Storytelling Through Agile Marketing

For all their talk about beefing up storytelling capabilities, most companies have done little to invest in the people who can make It happen. That’s according to a new survey of 190 marketers about adapting their marketing operations as the era of interruptive marketing fades.

On the other hand, a majority (58%) of respondents -- all companies with more than 500 employees -- are spending money on new technology such as design or social media monitoring software, according to the research commissioned by Boston-based Skyword, the content marketing software and services company, and conducted by Researchscape International.

“Large organizations are only just beginning to set themselves up to do sustained storytelling,” says Skyword CMO Patricia Travaline. “In actuality, particularly from the people side of the equation, there is still significant investment in very traditional marketing roles.”

There are several other interesting takeaways in Skyword’s downloadable 48-page report, “A Study in Brand Transformation.” Or you could look at the interactive landing page revealing top-line results in six areas: organizational structure, technology, teams and skill sets, content marketing, communicating brand story and taking the brand story global. Or glean some talking points from the posted press release, Google the outside coverage, or dive into Ted Karczewski’s elucidating post in Skyword’s own Content Standard blog. Best yet, easily retweet what intrigues you from Adam Vavrek’s “56 Tweet-Worthy Enterprise Marketing Stats” and help Skyword spread the word.

And that’s just part of what is a self-described “moving story.” The point is that this was one of the better-orchestrated rollouts I’ve seen -- this year, at least -- for what is itself content marketing. Of particular interest is how Skyword is making the material accessible in so many ways and how it’s pushing it, with slightly different twists, through so many of its team members. It turns out that there is, indeed, a story to tell here.

“We believe in -- and we’re trying to execute on -- something called agile marketing,” says Travaline, who wrote a blog post herself Wednesday about why marketing teams should “only hire storytellers,” not the ad and brand managers they are still heavily recruiting.

The execution of this campaign is, in fact, Skyword’s own first full foray into agile marketing, which she says has “inspired and invigorated” her nine-person team. Despite all good intentions and the lack of physical walls in the workspace, they had become “almost psychologically siloed,” she says.

Agile marketing is an offshoot of the agile software development movement that dates to 2001, when 17 programmers who “didn't agree about much … found consensus around four main values” you can read more about here. It all boils down to having a collaborative, reactive approach to getting the product out and continually refining it based on feedback.

Travaline first saw those principles in action among the programmers in the company’s development office in Pittsburgh. “When has an engineering team taught a marketing team how they should be operating?” she asks.

After the results of the Researchscape survey -– conducted last May through July –- came in, Travaline gathered her team for a one-day off-site in November. First, everybody drew pictures of farmhouses. Then they wrote stories about what they’d drawn.

With the creative juices flowing, “one of the things that came out was that everybody on the team wanted to do more than just their particular role,” Travaline recalls. They wanted to break down silos across the entire organization, in fact, and the research at hand became the rallying point for the crusade.

The outcome: Traffic doubled on Skyword’s website and there were close to 250 downloads of the report on Tuesday, the day the findings were released.

“That will grow substantially,” Travaline says. Why? “Every single person in the organization is sharing this through their social channels. They’ve bought into it. They realize that we’re a small team and we can’t do it ourselves.”

What, in particular, was most effective?

“I couldn’t pick one thing that sent it through the roof. It was just a combination of everything. And again, that’s the strength of getting the entire company involved. It’s an army, working together, in all the channels.”

Maybe you can say the same about your organization. Probably not. But if you can, you’re probably buying into one of the 12 principles of the agile manifesto: Give motivated individuals the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

Or, as Travaline puts it: “Shaking up the status quo is incredibly exciting, particularly to young marketers today.”

Particularly, as always, when it works.

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