I recently had a chance to speak with a wonderful woman from a local Portland advertising agency. Her firm has been integrating elements of content strategy into their workflow for the past three years. I loved the opportunity to explain to her my in-house approach and challenges while hearing all about her agency methodology.

We talked about stakeholder alignment, the challenges of getting the agency and client onboard sustainable content practices, and how to get coworkers and/or Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to get along with long-term publishing and editorial practices. Oh, and golf. Lots of golf talk.

It was refreshing to me because to me, most agencies are creating digital assets that often face finality. We’ve seen our fair share of popular digital campaigns, their launch, their cult following, award winning, then shelving into the archives.

Content marketing and other forms of iterative marketing are gaining lots of steam as our economy starts to value branded content as a method to gain gradual, increasing interaction over straight-up, single-shot attention and dollars. Iterative marketing strategies don’t rely upon a big idea to sell or modify behavior, much like a lot of advertising does currently.

Traditional ad budgets and planning all go towards one project—a sense of finality. Rather than that, iterative marketing is a path to take where there’s a lot more room for educational failures, or knee-skinning, that we can learn from as we publish content. Even as the failures occur, they’re often in the form of customer-touching media, adding or subtracting from the overall good will or knowledge imparted.

Red Bull has some intense digital and social content, but they often live up to one big moment. The Stratos Space Jump utilizes significant social media coverage and feature viral qualities, but that’s it for those campaigns.

They’re just that—campaigns. This is typically the earlier end of the customer experience (where they interact with marketing, do their project research, etc.).

Now let’s look at Intel’s iQ or AT&T’s Uverse. It’s all content that supports a particular product while enriching and improving the customer’s experience with it. I’ve seen both at launch—they were both super boring.

However, they learn from the metrics that they gather (we hope). They’re probably retiring content that doesn’t work, while pushing and producing more content that they know their customers will consume and love. It’s getting better.

Elements and principles of content strategy adds structure to this iterative process, giving you many ways to track what went wrong, what went well, and ultimately identify what could be better. Content strategy and its partnerships with user experience, information architecture, and beautiful, beautiful design converge to bring something beautiful to the reader, customer, or your favorite audience.

It’s like a mash-up of the scientific method and Art, but with your communications mix instead.

Trial and error, scuffles.

As a marketing manager at a smaller company, budget is always a concern of mine. We want to spread word of our products, for sure, but given the limited number of customers we can qualify, we need to make sound decisions with our marketing dollars.

I used to be scared of failing. But then I realized how much we learn from our trials. With an open mind and the right analytical tools and processes, the failures don’t really feel like failures because we have the means to collect meaningful data to fuel a better iteration.

I proudly wear my Content Strategist hat here. Solving to optimize the customer experience, instead of traditionally marketing to our audiences, we instead build a series of valuable content. Some pieces are blog posts. Some are messages to the customer that guide them towards fully enjoying our product.

If customers get mad, there’s something out there to help calm them down. If they want to leave our services, there are a few pieces to thank them or learn how we can improve our products. And then there are guides to download to make someone’s life using the internet a little easier—those life hacker-ish tips and tricks seem to be pretty par these days.

This content can be seen as modular, but it lives as one cohesive experience. As we publish each piece, we set methods of tracking. We learn from these metrics and make the next piece a little better—a little more targeted and meaningful.

Everyone’s efforts are much more targeted and meaningful as well. Editorial calendars give teammates a sense of foresight as to what needs to be made soon, what’s out there now, and what to plan for down the road. Contextual metrics augment these editorial strategies, allowing teams to evaluate content performance.

If you’re lucky and have some sense of structure to your content, you can deconstruct and rebuild content to adapt to what you might learn in the field. No re-doing the entire campaign. If a header sucks, then change the header out (based on user data of course).

If the big idea fails, chances are that the whole campaign is done for. If one piece of content doesn’t perform well, it doesn’t fail in vain. It’ll fuel insight so that its brothers and sisters perform much better next time. We’ve published content that drives very little traffic. We’ve also published content that spikes traffic and leads. It’s a fun mix.

This iterative process doesn’t take a heavy investment of money. It does require a team that respects these processes and people who believe in the overall customer experience. It requires convincing leadership that you have a great plan in place to succeed, whether it’s spreading a message or promoting a product.

Building the iterative machine to bring new value.

We see our fair share of “link bait” out there—content publishers create for the sole purpose of getting people to click on the link, register a page view, and with hope and prayer, drive a lead or close a sale. This stuff pisses us off, makes us wonder why it even exists.

But, when we see that interesting piece that happens to apply to our lives and makes it a bit better… we smile. We consume. We repost on our favorite social channel. And then we see follow-up pieces that continue to capture our curiosity, imagination, and perhaps our pocketbooks as well.

These are customer experiences that we don’t mind having. There’s a lot of planning that goes into these. It’s not just planning one huge output and then calling it a day. No, it’s creating a machine—a system that continually serves those whom we care about while producing data that allows us to improve that machine.

Agencies and in-house teams of all shapes and sizes that respect content strategy and iterative marketing strategies are noticing that these approaches allow them to communicate value to audiences while giving them room to navigate the ebb and flow of the ever-changing internet. It’s somewhat new grounds to derive and deliver new value to their clients.