It’s (Past) Time to Make Content Marketing Intelligent

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Intelligent Content

This isn’t just a cute phrase. Long time, serious content practitioners, the technical pros in this business, use the term “intelligent content” deliberately. So much so it’s the name of their conference.

They also call themselves “content strategists”. Given the importance – and confusion – of content strategy for content marketers, I wanted to see for myself what could apply to our content operations practice. So I attended the conference.

I learned these are the people who, in some important ways, are technically ahead of many content marketers. They are paving the road for us. They come from the technical publication world. But for over a decade they have been applying their principles and practices to websites. These have serious implications for content marketers.

What is Intelligent Content?

 “Intelligent content is structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.” From the conference website, along with other important explanations.

OK, so I recognize a few of the words in the description. We’re all for findable, reusable content. But what is “structurally rich and semantically categorized” content? More important, what does it mean for how we should be creating, managing, deploying and delivering content?

The practice of intelligent content addresses the operational requirements, challenge and constraints to create content that meets constituent use case and business requirements, in operationally efficient and cost effective ways, while making content a shareable, reusable, long-life asset. (See Use Case Requirements blog)

It’s focused squarely on many content marketer’s challenges:

  • Lower costs – time, effort and dollars
  • Speed – faster to create and deliver content
  • Reuse – and reused content still provides a unified view experience
  • Quality – specifically consistency, especially when publishing content to multiple channels

Some core causes of our problems begin with the way content is created.

Ann Rockley (@arockley coined the term “intelligent content”, has written several prominent books on the topic, and is the co-founder of the Intelligent Content Conference, along with Scott Abel (@scottabel

Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper (@Cooper_42 wrote Managing Enterprise Content – A Unified Content Strategy. It is in its second edition and an essential starting resource. (Unless otherwise indicated, quotes below are taken from this book.)

In the book Rockley and Cooper explain,

“The problem is that most content is created in every area of your company … in silos by authors working within a single group or department in isolation from one another. Too much of today’s content is locked within formats, and changing it takes a lot of additional work and expense.”  Managing Enterprise Content – Ann Rockley, Charles Cooper page 15-16

If you want the ability to re-purpose content to improve your content return-on-investment (ROI), this is important. If you want to automate these processes – read: lower, cost, time and effort — this is an essential point that must be resolved.

What Must Change?

Rockley and Cooper further explain,

“Instead of thinking about how we visually design the content, we need to start thinking about what content is required, by whom, when, in what circumstance, and in conjunction with other content or interactivity. To do this, content has to be structurally rich and semantically enabled. And it’s not just about format.” (page 16)

Now, I know many of you were nodding your head at the first part. “Yup, we develop personas and plan our content by buying process stages.”

But the second point should give us all pause. To this point, the content work process has been pretty familiar, albeit digital and with some cool new tools. I came away from the conference thinking, “we’re about to leave Kansas and enter Oz.”

Structurally Rich, Semantically Categorized

When you create content, how do you tag it? (See Content header blog)

How do you create content in a modular manner? 

How do you use technology to automate content assembly? 

What if this is where we’re heading? Or where we should be NOW? 

Structurally Rich

“Content is stuck in formats that don’t allow you to easily publish to various channels. To make our content intelligent so that the system can automatically process it, we need to add structure. Structure is the hierarchical order in which content occurs in an information product.

An information product can be a web page, a book, an eBook, a brochure, a training course, and so on.

Information products have recognizable structures that are repeated each time the information product is created. Information products consist of components (topics) that also have structure within them.” (page 16-17)

Semantically Categorized

“Semantic means relating to meaning or logic. Semantically categorized content is content that has been labelled in a meaningful (vs. cosmetic) way. Semantic metadata adds meaningful additional information to content. For example, using semantically categorized content you can retrieve content about a particular product even if the product is never mentioned in the content.”   (Intelligent Content Conference website.)

Need for a Unified Content Strategy

Many today are calling for an enterprise content strategy. A new, unified strategy that combines marketing, content and technology strategies.

The Vision

“A unified content strategy is a repeatable method of identifying all content requirements up front, creating consistently structured content for reuse, managing that content in a definitive source, and assembling content on demand to meet customer needs.” (page 10)

The Problem

Are you still creating content like a craftsman?

“The way content is created today is untenable. It’s as if we’re in the preindustrial age – handcrafting expensive artisanal products. With the proliferation of mobile devices, that task isn’t getting any easier.”

The Solution Approach

“We have to move to a manufacturing model. We want to move the manufacturing paradigm all the way back to the beginning of the content design and creation process. Only when we start there will the true benefits of a unified content strategy become apparent.”

“When a physical product is being designed, the individual component are considered as part fo the interconnected whole, not just as small stand-alone pieces. The design is built around the fact that the components are reusable – you don’t need to create new components to build new products.”  (page 38)

 The Takeaway

“A unified content strategy is a formal and coherent content strategy.”

“A unified content strategy is all about: designing modular, reusable content that can be efficiently “manufactured” into a variety of information products for multiple devices.”

Isn’t this what you want to do? Still not sure you need to consider this now? Here’s a hint: Joe Pulizzi (@JoePulizzi) was the kickoff keynote speaker!

We have published this blog about our 6 competency marketing and sales content strategy framework here, and we discuss and new operations processes here.


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… the inability to deliver effective knowledge, conversations, and situation-specific information (content), in context, at scale
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