Marketers: Don’t Create a Single Piece of Content Before You Read This


Thinking of creating content to support your sales and marketing? STOP! Before you spend any time and money, use this simple tool to ensure it’s actually going to move the needle.

If you’re in the early days of building out your content marketing program, a lot of your time and energy is likely going into experimentation and discovery. You’re focusing on getting some quick wins under your belt and you need to start delivering ROI now. The problem is, you often don’t know what’s going to work until you try it, and that can mean taking a costly and time-consuming — not to mention frustrating — toss-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach.
Do you really want to spend a sizable chunk of your time and budget on a report, case study, video, or infographic, only to learn afterwards that it was a complete dud?
Of course not! Surely there has to be a better way.
Well, my marketing friends, the good news is you’re in luck. There just so happens to be a secret you can steal from software developers (some of the most efficient and productive people on the planet) to limit your trial and error by focusing in on creating content you know will work.

How taking a page from the agile development playbook can help you prioritize your content creation and get you better content marketing results.

When a good, agile software development team considers adding a new feature or functionality to their software they don’t just dive right in and start coding. First, they make sure they have a solid understanding what the user want/need is they are going to address. How do they do that? By writing user stories.
You can get a much more thorough breakdown of user stories by visiting, but for our purposes here, let’s stick to a basic CliffsNotes version. Essentially, user stories are statements from the user’s perspective that describe what they want and expect to get from you. They’re short, simple, and follow a basic pattern:
Basic User Story Template: “As a [role], I want to be able to [action] to achieve [business value].”
As agile coach Krystian Kaczor explains, one of the primary functions of user stories is to “enable conversation that leads to extracting business and technical requirements and eliminating hidden assumptions.”
That’s key, because user stories allow developers to apply scrutiny to user wants/needs, break down exactly what addressing them will entail, and weigh the potential costs vs. business value and benefits of doing so. That allows them to more effectively scope and prioritize any one project against all the other work they could be potentially focusing on instead.
In other words, they screen/qualify everything they do to make sure it is going to have high impact before they spend any time and energy on it. Pretty smart, right?
It’s this type of approach that enables teams who utilize agile development frameworks like Scrum to build better software, delight their customers, and increase their performance by a factor of four.
Want to do the same with your content? Then start writing “content user stories” to dig into the who, the what, and the why of each project you’re considering before you dive in and invest.

Prioritize your content creation by writing content user stories.

Next time you’re considering trying out a new piece of marketing content put it to the user story test first. Here’s an example:
Let’s say you’ve gotten feedback that your target demographic of sales execs is interested in tips on designing effective compensation plans for their sales reps. Before you dash off to create content around the topic, you could write a content user story that looks something like this:
As a sales exec (the who), I want advice on compensation plans (the what) so I can hire and retain top salespeople and build my team (the why).

Simple enough, right? Now its time to apply some scrutiny to — as Kaczor suggests — accomplish two primary things:

  1. Extract the requirements involved in creating the content.
  2. Challenge any assumptions you might be making.

This is your team’s chance to ask pointed questions around each of the three key elements of the story — the who, the what, and the why. The goal is to get crystal clear on the purpose and goal of your content, as well as its cost, potential payoff, and priority.

Content Qualifying Questions

Let’s go back to our example and take a look at some qualifying questions we can ask around the three key elements:
As a sales exec (the who), I want advice on compensation plans (the what) so I can hire and retain top salespeople and build my team (the why).

  • Challenging “The Who”: Is this one of our best buyer personas, audiences, or users?
  • Challenging “The What”: Is this the best topic to help the audience accomplish the why?
  • Challenging “The Why”: Will helping our audience accomplish this help them realize the value of our solution? (This is where you can start digging into the ROI.)

You can also take this a step further and get as specific as you’d like in order to determine the best format for your content. Ex:
As a sales exec, I want a webinar on compensation plans so I can hire and retain top salespeople and build my team.

Additional qualifying questions to ask around “The What”

  • Is this the format this particular buyer persona really wants?
  • Is it something we can do easily/effectively?
  • Is the potential ROI worth the cost?

Keep it simple, get more targeted, and you’re going to see bigger results.

Stepping back and honestly answering these kinds of qualifying questions can really encourage you to maintain a tight focus around your content initiatives and help you avoid wasting time and budget on low-impact or nonessential projects.
For teams looking to prove the value of their content marketing programs or get them off the ground nothing could be more crucial.
As OpenView’s founder and Managing Director Scott Maxwell explains in this post, in order to be truly impactful, your content needs to be both extremely relevant and highly targeted. Get in the habit of writing “content user stories” and I guarantee you’ll be better organized and see better results.
Note: This concept of applying user stories to content creation is one I’m still working out. I’d love to hear your thoughts on ways the approach could be developed and improved. Give it a shot and let me know what you think!

Looking for a One-Stop Guide to Utilizing Content Marketing Effectively?

By building out a targeted content marketing function, even small marketing teams can create and distribute the content they need to support their company’s go-to-market strategy by generating leads, nurturing them at key points throughout the buying process, and, ultimately, driving sales.
Our latest eBookcovers everything you need to know to transform your marketing with content that works.
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  • Design a strategy to align your content with your buyers.
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  • Amplify your content by delivering using a combination of vehicles and programs.
  • Maximize your conversions and manage, measure, and continuously improve your content marketing.
  • Get started right away by implementing an easy five-day plan to bring your content marketing program to life.



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