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What Is Intelligent Content?

Intelligent content combines the wonders of technology with human capability in a way that powerfully supports an organization’s goals. What puts the “intelligent” in the term “intelligent content”? Various things. Examples: 

  • A strategic approach to developing and managing content as a business asset. 
  • Efficient use of content processes, people, and technology.
  • Content efforts that scale.
  • Content designed for automation, including content components that can be mixed and matched assembly-line style.
  • Content that’s appropriately structured for retrieval and reuse. 
  • Content that’s personalized in ways that deliver value for customers and potential customers: the right content delivered to the right person at the right time regardless of device. 

Intelligent content moves away from humans needing to touch every piece of content at every instance of use. Instead, intelligent content moves toward an advanced publishing process that leans on data and metadata, that coordinates content efforts across departmental silos, and that makes smart use of technology – including, increasingly, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

CMI’s Intelligent Content Conference focuses on the strategic thinking and technology issues behind enterprise marketers’ content efforts. This conference, while not as relevant for those who focus on creating content, is ideal for those who will lead, direct, and implement tomorrow’s content strategies.

While this may sound like just another buzzword – we don’t need any more of those – intelligent content is not a new concept. The term’s widely accepted definition was developed by Ann Rockley years ago:

Intelligent content is content that’s structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.*

Wait, what kind of content are we talking about?

Before we go any further, what kind of content are we talking about?

Oh, just … all of it. Technical documentation. Marketing content. Customer-support content. Content delivered on multiple devices, for multiple products, in multiple locales, to multiple audiences. It all causes pain. And it could all be made more intelligent, to the benefit of customers and companies.

Many companies have a lot of content, but is intelligent content right for everyone?

Intelligent content isn’t for every company. As content strategist Rahel Anne Bailie says, intelligent content “is not for the company who has 50 pages of highly crafted marketing content that never changes.” She adds, “For corporations that have relatively simple content demands … the investment in content to be structured beyond basic HTML may be overkill.”

But for companies that face “large, thorny problems” – companies with many products, many product lines, many languages, many locales per language, many audiences per product line and locale and language – “the complexities of content production become very painful very fast.”

What benefits can I expect to see when using intelligent content?

Here are some of the benefits your organization may realize as it makes its content more intelligent within departments or, better yet, across the enterprise:

  • Intelligent content can be output to multiple channels, adapting to the needs of the channel and the recipients – with little or no human intervention.
  • Intelligent content reduces development, review, and maintenance costs.
  • Intelligent content reduces translation-related costs.
  • Intelligent content increases consistency and quality.
  • Intelligent content frees content creators to add value through innovation instead of rewriting existing elements of content – or copying and pasting them.
  • Intelligent content makes content manageable throughout the content life cycle.
  • Intelligent content delivers the right information to the right customers in the right format at the right time throughout the customer journey.

What else goes into intelligent content?

Now that we’ve covered what intelligent content is and why you may want to learn more, you might be wondering what to do to make your organization’s content more intelligent. Here are some things to explore:

  • Technologies and tools (XML, DITA and other content standards, authoring tools, content management systems)
  • The overall process for implementing intelligent content (determining business requirements, developing a strategy, preparing to support your strategy)
  • Steps you can take today (identifying your organization’s pain points, choosing a small project, creating a content model)

What’s an example of intelligent content?

When Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailie created The Language of Content Strategy, they not only created useful content, but they also used an intelligent content approach. Their case study is a great starting point if you want to understand what intelligent content is and what the output may look like. For details, read this follow-up post by Richard Hamilton, who delves into the technology behind their project.

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What does intelligent content have to do with content marketing?

You may be wondering why intelligent content is such a prominent topic at the Content Marketing Institute. As mentioned above,  any type of content an organization considers an asset may benefit from an intelligent content strategy. In fact, technical communicators have been using these strategies, processes, and tools for years. This will not change. Our goal is to help all content professionals create content in a more consistent, scalable, user-centered manner.

We believe that content marketers, in particular, have huge opportunities to create competitive advantages for their companies if they employ intelligent content techniques. We consider intelligent content nothing less than the next generation of content marketing. Content marketing and intelligent content have a common goal: Provide an exceptional experience to users by providing the information they need, when and where they need it.

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* Unless otherwise noted, quotations and paraphrases attributed to Ann Rockley come from the book she co-authored with Charles Cooper: Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: New Riders, 2012). At Rockley’s request, we have changed her original phrase unified content to intelligent content.