By Joe Pulizzi published January 12, 2015

The Evolution of Content Marketing Will Include Intelligent Content

CMI_Evolution_0112_Pulizzi-01It was early February 2014. I was super proud of myself because I had just finished the entire agenda for Content Marketing World 2014, still seven months out.

As I sat back, looking at the organized Post-It® notes that became the final speaker lineup, I started to count the number of content marketing projects and case studies that actually positioned content as an asset for the company. How many of these projects could scale? How many of these content projects could be easily reused by other divisions or departments? How many could be repurposed without major human intervention? How many could even be found after the campaign was over? Sadly, there weren’t many.

That was the exact moment when I knew that this industry had to start moving in another direction.

Sometimes timing works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, the timing was perfect. Just a few weeks later I had the opportunity to keynote the sixth annual Intelligent Content Conference (ICC) on the west coast. My friends Scott Abel and Ann Rockley, who planned the event, invited me to talk about how content marketing and intelligent content needed to start playing nice with each other. Little did I know this would be a life-changing activity.

What’s wrong with content marketing?

Content marketers are tasked with delivering clear, concise, and relevant content to the right prospect at the right time – content designed to convert prospects into customers. And, for the most part, marketers have absolutely no idea how to do this.

Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

Read that quote from Scott again.

Sadly, this is true. Our own research backs him up. Marketers in large organizations today are significantly challenged with the process and measurement of content marketing.

And you know what? It’s OK. As CMI Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose has said so often, content marketing is a “new muscle to most organizations.” Even though the practice of content marketing is well over 100 years old, most enterprises are immature in the setting of standard processes around the discipline.

Content marketing is the approach of creating and distributing valuable and consistent content to a targeted audience, with the objective of driving some profitable action. I believe, and have always believed, that this is the best possible way to market. Building loyalty and trust with an audience over a long period opens up amazing opportunities to sell more, save costs, or create customers for a lifetime.

And, on the surface, content marketing (as we practice it today) may not be enough for enterprises. Creating more valuable content that isn’t tagged properly, doesn’t leverage the right technology, isn’t scalable or isn’t easily reusable just seems completely and utterly wrong. It is a sure way not to get organizational buy-in.

What is intelligent content?

Ann Rockley, known in many circles as the mother of content strategy, defines intelligent content as “structurally rich and semantically categorized, and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.”

So what does this mean? Ann explains that:

Intelligent content is not about the words or the images, intelligent content is how you create, manage, and deliver your content. You can have the best content in the world, but if you can’t get it out to your customers or prospects at the right time, in the right format, and on the device of their choosing, it doesn’t matter how good your content is. Communicators spend too much time handcrafting content for a channel, then handcrafting that content over and over again for each additional channel. This isn’t sustainable. We don’t have the resources or the time and we can’t afford the cost of this error-prone process.

I’m not an intelligent content expert … I’m just learning at this point. What I do know is that what Ann speaks is the truth. In a nutshell, here’s how the majority of content programs work:

1. A marketing problem is identified.

2. Someone has a content solution to that idea, which ends up looking like a blog, a white paper series, or an online or print magazine.

3. In some cases, the raw content will be repurposed into other channels. To do that, the marketer goes back to the original content (wherever it resides) to reformat the content into something new. Each time this is done, more human beings go through the process again to make it fit each new audience, including translation and localization efforts. Additionally, when a change is made in one place often it is not changed everywhere, making for an inconsistent experience and message for your audience.

4. In this larger company, only one particular division has access to the content. Most likely, other divisions don’t know the content exists, or if they do, they probably can’t access it.

5. Even if the smaller project is a success, since the content wasn’t set up to scale (like an asset), the project is fondly remembered and may even win a few awards.

6. Someone has another problem and another idea, and the process starts again.

If content marketing is really going to get a seat at the executive table, we need to start thinking, right now, about processes that will position content as a real asset for the organization. Now, many organizations can continue to do content marketing like they always have … and some of those will be successful. But I believe the industry leaders, the most profitable and successful companies on the planet, will start to evolve in this direction.

Why should the content marketer care?

If content marketing is supported by intelligent content best practices, it can reach a broader audience and have a longer shelf life.

– Ann Rockley

I’m as much to blame as anyone. Even back in 2007, I was talking about creating more and different content. Take one idea and spread that into 10 different pieces of content. Yes, but …

What if I could take a piece of content and publish it to multiple output channels, all set to display in different ways (because of the rules that I set) without having to handcraft each piece of content separately? Technical communicators have been doing this for years … it’s only recently that content marketers are learning that all this is possible.

So, what is CMI doing about it?

Let me take you back to February 2014. After my keynote speech, I was able to meet some amazing people. I met Carlos Abler (3M) and Melissa Breker (Content Strategy Inc.) for the first time. I was able to talk with Scott and Ann.

Four months later, CMI acquired the Intelligent Content Conference. Of course, CMI will continue to talk about how content marketers can better measure and market their content. That will never change.

But at the same time, we also must be talking to marketers about how they need to plan and develop working strategies to better scale and reuse content throughout the enterprise. This year’s ICC in March is that start for us on this journey.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Want to learn more? While ICC has traditionally appealed to hard-core content strategists and technical communicators, our programming this year also is ideal for content marketers who want to better understand how to scale their efforts and become more efficient. Even if you don’t plan on going to the event, I implore you to take a look at the kinds of concepts that will be covered at ICC. Frankly, as a content marketer it’s your responsibility to make sure you are prepared for the changes ahead … the evolution to come (if you choose to accept it).

And one final note … make sure you subscribe to our weekly updates on content strategy and intelligent content with exclusive insights from Robert Rose.

Are you a content marketer who wants to be ready for the evolution? Register today for ICC. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Doug Kessler

    Thought-provoking stuff.

    I’d love to see some examples of intelligent content in action to get a better idea of how it works.

    All of the premises feel true. I’m just not sure what the implications are.
    Guess I’d better jump on that learning curve too.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      I totally agree Doug. I’m really trying to wrap my arms around this thing. This feels very different from what I’m used to…but needed. Check out this case study from Scott Abel.

      Technical communicators have been doing this for a long time. They have to, especially when one change affects 50 different formats. So I see this coming to marketing, and quickly. I’m just not sure how fast.

      • Don Day

        I can speak from the perspective of technical communication and Intelligent Content. This field has been shaped by User Experience studies to use metadata and repeatable structures to make key information more easily found and experience by users of products. A user is simply a former buyer, so the same goals apply for the marketing side of those same products or services. Tech writing tools have helped with the UX goal by coaching the writing and production process to make use of markup guidelines and standards, common taxonomies, controlled language, and even principles of information architecture for applying business rules to content in order to manage it as any other corporate asset. In a way, this union of Content Marketing and Intelligent Content is just another way of describing the high goal of cross-enterprise information management. This could be a Very Good Thing for both communities.

        • Doug Kessler

          It feels like the inevitable collision of content strategy and content marketing — two disciplines that have been chugging along oblivious to the other for years.

      • Doug Kessler

        Thanks — that’s a great demonstration of the concept. Very cool — and I can see why you’re investing (your time and the CMI acquisition budget) in this idea.

        • Joe Pulizzi

          I think this is one of those things that only really successful content marketers will undertake in the next few years.

  • Guest

    This is scary for me (and probably for a lot of others) that for the first time ever, I find myself shying away from a possible future trend.

    I think that once a quantity threshold is crossed, intelligent content becomes too much…way too much.

    The fact that this would require such an enormous amount of time, resources, effort and attention to implement means that it would be classified as a huge risk…a risk that a lot of executives or directors may not want to take.

    With dozens of brands and websites, and multiple pieces of content going out every day, it would literally be a monumental undertaking.

    Are there any studies out there that show proof of a positive ROI?

    It was tough enough selling them on straightforward 2014 content marketing. 🙂

    Anyone have any thoughts for a high-quantity content team that cannot risk a drop in quality?

  • Allen

    This is scary for me (and probably for a lot of others) – to the point that for the first time ever, I find myself shying away from a possible future trend.

    I think that once a quantity threshold is crossed, intelligent content becomes too much…way too much. (quantity meaning amount of brands and websites)

    The fact that this would require such an enormous amount of time, resources, effort and attention to implement means that it would be classified as a huge risk…a risk that a lot of executives or directors may not want to take.

    With dozens of brands and websites, and multiple pieces of content going out every day, it would literally be a monumental undertaking.

    Are there any studies out there that show proof of a positive ROI?

    It was tough enough selling them on straightforward 2014 content marketing. 🙂

    Anyone have any thoughts for a high-quantity content team that cannot risk a drop in quality?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Allen…I totally get what you are saying, but there is the idea of leveraging aspects of intelligent content and going NASA intelligent content. I believe at this point, we, as content marketers, need to be thinking about ways we can plan content smarter, using technology, so that we don’t need to many humans at the back end of the process making so many changes (and often, leaving room for error).

      Many companies are not ready for this (yet), but I believe we need to understand that these things are possible, and make the best decisions we can in those circumstances.

      So, don’t worry about it now, but keep learning about it. Cool?

      • Allen

        Cool, I understand what you’re saying.

        Perhaps we (they) can work toward creating plans for a phased implementation in the meantime, as the methodology matures.

        We try our best to stay on the cutting edge – thanks to your entire team for helping us stay on track.

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    Wow, I’m not scared…. I’m excited! Finally we can look forward to creating content that makes sense for any reader, anywhere. That NEEDS TO HAPPEN! Even GoDaddy (upseller supreme) is not helping people who buy a new domain. I bought yet another one yesterday on a special deal, only to discover that their website templates are not responsive. How silly is that? I know this is a low-level example, but they are banking on the fact that most people buying domains don’t even know what responsive means. Gotta start by serving up content that’s easy to read, right?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      I like your excitement Mia!

  • Violeta Nedkova

    Hmm, I’d be happy if “intelligent” was replaced by “original”.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Violata…well, I agree with the “original”, but intelligent content is a very different thing. Thanks so much for commenting.

  • Gianluca Bregoli

    From the definition given above, intelligent content seems to have to do more with processes, strategic processes, architecture…It is not the “what” but the “how.” Am I right?

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Absolutely right Gianluca…it’s not about the words and pictures, it’s how we plan and deliver them.

      • Ram Babu SEO

        Thanks @juntajoe:disqus for sharing such awesome guide on intelligent content, this is something we must take care seriously from start to end.

  • Jim Burns

    Joe, if marketing is going to “own” customer facing content, isn’t it time to add support for other customer facing, content dependent groups into this mix: sales, the sales channel, executive communications, customer service and HR come to mind immediately, Google “talent acquisition content marketing”. This ups the ante it seems to me.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Totally agree that the silos need to be removed Jim. But as we both know, that’s easier said than done. I know a few companies that would have to completely dismantle to make that even remotely possible. But for some…

  • Vinish Garg

    CMI joining hands with ICC means that the community gets best of both the worlds – strategy and marketing, where content is the common denominator.

    I have been reading your posts and you often talked about content in much broader sense and not only for marketing. So, this hook with ICC was on the cards and it is a welcome sign indeed. I cannot make it this year but I hope to make it to the ICC-2016.

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Thanks Vinish…hope to see you there and thanks for the comment.

  • Paul Shirer

    Joe, coming at this from a publishing tool perspective, we’ve segmented and described this according to the need of the both the Publisher and the Consumer. Quickly, from the Publisher’s perspective, content that is: Create-able, Tag-able, Sort-able, Collate-able, Re-Usable, Enrich-able, Share-able, Market-able, Deliver-able. From the Consumer’s perspective: Find-able, Consumable, Relate-able, Search-able, Bookmark-able, Share-able, Customize-able, Suggest-able, Action-able. … I agree that the key is to modularize content, planning, actions, resources, etc., to effectively create a strategic and scalable content marketing program. The key to modularity is “decoupling” pieces to stand on their own and to easily integrate with others. This is difficult and takes discipline–can’t impulsively just publish whatever comes to mind and trust that it will all work out. … thanks for this great article and nice to hear you’ve acquired ICC. Will look into going now!

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Excellent Paul. Thanks for the comment.

  • Aaron

    the way I see it, intelligent content, or just content will increasingly be provided, shared, digested, by intelligent assistants like Google Now, or Siri. not in there current form, but what they are evolving into, as information gatherers and providers based on knowing what we want due to learning by context. I discuss this more here, with relation to how the internet is changing in regard to the Internet of Things, and how interconnectivity, communication, distributed computing enables applications to gather and process content and provide it to us as users to interact with in a different way than we are used to on todays web.

  • tracysestili

    Ah, the next start-up: an app that can take photos and auto re-size per platform + schedule them out with the text you provide? Brilliant!

  • ariestav

    I couldn’t agree more with the way content is headed–it’s bound to be more intelligent in every way. The key point for me in this article is the idea about “re-creating” content over and over again, when it really doesn’t need to be. Human creativity and skill should not be relegated to menial tasks involved in adjusting content when it gets pushed into a different medium, or when new data is ready to be ingested. In the business of video production, this is called workflow, and if it is not efficient, it can slow processes down considerably–wasting time and energy.

    My company’s app allows content marketers to infuse data into video templates for use in ads, digital displays, broadcast graphics, etc. We’ve seen some great traction with this from ad and marketing agencies. Check out our app, Templater, at The app itself extends the Adobe After Effects application so that video producers can incorporate data from any source into their content. I hope it proves useful to content marketers this year and beyond.

  • BryantDuhon

    As content marketing grows, we’re all going to need content management. To mention just personalization/segmentation, the tools, strategies, and techniques that Scott and Ann are awesome at will become important for content marketers to understand. The problem is that content marketing is hard. Content management is a nightmare (or at least can be). Reusing content elements, governing the content so you can delete/remove from circulation the out-dated stuff, not to mention the publishing of content across numerous channels — egads. I thought I had left this stuff behind from my last position, but I’m beginning to really understand not so much. The problem will be is that, after 20 to 30 years as an industry, not many companies do content management all that well. Going to be interesting.