I love Content Science Review for many reasons. A top reason is we feature not only contributions from the Content Science team but also from a variety of outside contributors—from executives with leading brands to researchers with prestigious institutions to top-notch consultants and practitioners. In 2017, our friends dropped the knowledge, so picking only a few insights to highlight was harder than picking my favorite seasonal drink. (Currently, it’s a holiday spice flat white.)
Now, for the insights! As always, this list is not in order of importance or priority–I find they work well as a collection. Each insight complements the others, and they’re numbered so you know your progress in reading the list.
Several contributors brought perspective to how they use data to inform content strategy and tactics. (We call the system of collecting, analyzing, and using content data content intelligence.)
In forming a content strategy for Weather.com home page, Lindsay Howard and Amanda Ford started with data.
“To decide which weather stories we wanted to prioritize to users, we dug into the analytics. We analyzed the app events that trended higher during different types of weather locally, regionally, and globally, using a longitudinal study of select domestic and international markets. For example, when there was a severe snow storm approaching in the U.S., we saw users increase their daily forecast interaction up to five days in advance. Video viewing also skyrocketed. Surprisingly, international users would also tune in to watch the storm coverage, before, during, and after the event. When it was raining, radar activity spiked. When there was typical weather, almost all activity leveled off.”
This intelligence helped Weather.com develop a content strategy for typical weather, or what they dubbed “sunny day strategy.”
I love this example because one of the most common reasons any strategy, content or otherwise, fails is not lack of strategic thinking. Content strategy often fails because of delusion about the current state, or your foundation. If you build content strategy on misguided assumptions about the current state, you are building a house of cards. If Weather.com assumed only domestic users cared about storms in the U.S. or that typical weather engaged users, for example, the IBM company would have missed important opportunities. The only way to gain clarity about your starting point is to conduct analysis and build your content intelligence.
As organizations undergo digital transformation, they are maturing their content operations. At least, the smart ones are.
FedEx established a clear vision and strategy for their content marketing operations, which was critical for convincing their teams to make the necessary changes to achieve it. Drew Bailey developed this summary: Often, the change required to content operations in an enterprise is extensive and happening in parallel–and sometimes in conflict–with other changes.
I also appreciate the philosophy on change that Cory Bennett of AT&T espouses.
“The stakes are high in this ever-changing environment. Companies are investing heavily in digital transformation, analytics, automation, and content. If you want to meet the needs of your customers, if you want to compete with competitors new and old, and if you want to thrive and survive, you must embrace change. You must be vigilant in looking for opportunities constant change brings.
Or don’t. Because survival isn’t mandatory.”
In the course of managing change, the next insight also is useful.
Just as I’m sure doctors grow weary of acquaintances asking them for advice about gross but benign health ailments, I do not blame content professionals if they grow tired of questions about strange and outdated content tactics such as SEO snake oil. So I appreciate two contributors showing us an effective way to handle such situations.
Marie Girard of IBM cleverly used a content inventory, or an answer to the question “what content do we have?” into a wide-ranging adventure in busting outdated silos. As Girard notes,
“When we started the inventory, we discovered that almost every part of the organization was playing a role in content creation: marketing, sales, developer communities, technical documentation, training, support, services. We ran into content-related roles and teams we had no idea existed. A lot of the work had to do with finding out who was doing what, and putting them in contact with each other.”
Once Girard informally busted silos, she could then build a system to prevent the same silos from re-emerging.
Laura Jarrell of CFA Institute brilliantly turned inquiries about terminology into an opportunity to discuss more significant content issues.
“It turns out, discussions around what to name something are actually discussions around content strategy. That may seem obvious, but its simplicity does not diminish its power. When there is shared understanding of terminology across the team, conversations around strategy can become easy and productive. Sometimes the key to moving forward stalled conversations around product or content strategy can be as simple as defining the differences between your content.”
Speaking of terminology, the next insight might convince you to refer to more than content formats as assets.
We talk about content as an asset. But, if you think about it, the assets involved are more than the text, audio, video, images, documents, slides, and the like. Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose discuss audience as an asset in “Killing Marketing.” Our contributors also point to process as an asset.
Drew Bailey of FedEx (mentioned in 2 above) speaks about the entire content marketing approach–including the process–as providing business value. John Brown reminds us of the business value of storytelling. But Teresa Goertz of the fitness equipment company Precor hammers home the point that an editorial process is a business asset.
“It was clear Precor had evolved to the point where we needed more editorial oversight of all major customer content touchpoints. The importance of crafting and distributing content with precision that would ensure accurate product documentation as a critical enabler for global sales, customer satisfaction, and brand advocacy was paramount. We needed an intelligent content solution that was scalable, reasonably priced, and workable into existing project calendars, without becoming a burden during the entire content development lifecycle. The solution was to craft and implement a more prescribed editorial process for the content at the source, before it goes out to translation.”
I especially love this example because it demonstrates how content operations are maturing in the manufacturing industry. Every industry will have to embrace content thanks to digital transformation. So much opportunity for us all!
But with this opportunity comes a responsibility to modernize, as noted in the next insight.
As many of the above insights imply, content work today is more than writing/editing. So, expecting a team of a few writer/editors to engineer highly personalized, dynamic, and compelling content experiences at scale is like expecting my culinarily challenged self to whip up an elaborate multi-course holiday dinner for 20. Not realistic. I can’t even make a holiday spice flat white for one.
Several contributors underscored the need to modernize content roles for the content work of today and the future. Cory Bennett of AT&T notes,
“As a company, we’re also intensely focused on digital transformation. As far as our content team, we started our transformation a few pivots ago. Nearly every industry you can think of is being impacted by machine learning and artificial intelligence. Content creation isn’t unique in that it’s being disrupted, but we’re making our distinction by how we approach transformation.
Vast improvements in natural language processing capabilities, the increased need for personalized content, and the need for content beyond what we currently created required that we change how we think about – and create – content.
We partnered with Content Science…[and are] helping our team evolve from our existing content writing, editorial, and strategy roles to the content roles of the future: Content Designer, Content Analyst, Content Strategist, and Content Engineer.”
[A] founder Cruce Saunders, known to some as the George Clooney of content, explains the need for a Content Engineer as the demand for content automation grows.
“Content engineers bridge the divide between content strategists and producers on one hand and, on the other hand, the developers and content managers who publish and distribute content. But rather than simply wedging themselves between these players, content engineers help define and facilitate the content structure during the entire content strategy, production and distribution cycle from beginning to end.”
And two participants in our Content Operations and Leadership Benchmark Study comment on the content future becoming now.
Toni Mantych of ADP explains the need to make content machine ready.
“We are…forward thinking in trying to make sure that our content is as machine-ready as it can be. It is part of why we believe so strongly in DITA, and why we’re being very intentional about the metadata that we apply and the taxonomies that we develop, because we believe that will help with our readiness for the types of technologies that will enable machine learning and predictive delivery.”
Noel McDonagh of Dell EMC articulates the connection between artificial intelligence and automating content production to scale effectively.
“Artificial intelligence..is the only way we’re going to be able to deal with the fact that the demand for content is increasing exponentially. We’re going to have to automate the production of certain aspects of content.”
The content future is bright, but we need much more than shades to prepare. I’m excited to roll up my sleeves with you in 2018 and get to work.
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