By Dennis Shiao published September 17, 2019

Creative + Logic = Most Helpful Content Experiences

Are you a left or right brain?

If you’re comfortable with numbers, logic, and reasoning, you’re a left brain.

If you’re creative and rely on intuition to make decisions, you’re a right brain.

Mathematics? Left brain.

Art? Right brain.

In the world of marketing:

Automation? Left brain.

Creative? Right brain.

In the realm of content strategy, automation involves things like content models and content types. Noz Urbina, content strategist and founder, Urbina Consulting, works with clients on the left-brained things of automation like content models and types.

Can left brains and right brains work together to create success?

“When I talk about taxonomy, content models and content structures, I’m often considered to be king of the robots, like I’m coming in to kill your creativity and strangle you with standards and governance,” Noz says in his ContentTECH Summit presentation, Automation and Creative Aren’t Enemies: Structuring Great Marketing Content for Scalability and Personalization.

Right-brain creatives fear left-brain content modelers will stifle their creativity, cap their ingenuity, and lead to content that is boring, dull, and undifferentiated.

But it doesn’t have to be that way – automation and creativity can work well in tandem and even create something magical, Noz says.

Creatives fear #content models will lead to dull content. It doesn’t have to be that way. @NozUrbina #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

What are content types and models?

The term “content type” is commonly used in its simplest sense to refer to complete marketing deliverables, like a blog post, white paper, email, brochure, or even general formats like video. But there’s much more to the term. First, let’s cover the basics.

What are content types and models? Marcia Riefer Johnston shares the definitions detailed in the book The Language of Content Strategy:

  • Content type: Specification for a structured, standardized, reusable, and mutually exclusive kind of information entry – Jonathon Colman
  • Content model: Formal representation of structured content as a collection of content types and their interrelationships – Cleve Gibbon

Content types relate to one another inside a content model.

As Noz explains in Marcia’s article, content types are useful for both humans and computers. Humans cherish familiarity and consistency.

For humans, a news article includes a headline, subhead, byline, date, location, etc. A product description includes a product name, model number, short description, image(s), etc. These are examples of content types we develop in our minds through day-to-day contact with numerous content pieces.

“The human brain likes structure and consistency. We like being able to learn a system of content. That makes us more positive about the content we consume, whether or not we’re aware of it,” Noz says.

For machines, organized and tagged content is easier to parse to extract meaning and act on it in powerful and intelligent ways. For example, it could be automatically formatting content for multiple channels and delivering it to the right person when a computer detects a certain action or pattern.

Now, let’s bring in the creative side. These two examples from Noz’s presentation show how automation (i.e., content types and content models) can work with creative (i.e., the content itself) to give readers a more useful content experience.

Improving content usefulness for a bank blog

Noz illustrates how a European bank missed the chance to be more relevant and helpful to its audience by missing the opportunity to combine the left and right brain of its blog.

Over several years, the bank has published hundreds of blog posts. Covering similar topics across hundreds of blog posts often means an angle covered in one article could be useful in others.

For example, this article, Family Holiday Tips, doesn’t mention another relevant post, 7 Useful Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday. Yet, those tips, especially the one that says every family member needs a European Health Insurance Card, are perfectly suited for the family holiday tips post.

Noz details another missed opportunity for the bank’s blog. The post, Managing Your Money Abroad, notes that some debit cards may charge for international withdrawals. And yet, the article doesn’t link to the bank’s FAQ page, which includes the question (and answer): “What cash machines can I use in the UK and abroad and what are the charges?”

Incorporating the science side of content would allow the bank to make its blog content more useful to readers. As Noz explains, rather than just using the top-level terms “article” and “FAQ,” the bank should build content articles using meaningfully labeled, structured elements – the building blocks of larger content types. A content page could have these smaller content types from top to bottom:

  • Overview
  • Best practice
  • Reference facts
  • Related articles

Noz often quotes Jenny Hooks who says that Cisco calls this a system of “micro and macro content types.” Macro being the deliverable types we all know (e.g., article, blog post, white paper, brochure) and micro content types being the smaller ones (e.g., overview, feature description, call to action, specification table) that can be used to build macro types.

Build articles using structured elements to better connect it to other relevant #content. @nozurbina #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

In this reconfigured model, the family holiday tips post would include the item about each family member needing an EHIC card as a reference fact. And, if new information around the tips comes up, another reference fact could be created and included in the same post, and even be done automatically. In the Managing Your Money Abroad post, the FAQ link would surface in the related-articles section and a link inserted immediately below the section that mentions bank machines.

Creating a more useful recipe site

In the next example, Noz profiles the recipe site of a food brand. One page covers different types of pepper plants. On the right side is a statement on Santa Maria’s Spices’ responsible production:

While this statement is useful on the overall site, it’s not contextual on a page about peppers.

Though the brand has a content management system, Noz says its list of content types from which to pick for this box was very long and flat, called only “right column boxes.” It had no structure or organization. It’s likely the responsibility statement was selected randomly from that list.

At the bottom of the peppers page, the related content – labeled “spicy favorites” – features many articles that have little to do with peppers or spicy foods (e.g., creamy carbonara and breaded fish with mashed potatoes):

Noz says the company understood the basics of the content type concept (e.g., show related recipe content), but the execution wasn’t useful to the visitor. If you’re reading about peppers, what dishes have peppers in them? And what dishes pair well with the dishes made with these peppers?

He likens the error to buying a flat screen TV on Amazon only to be served the next day with ads for flat screen TVs instead of more relevant content about TV accessories or installation services.

Noz is working with this client to take a more strategic approach, using a reconfigurable model (built on content types) like he shared for the European bank.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Getting Started With Structured Content

Connecting the content dots

You may already have connected the dots. As Noz explains, structuring content via smaller, more specific content types and using meaningful (i.e., semantic) tagging to embed intelligence and meaning makes it manageable, reusable, and automation-ready:

Types & tags embed meaning to make #content reusable & automation-ready. @nozurbina #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

Now content is staged and available for personalization and omnichannel output. Automation used does not limit or cap creativity.

“There’s no reason that the words inside here are any less creative. There’s no reason you should write worse because I’ve asked you to label your blocks and put a little bit of metadata on them,” says Noz.

Bringing together left and right brain

The brain is a fitting analogy. While you might see yourself as left or right brain. Neither side works in isolation. Content marketing should be all brain too. The left brain (automation) works with the right brain (creativity) to create better and more useful content.

In a prior job at a software company, I created a new section of the website using a reconfigurable model similar to what Noz covers in his presentation. Not only did that make content elements reusable across different parts of the site, it was also staged and available to be used beyond the website – apps, kiosks, smart speakers, and wherever else users may want it. In addition, it was ready for use in personalized experiences.

How are you thinking about making your content ready for personalization and omnichannel output? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Here’s an excerpt from Noz’s talk:

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Dennis Shiao

Dennis is an independent marketing consultant who works with brands on content marketing, product messaging, and social media marketing. Formerly, Dennis led the content marketing function at DNN Software. Dennis curates an email newsletter called Content Corner and publishes marketing-related content on Medium. Feel free to reach out to Dennis on Twitter @dshiao

Other posts by Dennis Shiao

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