an image. You may well have a coder on your team, but everyone should know some basic HTML and CSS. Everyone should know how to use your CMS.
- No software handoffs – When you’re pushing content all the time, there should be a minimum of Marketing Operations. This means that rather than having to manually set up integrations between your email software, you webinar package and your CMS, all of these should be already integrated.
- Version control – It should be easy to go back to previous versions of a piece of content if there is a problem. Platforms such as HubSpot support this out of the box through staging environments, version control and ability to replace files such as PDFs on the fly.
- Some people, particularly when they are used to the big ol’ quarterly campaign, are uneasy about this approach. Aren’t there more errors with continuous pushes? In my experience, no. You get the occasional boo boo with a large scheduled push and the occasional boo boo with a continuous push. The difference with continuous pushes is that pieces of content do not sit waiting for weeks while someone works on a big fix.
- Percolation. What about allowing content to “percolate” around an organisation before pushing them out? Won’t that uncover new bugs? This works better in theory than in practice. Your CTO doesn’t really want to be the person that tells you you need to rework your entire document (possibly creating a ton of work for themselves), your CEO has a million and one other things on their plate, and people rarely have the time to give to proofreading a huge piece of content. Much more likely is that you’ll spot bugs once things are live through traffic and usage patterns, and fix them quietly.
As a marketer, I want to do everything I can to push new pieces of content to market as fast as I can. I’ve definitely learned a lot from developers who do continuous delivery. Pushing out content in small chunks rather than big quarterly campaigns lowers risk significantly.
If there’s a change to be made, it can be made quickly. In addition, customers get new info faster, and I can review the impact through marketing analytics. Compared to the old way, I much prefer a Continuous Delivery approach.