By Kevin Howarth published September 2, 2013

Is Your Content Plan Equipped for Content Engineering?

content engineeringA 2011 IBM study of over 1,700 CMOs reports, “We now create as much information every two days as we did from the dawn of civilization to 2003.” It’s not surprising the same study says 79 percent of CMOs expect a high level of complexity over the next five years, but only 48 percent feel prepared to cope with it.

Increasing each year in volume and complexity, digital content forms a large part of this data explosion. While building a content strategy and investing in marketing technology solutions is a good start, it’s not enough; CMOs need to become even more strategic about the process behind their content strategy and technology. That means fully embracing content engineering.

Unfortunately, companies struggle most with the technical execution (i.e., the process) of content strategy. That’s because content strategy grows more complex as enterprises demand more sophisticated ways of building, managing, and delivering the right personalized content to each and every customer. Philip Wisniewski, Executive Vice President at the content engineering firm Kanban Solutions explains: “One-to-one conversations dramatically improve customer engagement but require much greater technical sophistication.”

Content engineering transcends marketing automation and content management

For enterprises with large amounts of content, Wisniewski argues traditional content management systems quickly encounter pitfalls. Enterprises still blame many failed content strategy implementations on a failed CMS implementation. In actuality, says Wisniewski, “A content management system alone usually cannot handle a complex content strategy.”

In addition, marketing automation products are hampered by their beginnings as email tools and often do not address more sophisticated content needs — such as engaging customers at each stage of a relationship, and on every possible device. “When you think about global markets, multiple brands, and mobile delivery for a global enterprise, the complex implications for content are mindboggling. No CMS or marketing automation product handles that now,” says Colleen Jones, author of Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content.

So, what is content engineering?

As Figure 1 shows, content strategy focuses on the fundamentals of content. Those fundamentals include analyzing your enterprise’s content situation for strengths, weaknesses, and gaps; building a strategy and plan to formulate a vision for your content; and then evaluating whether the strategy is effective and how to improve it. Where does content engineering come into play? Content planning. Content engineering covers content management and several key areas often missed by traditional marketing technology solutions:

  • Content relationships: How will you implement a taxonomy, ensure consistent metadata, or make sure content ties to specific user profiles?
  • Content delivery: How will content presentation (such as building the right publishing template) and personalized content work?
  • Content process: What is the most optimal way to convert and transform content (such as legacy content) in preparation for publishing to many different devices?
content strategy

“Content Engineering Plans Your Content Technology and Architecture.”
Diagram created by Content Science and Kanban Solutions.

If you think one technology product will address all of these issues, think again. There are many possible technology products or platforms to use, and often a company will need multiple solutions to address all its needs. Content engineering defines which technology products or platforms to use — or not use — and how to deploy each. Content engineering also plans the best architecture for your content and technology.

“The last thing you want is to engineer a system of content management, marketing automation, and social media — and then find your content fits about as well as a round peg in a square hole,” says Jones.

Consider a recent content engineering initiative for Nikon. Wisniewski explains, “We took great care to provide a system that allowed flexibility in the layout and use of various content types, but we also implemented significant controls. Just because you can give marketing users complete control over the experience, doesn’t mean that you should.” (See: Content engineering at Nikon, below.)

sunset boat image-Nikon

Nikon’s content types provide flexibility for users but retain strict engineered content controls, such as a single column layout with an image carousel (Figure 2) or a two column layout with a pull quote (Figure 3).

aquarium image-NikonEngineering this balance of flexibility and control makes a content strategy easier to scale —especially when many people at an enterprise are involved in creating, editing, or overseeing content.

“With content engineering, enterprises are more holistic, creating a complete system that aligns technology, content, people, and processes with the overall content strategy,” Jones says.

What do enterprises need to start engineering their content?

To assess whether you’re ready for content engineering, examine the following areas in your enterprise:

  1. Content strategy: Start with an analysis that accounts for customer content needs and the enterprise’s marketing goals. Conduct a competitive assessment, and a review of technology needs and capabilities.
  2. Marketing experts versed in technology: 31 percent of marketing departments now have a technologist on their staff, and this percentage is increasing. Visionary marketers will create unique relationships with IT departments, including extensions of IT that serve only the marketing department.
  3. Technology experts versed in marketing: As IT budgets continue a shift to marketing, IT needs to understand how systems connect and how content will flow through the systems. When IT experts know how to translate a content strategy into an implementation plan, they become valuable stakeholders.
  4. Capabilities that are more sophisticated than those of traditional marketing agencies: Wisniewski says, “Just because a marketing agency has worked with content doesn’t mean they are content strategists.” Seek out content strategy and engineering specialists versed in the particular nuances of large-scale enterprise implementations.

Content engineering at Nikon

content-engineering-nikon-David Dentry

David Dentry

Nikon recently redesigned its content marketing platform, called Learn & Explore, which provides content that instructs and inspires camera users to get the most out of their equipment. Here’s what David Dentry, Senior General Manager of Customer Experience, had to say about the project.

What areas did you focus on as part of the redesign?

We definitely focused on content availability since we had good content that wasn’t always easy to access. Working with both our visual designers and content engineers, we came up with an attractive way to display the content. We included powerful search and sorting tools to help guide the customer to the most relevant content.

How did you align your redesign strategy with content engineering?

We knew that Learn & Explore needed room to grow and fit into our long-term web development plans. That meant planning for more robust video support, linking to our eCommerce engine without becoming overtly “salesy,” providing a better presentation on mobile platforms, and of course, lowering overall costs. A phased content engineering approach coupled with open development allowed us to meet these goals and still launch something functional in a reasonable time frame.

How are you measuring the impact of this content marketing platform?

We measure the normal “time on site” and “click rate” metrics. For example, the Learn & Explore experience is driving a significant increase in purchase intent such as a 101 percent increase in visits that include an ‘Add to Cart’ click. But we also receive valuable feedback directly from customers. Seeing customers share the articles socially really gives me a good feeling for how well we’re doing.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our quarterly magazine.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Kevin Howarth

Kevin Howarth is an associate with Content Science, a digital content strategy consultancy advising Fortune 500 companies such as The Coca-Cola Company, Dell, and John Wiley & Sons. He regularly contributes to Content Science's blog, Content Insights.

Other posts by Kevin Howarth

  • opedmkt

    Very insightful blog Kevin. A lot of companies seem to put a lot of focus on content marketing (blogging, syndicating, automation) but fail to put it in the context of the customer, and the purchasing lifecycle. Cheers, Robert

  • Tangerine Digital

    Hey Kevin, a very interesting post. Thousands of Content is uploaded everyday but
    what makes it stand out is not just creating and uploading it for the sake of
    it but Strategizing it, Managing it and creating a proper plan for its execution.
    We, Tangerine Digital ( being a Content Creation and Content Management company, we know what all goes
    into a successful digital content campaign and term “Content Engineering” sets
    fit into it.

    Thank you so much

    Team Tangerine Digital


  • Patty Raphael

    Thank you for the blog Kevin. I liked
    reading the mini-case study on Nikon. It sounds like David primarily tied
    customer profiles and content through “powerful search and sorting
    tools.” He also monitored the success of the match by watching the metrics
    and how many prospects shared the articles. What other tactics could be used to
    assess the customer experience when using this new engineered pathway?

    • Kevin Howarth

      Patty – Glad you liked the mini-case study. If you’d like to delve a bit deeper into Nikon, here’s a link to a longer case study ( ). To answer your question, there are a few ways to tactically assess the customer experience in this newly engineered context:

      – Qualitative and quantitative usability tests that analyze the customer’s experience with content, especially across different channels (including mobile). As you make changes to your content’s structure, for example, you can test and evaluate those changes with users. (For a more in-depth look at content evaluation, you might want to check out Colleen Jones’s upcoming book, “Does Your Content Work? A Handbook for Evaluating Content.”

      – Analyze the effectiveness of your taxonomies and metadata by seeing if users are actually finding your content with the content relationships you’ve set up. To really fine-tune your content relationships, you need to look at what terms users find most relevant.

      – Try a variety of A/B testing to assess your content delivery. A/B testing can help you see which content your customers best respond to, especially if you’re trying to generate leads. This is content delivery optimization, and one of the easier parts of content engineering to fine-tune to the needs of your customers.

      – Use analytics data more strategically to help pinpoint content that works well and content that needs improving. You want to make sure you’re not just seeing how customers react to whatever content you throw out, but that you’re using the analytics data in conjunction with content engineering to figure why your content is working, what gaps exist, and how to efficiently fix problems.

      Thanks for your question, and I hope this helps.

      • Patty Raphael

        Great information. A special thanks for the links – I found them useful. Colleen Jones’s book looks interesting, so I will await is publishing date.
        Thanks again!

  • Philip Wisniewski

    Thanks Kevin for covering this important topic. Having just come back from CMW in Cleveland, it is clear that the end game is real-time content marketing enabled by a strong strategy and content engineering. Two of the keynote speakers mentioned Oreo’s work during the super bowl. The following white paper, “Are you ready for your Oreo Moment?”, covers this topic in more detail. Enjoy.