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The Search for Intelligent Content in the Universe


As we begin our exploration and journey toward intelligent content, we wanted to introduce CMI’s philosophy on intelligent content and invite you to come along on the journey.

If you haven’t seen the movie (and play), The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe written by Jane Wagner and starring Lily Tomlin, do yourself a favor and find it. Near its end, there’s a scene where Trudy, a homeless person and guide to aliens (yeah, just go with it), is relaying her experience of taking the aliens to a play. After it’s finished the aliens have goose bumps; they completely loved the experience. But it wasn’t the play that gave them the goose bumps, it was the audience. See, Trudy forgot to tell the aliens to watch the stage.

“…to see a group of strangers sitting together in the dark, laughing, and crying about the same things… that just knocked ’em out. They said, ‘Trudy, the play was soup … the audience … art!”

As practitioners of content – don’t we all hope to create that kind of art?

What is intelligent content

One thing I love so much about the intelligent content name is its simplicity that belies the complexity of the ideas it supports. In today’s world, no matter our function in the business, we strive to find smart ways to create, manage, deliver, and maintain our content. As Content Strategist Rahel Bailie wrote so elegantly in a recent post, intelligent content is an approach that “should be designed to allow future projects to become part of a unified strategy.” In short: To create content as a function intelligently with the goal that future efforts be flexible enough to align to a common content strategy.

But further, with a goal to master this approach and the power of technology, the content itself can be made intelligent. It can, in the wonderful words of Ann Rockley, be “structurally rich and semantically aware, and is therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.”

This is exactly why we at CMI are so excited about bridging the worlds of content strategy and content marketing strategy. As I wrote last year: The practices are separate, but intimately connected. And when connected they share one common, inalienable goal: To foster content as the differentiating asset of the business – and thus content-as-a-function should be a strategic function within the business.

And thus our mission for ICC becomes clear: To deliver value to you – the professionals who want to understand the best practices of how to create, manage, deliver, and scale the approach of intelligent content in your business. In short, we will help you develop more efficient and scalable content strategies.

Let’s explore together

Building this community and providing education are something we dare not attempt without both thought leaders and you by our side. We know this works because it is the successful foundation on which we have built the Content Marketing Institute.

To that end, we have created an editorial advisory group that will help us navigate through the tricky universe. These advisors will help guide the best practices and foster the solutions that help us reach our mission. Will they always agree? No. Just as we continue to debate the intricacies of content marketing, there is no doubt that passions will reign and, yes, intelligence debated. But the debates will be settled by the results – we will watch you, the audience. That is the art.

To launch this initiative, we asked members of our new editorial advisory group their thoughts on what a “beginning” content practitioner needs to know about the approach of intelligent content. Their responses varied, as you might expect, and we’ve truncated some of them for space. We’ll publish them in their entirety in another format in the days to come.

Think of these as waypoints in our establishment of a foundation for intelligent content:

“Content continues to grow exponentially and our customers can access our content anywhere, anytime, and on any device. But customers can be overwhelmed with the huge number of choices and frankly companies can’t keep up with rapidly changing customer needs. You have to find ways of being agile, of automating processes, and personalizing content to establish a deep rapport with the customer. Think big, act small, and start moving toward intelligent content best practices to ensure you meet your customer needs now and into the future.” – Ann Rockley

“It’s time we recognize that we write for computers first, then for people. It’s time for intelligent content – content that is both readable by humans and machines. Intelligent content is content with superpowers; content that can (with the help of technology) perform tasks automatically, freeing content creators to add value through innovation.”– Scott Abel

“Intelligent content requires a shift in perspective, and presents a significant writing challenge. Information is not bound to a specific format, which means writing information with less context. When creating intelligent content, the writer must focus not just on the text and images, but also on including the right semantics – for example, tagging book titles and part numbers.” – Sarah O’Keefe

“Intelligent content will turn your concept of strategy upside down and sideways. Strategy is always big picture, right? Tactics are always details, right? Not with intelligent content. Often, the more granular your analysis and planning for content is, the more strategic – and effective – your approach is.” – Colleen Jones

“Intelligent content requires that you rethink your approach to content: the way you write it, your tone and voice, the words that you use, how you tag it, organize it, and store it. It is a new way of working in and with content. When done well, you will come out with processes and deliverables that you couldn’t have imagined creating before.” –Val Swisher

“Intelligent content is content that lives a life separate from deliverables. Deliverables – sites, apps, microsites, print collateral, and all the rest – just wrap up a slice of content for a certain time and context. The content itself is the vital and distinct business asset that we manage upstream on an ongoing basis and is adaptive across many projects, silos, audiences and deliverables.” – Noz Urbina

“Intelligent content is not itself a strategy. For example, content would have intelligence because the strategy demands multi-channel publishing and the design would be responsive. Therefore, the intelligent content delivery would display appropriately on computers and all smart appliances. And, it may have a printable and downloadable form.” – Rick Wilson

“Creating good content is hard – but, managing and scaling content delivery across multiple channels is a sophisticated challenge that requires the intentional coordination of content strategists, digital experts, and executives.” – Lisa Welchman

“Content strategy and content marketing are linked much in the same way that we link chocolate and hazelnut or chocolate and peanut butter. Content marketing is what gives consumers interesting flavor choices. Content strategy is the chocolate itself, that consistent ingredient that provides a foundation for all the flavors to carry them to the senses. It is the science of producing, stabilizing, and blending the chocolate with its flavors that gives us product to put on the shelves.” – Rahel Bailie

“Intelligent content offers critical support to create more powerful, highly tailored, and rightly delivered content marketing products, with assets that can be adaptable across many devices, and ready-made to be re-configured and re-used with agility, for many unforeseen uses in the future.” – Carlos Abler 

The road ahead

I’ve had the distinct pleasure of having been a speaker and attendee of every Intelligent Content Conference since the first one in Palm Springs, Calif., in 2009. Each year two things have remained true:

  1. The level of content-related expertise is incomparable. The community built by Ann Rockley, and subsequently so many others who are now part of our editorial advisory group, is unlike any I have seen. You simply won’t find a gathering with a higher concentration of passionate thought leaders across the realm of content as a function in the business.
  2. Very much like content marketers, the practitioners in the room are searching for their strategic place in the business. The landscape of business is changing fundamentally, but so many content practitioners come from such varying backgrounds it can be difficult to find the “right place” for the intelligent content function to sit. In many ways, just like so many content marketers, content strategists are orphans – looking to find a permanent home in the business universe.

This is where we will help each other. ICC can be a beacon for:

  • Content marketers to find powerful new practices and allies to help scale their efforts and make their approach more strategic.
  • Content strategists to find friends in marketers who are developing deeper, more valuable content-driven experiences to differentiate the business.
  • Individuals who identify as both content marketers and strategists to find new colleagues with whom to share, learn, evolve, and expand their efforts.

And those who haven’t identified themselves yet will simply find new friends and guideposts to help them develop a career that’s meaningful to their passion.

It’s a grand adventure ahead. The search for intelligent content in the universe is on. Let’s go find it together.

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