By Marcia Riefer Johnston published January 7, 2015

A Case Study in Intelligent Content: The Language of Content Strategy

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Bite-sized. Organized. Consistent.

Guy Kawasaki uses those terms to describe The Language of Content Strategy by Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailie. (I was privileged to write the foreword.) This is a minidictionary of a book. I take that back. It’s not a book. Well, it is a book. It’s just that calling it a book misses the point. It’s a print book, an eBook, a card deck, and an interactive website. The Language of Content Strategy is a multi-deliverable product.

The Language of Content Strategy also is more than the sum of its deliverables. It’s a case study in intelligent content, as highlighted by the three adjectives shared by Kawasaki, former Chief Evangelist of Apple and Cofounder of Alltop.com. 

Bite-sized

The content comprises stand-alone modules. Each module – each of the 52 content-strategy terms (metadata, content audit, content migration, etc.) – gets a two-page spread in the print book, a card in the deck, and a page on the website.

Organized

The modules are structured with cookie-cutter similarity to the point of using identical subheadings. Examples: “What is it?” and “Why is it important?” and “Why does a content strategist need to know this?”

Consistent

Each module has a similar voice and almost identical length, as if the assembled whole were written by one person rather than 52 experts.

Reason 

This multi-deliverable product took serious planning. Why did Scott and Rahel Anne do it? They created it because intelligent content has a problem: It’s an abstraction. Abstractions slip around in your brain. They elude your grasp. The authors wanted to make intelligent content tangible. So they leveraged content-engineering methodology to create The Language of Content Strategy, which enables you to rifle through a book, spray a card deck on the floor for a hands-and-knees game of 52-card pickup, and scroll through a website. 

Audience 

The Language of Content Strategy is intelligent content incarnate. Something we can literally grip. When I say “we,” I mean a host of audiences. You may be any of the following:

  • A technical writer wondering what your professional future holds
  • A marketer experiencing enough content chaos to wonder how might this intelligent-content thing help you and your company
  • A content strategist wishing that the rest of the world just got it already so that you could get on with your job, and, to that end, you appreciate having something tangible (a manipulative, teachers would call it) to help you explain these big, sometimes intimidating concepts
  • Someone who simply wants to understand how things work at this fascinating intersection – this place where content and technology meet – and you suspect that somehow there’s money to be made here

If you count yourself among those audiences, the making-of story of The Language of Content Strategy has value for you.

Creation 

I won’t waste time copying and pasting the story for you because it goes against the spirit of the book. Copy-and-paste content is not intelligent content. You can find the making-of story and other analyses in a number of places, including these:

Takeaways 

You might wonder what’s in The Language of Content Strategy for you. When I got my hands around this set of information products – the book, the cards, etc., – all generated from the same XML database, it was easier to get my head around the concept of intelligent content. I came away thinking, this is what content modeling looks like. This is what content reuse looks like. This is what responsive design looks like.

Yes, those are content-strategy terms right out of the book. I use them here because the language of content strategy spills over into the language of intelligent content. As Ann Rockley says, “Intelligent content is content strategy taken to the next step. An intelligent content strategy involves all aspects of content strategy plus … additional tasks.”

I not only read about the term content model, I experienced content modeling because the editorial team used content models – templates that give each term’s page cookie-cutter consistency.

And I could see, by comparing the book with the card deck and the website, what content reuse is all about: Oh, that term’s definition is the same everywhere. I learned what makes that reuse possible is single sourcing.

I could also see differences. For example, the cards exclude the author information that appears in the book, and the headings had been adjusted to accommodate the cards’ limited space: “Why is it important?” shrinks to “Why do it?” I saw responsive design in action.

The ultimate benefit for me was that I came away feeling, I can do this. I probably won’t create a book/card deck/website. Bumper stickers? T-shirts? Airplane banners? No telling what my deliverables will be. And no telling what tools I’ll use and what processes I’ll follow. I may do it for tech communication. I may do it for marketing communication. I may do it for some overarching entity that manages to bridge the sales–support divide, making the dream of enterprise content a reality.

Whatever the project, whatever the deliverables, whatever the tools, my Language of Content Strategy will be – must be – three things. Bite-sized. Organized. Consistent.

Title image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski, Content Marketing Institute

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

Other posts by Marcia Riefer Johnston

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