User Stories don’t belong in the Marketing Backlog


Marketing Backlogs in the Trenches

Last week I facilitated a 2-day Agile Marketing workshop for one of my clients. As usual, the discussion about the Marketing Backlog and how to move from a big-bang marketing campaign to a more iterative approach via smaller slices of stories was one of the highlights.

As usual, I introduce the concept of User Stories which are the most popular way to represent Product Backlog Items (PBIs) in the Agile world and are also very popular in the Agile Marketing space. We looked at some awful examples of stories, such as “As a marketer, I want to install Drift on my site” or “As a user, I want to see a webinar” and then moved to stories that provide more insights about a real user (e.g. “As a VP Marketing focused on Demand Generation”) and their intent (e.g. “so that I could get more demand generated from people who hate forms and lead magnet registration-walls“)

We then broke out into multiple teams each taking an actual campaign/project they’re planning for 2019 and creating the Marketing Backlog for it.

User Stories belong in Product Backlogs (Not Marketing Backlogs)

One thing we quickly noticed was that the User Story format and perspective were confusing some of the teams. Their stories talked about their product benefits and were very similar to stories you’d expect to see in a Product Backlog rather than a Marketing Backlog.

What’s the problem you ask? Well, the Marketing Backlog ISN’T a Product Backlog. The Product Backlog reflects everything that is known to be needed in the product.

The Marketing Backlog reflects everything that is known to be needed for marketing the product/service.

What’s the problem with User Stories?

Ok, so the Marketing Backlog talks about marketing. What’s wrong with using User Stories to reflect Marketing Backlog Items (MBIs)?

Until recently, I didn’t think there was a problem. But last week’s discussions convinced me that talking about Users isn’t serving us well. It gets Marketers thinking about the product/service benefits and not about the customer/buyer journey and how they want to influence it – which is what we want the marketing stories to be about!

Buyer Stories For The Rescue? 

One tweak we used in the workshop which helped the marketers think about the right things is a switch from User Stories to Buyer Stories. These stories talk about the buyer’s journey and his/her perspective.

The format of Buyer Stories is still very similar “As a buyer, I want to perform some activity so that some buyer journey goal”. Buyer reflects a specific persona going through the buyer/customer journey. the activity typically relates to research, consideration, comparing vendors, learning, pitching internally, checking social proof, and the like.

The goal is a tricky one. Is it to solve the business problem and if so is it similar to the goal of the product/service we’re marketing? Is it to streamline my “job” as a buyer and minimize the risk I’m choosing the wrong product/service or taking too long to decide? I’m looking forward to experimenting with this a bit more in the trenches and seeing what makes sense.

Map the Journey with Story Mapping

Story Mapping, created and popularized by Jeff Patton, is one of my favorite techniques for working with agile backlogs. (Yael, my colleague, wrote about it in our blog a while ago). Story Mapping is a perfect fit when you’re trying to break a big marketing campaign/play into smaller slices. You look at the different stages of your buyer’s journey and then break down the big campaign/play into small pieces that fit into the different stages of the journey.

From Buyer to Buyers (a.k.a Account-based Marketing) with Impact Mapping

Many marketers in the B2B or enterprise space are dealing with multiple buyers with different needs and jobs they’re trying to do. A technique that can help map what kind of impact they’re trying to have on the different players (or what kind of impact these players are trying to achieve) is Impact Mapping, created by Gojko Adzic. This technique can then help marketers identify the marketing deliverables that these players would need to achieve the desired impact on the purchase. This is another great way to refine a marketing backlog and emphasize that we’re interested in the impact on the purchase/buying journey rather than the impact that the product/service will itself have on the business.

Sometimes a Buyer Story IS a User Story

There can be an overlap when there are product capabilities that are needed in order to effectively market the product. Think “freemium version” or some other product/service capabilities that are requested by marketers. But note these should be the result of identifying gaps/bottlenecks/weak spots in the way the funnel operates, not based on features asked for by customers or prospects.

YMMV – Inspect and Adapt what to put in your Marketing Backlog

This blog provides an example of how Agile Marketing isn’t exactly like Agile Development. If you are a marketer looking at Agile or you’re coming from the Product/Technology world and you’re helping marketers understand Agile and Scrum that’s something that is important to remember.

Yes, we’re still talking about empiricism, Sprints, Increments, timeboxes, and Scrum Teams. But some areas like the definition of the “Product” are different.

Luckily though, User Stories aren’t mandatory in Agile. They’re a complementary practice. Use them if they make sense. Use something else if it’s better. Mainly – experiment with something and remember to inspect how it’s going and adapt if needed.

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