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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