Agile content production keeps hungry customers happy

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Saying the right thing is not enough for retailers to remain competitive. Instead, marketing and commerce teams have to say the right thing in a way that resounds with their audience in the moment, and this means getting the content development process right.

Traditionally it has been done in siloes, with one team completing a task before throwing it over the wall to another team until eventually, it’s ready for production. This can take weeks, even months, and does not suit today’s online buyers who demand fresh, exciting content every time they visit a website.

The clear message is that processes that worked in the past are not designed for the content needs of today, and instead retailers and brands need to adopt a more lean and agile approach. This does not mean ripping out and replacing existing organizational structures all at once or undoing what works well, but instead taking a moment to step back and consider different ways of structuring teams and workflows, shifting to a ‘Create Once, Publish Everywhere’ mindset and adopting agile best practices.

Introducing CXOps

To make processes leaner and faster, companies should be aware of the benefits of a Content eXperience Operations (CXOps) approach. What is CXOps? Essentially it brings together key stakeholders and resources from the various departments who are focused on digital content from ideation to publishing (and even post-publish tracking and reporting) in specialized teams that leverage agile methodologies.

CXOps makes the working group a permanent fixture and formalizes processes to be more agile. It’s no longer “we also need something for the website” but rather a concerted effort to compose a true omni-channel, omni-device experience that’s owned by the business group but leverages cutting-edge technology and expertly architected solutions.

Ideally CXOps is part of a broader department focused solely on digital experiences and reports to a Chief Experience Officer or similar but even without this, it casts off waterfall practices and the siloed, slow, inner-focused tendencies resulting from decades of print and traditional media. It also embraces agile principles (tailored to content instead of development) and is focused outward, to the customer.

Agile content production process

CXOps strengthens governance by involving fewer resources, promoting transparency and collaboration, and keeping leadership focused on strategy while letting those closest to the customer execute the work.

Instead of a linear, sequential process that’s heavy on back-and-forth and up-the-ladder approvals, CXOps takes basic requirements, enables swarms (teams from different departments who come together to address a major campaign, content change or industry shift), to work out the kinks, then hands the raw assets to a team dedicated to overseeing content oversight and operations. They conduct final assembly and publish. 

Forget these taking months to come to fruition, it can now be done in a fraction of the time. Without development’s involvement, the business group retains ownership of the process. There are no release windows or competition with tech debt and break-fix user stories. And with increased flexibility and specialized teams, organizations can easily absorb any changing requirements from external pressures (competitor actions, supply chain issues, etc) or internal pressures (strategy shifts, turnover, etc).

Governance consists largely of having solid requirements combined with guidelines around style, brand and content. The smaller group of resources with appropriate permissions, change logs and C-suite accountability mean there are fewer heads to count and fewer touchpoints to potentially disrupt progress or go astray from the brief.

Using the right tool for the job

Changing processes is likely to highlight the inefficiencies of the tools that a retailer or brand is creating content in, so the next step on the journey to superior efficiency is to give teams the tools they need to maximize their newly adopted lean and agile processes.

Where do the key frustrations lie? Is it in the ideation stage, the iteration, or the implementation? Knowing this helps companies to evaluate the most effective tools that will enable them to remove further friction from the process. The starting point is to look at the project management approach – are they staying lean and monitoring the content production? One of the most effective methods for retailers and brands is to utilize a Kanban approach, with a Kanban board that limits work in progress and represents production as a flow but there are plenty of other agile methodologies that can be adopted.

Once a company has implemented a lean production process the next largest reduction in efficiency comes from the feedback and iteration stages. Often content is created in different tools, from InDesign and Photoshop or Figma to the content management system (CMS). Content created in different tools makes it very difficult to review the holistic experience. Teams flip from one tab or tool to another to work out what the entire experience will look like across all channels, resulting in cognitive switching penalties. Ensuring consistency across all channels for the entire experience becomes very difficult to achieve and review at speed.

Different departments need to work in different tools so it’s advisable to have a central point that all the content components are pulled into. This is where the CMS can be fully leveraged. It should become the single-place-of-truth where all the up-to-date pieces of content go when they’re ready for review. Teams then have the flexibility they need to work with their preferred tool for the job whilst providing an environment to efficiently review all aspects of the content across all channels with the CXOps, in one single tool.

It’s at this stage that CXOps and the teams overseeing content oversight and operations can come together, virtually or otherwise, to review and iterate all elements of the customer journey through one simple interface. Everyone can see, review and provide feedback on the holistic experience to finally approve the real-time changes.

The content management system

An older CMS may not support the creation of content across all channels and preview from a single place. Instead it might require the duplication of content production in other tools in order to deliver content to non-web channels like apps or wearables, which will make the above process much less efficient.

If this is the case then a modern CMS incorporating MACH principles (Micro-services, API-first, Cloud native, Headless) is better. They were built for the omni-channel era and so natively support the full range of channels. Teams can work effectively and amplify their content across all channels through modular content – it’s all managed from one place.

Start small on the agile journey

Going agile is the human portion of the equation. It’s a shift in how companies structure themselves and their work to move faster without sacrificing quality. This combination of an agile approach enabled by MACH technology principles allows teams to be proactive rather than reactive. It can’t and won’t happen instantly. But implementing even small changes over time has knock-on effects with outsized impact. The businesses that have already started their agile and MACH journey are the ones that will compete and thrive in the months and years to come.

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Michael Badamo

Michael Badamo is Customer Success Manager at Amplience. He joined the company after a decade on the merchant side, and has been involved in all
aspects of ecommerce, from running a photo studio and writing product copy to launching a new ecommerce program for a bricks-and-clicks retailer. At Amplience he provides consultative account management focused on building long-term relationships and growth, with a focus on product adoption, best practice guidance, and diagnostics.

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