I really enjoyed Joe Pulizzi’s keynote at the Intelligent Content Conference this year. It is called “Unlocking Your Content’s Potential,” and you can see it on Slideshare here. There were two consecutive slides, in particular, that sparked my interest. The first is a list of marketing automation tools:
The second is a list of intelligent content characteristics:
Seeing these slides listed consecutively got me thinking. Imagine how much more streamlined and efficient marketing automation could be if it used structured, intelligent content? And imagine how much more “on brand” technical content could be if we reused product information between marketing and technical content deliverables?
Unfortunately, as things stand today, it is not possible to achieve these two goals. Simply put, today’s marketing content is not intelligent. The closest we come to efficiency and reuse in the content marketing arena is creating websites using responsive design. But that is where the intelligence of most marketing content ends.
What’s the problem? Why is marketing content so stupid?
The main reason for the inefficiency is that marketing content it is not structured. And the reasons marketing content is not structured are a combination of tools and paradigm.
The tools that we use to create marketing content do not support semantic categorization, content reuse, or adaptability. Most marketing content is created using InDesign, Adobe CQ, Quark, Powerpoint or Word. And while there is rudimentary reuse in one or two of these tools, by and large these tools create unstructured, non-reusable, unadaptable content.
Our content management systems may provide a way to tag content and give it metadata. And we can use a semantic taxonomy for tagging, if we do a good job of thinking it through in advance (note the “if” in that sentence). However, the files remain big blobs of unstructured stuff.
For example, I’ve seen marketing organizations that create all of these pieces of content for the exact same product:
- Technology white paper
- Customer success story / case study
- Sales presentation
- Print ads
- Online ads
- Facebook post
- LinkedIn post
- Blog post(s)
Each one of these pieces of content is a separate content creation effort. Other than the random copy and paste, there is no base set of reusable information that can be leveraged to create multiple deliverables. The tools that we use for creating marketing content simply do not support structure and reuse.
Is XML the Answer?
In the technical content arena, intelligent content is created in XML using an XML authoring tool. Using XML, the writer creates structured content that consists of smaller chunks of information. Content deliverables, such as user guides and online help systems, are built by sewing together the appropriate chunks of information.
Using XML, the same chunk of information can be reused in multiple content types. For example, conceptual information can be written once and used in a user guide, a training course, an online help system, and more. Each chunk of content is semantically tagged so that it is easy to find. A component content management system stores and manages the chunks.
If marketing content was created in XML, not only could the same chunk be shared among different marketing content deliverables, the same chunk could be used in technical content and training content, too. Think about the benefits of using the same product description in a white paper, a case study, a product overview, product training, sales training, and documentation. Write it once, use it everywhere.
I’m not saying that all content can be shared between marketing and other departments. But there is certainly a subset of content that could (and should) be written once and used over and over again.
This brings us to the writing paradigm. In order for us to have intelligent marketing content that is structurally rich, semantically categorized, easily reused, and so on, we need to think differently about the content itself.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that marketing writers tend to think that each piece of content needs its own vernacular. For example, the words we use to describe the product in a case study should not be the same as the words we use to describe the product in a sales presentation or blog post.
Writing and reusing structurally-rich content forces us to shift our thinking about the “content individuation” value proposition. It forces us to be consistent with terminology. It demands that we all write using the same tone and voice, so that pieces written by different people can be mixed-and-matched to create a final content product.
As long as each marketer believes that his or her content is unique, must be unique, and will not hit the target unless it is unique, we’ll never get to the point of reusing marketing content – regardless of how much money we spend on new tools.
It is interesting to compare Joe Pulizzi’s consecutive slides on marketing automation and intelligent content. And it is interesting to dream about how efficient we could make the authoring and automation process for marketing if we were to infuse it with a bit of structure. Sharing certain pieces of content among multiple groups (marketing, tech doc, training, and so on) would be the icing on the cake.
Achieving intelligent marketing content that feeds better and more efficient marketing automation is going to take advances in the tools we use to create the content and the way we think about the content that we create.
P.S. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the original title Robert Rose wanted me to use for this article: “I See the Future of Content Marketing and it is Smallpox.”
When not blogging, Val can be found sitting behind her sewing machine working on her latest quilt. She also makes a mean hummus.
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