Making a Sales Connection with Technical Content

Connecting technical content to sales can improve experiences for both prospects and customers

By nearly any measure, customer experience is a hot topic today. You can’t open your email inbox, read a blog post, or attend a webinar or conference presentation without being pitched on improving experiences consumers have with your brand. Keeping up with the flood of information on this topic is challenging, and at times, a bit confusing.

What is the customer experience, exactly?

Some describe customer experience as the new battleground for business. Moreover, while this may be true, writing in Forbes.com, customer experience futurist, Blake Morgan, provides an illustrative definition of the term that provides additional insight.

“Everything a company does contributes to how customers perceive it, and therefore to the overall customer experience,” Morgan says. Customer experience includes, “the messaging you use, the products you sell, the sales process, and what happens after the sale, plus other internal factors like the interworking of the company, its leadership, and the engineering of the product or service,” Morgan adds.

What’s interesting about Morgan’s view of the customer is that it includes all of the touch points (experiences) prospective customers have with your brand on their journey to find solutions to their problems. Morgan understands that the experience you create shouldn’t be limited to people who have already purchased from you. The experience you provide should serve more than just your existing customers.

Customer experiences happen. Intentionally or not, they influence others. Customer experiences come in many variations. They impact prospects — consumers of your technical content who may or may not ever become your customer. The content experiences they encounter vary widely from exceptional to mediocre to downright disastrous. No matter how you characterize these experiences, the chances are good that technical content played a starring role in every one of them.

“Everything a company does contributes to how customers perceive it, and to the overall customer experience.” — Blake Morgan

Connecting technical content to sales can improve experiences for both prospects and customers

Prospective customers are content consumers whose interactions with your brand occur in what sales and marketing pros call the consideration stage. It’s during the consideration stage that consumers actively search for technical information related to the challenges they face. Depending on where they are in their quest, they may be looking to compare and contrast technical differences between your products and those offered by your competition. They may be building a business case to obtain funding to purchase a solution. At this stage in the journey, they use technical content to determine whether your products and services will help them achieve their goals. The immediate goal of the consideration phase is often to create a short list of candidates from which to purchase a solution.

Your goal is to get on their short list.

To do so, you’ll need to provide consumers with technical content that both addresses their data gathering needs while also helping you to convert them from prospects to loyal, profitable, revenue-generating customers.

Getting it right means developing a seamless experience that ensures relevant content is available to consumers at every touchpoint along their journey.

“Focusing on anything other than getting it [content] right is a waste of time and money.”

Pundits like Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, often argue, that exceptional customer experiences are only possible if you can “craft, manage, personalize, and deliver relevant and engaging content.” Abel defines relevant content as “the right content, to the right consumer, at the right place and time, delivered in the way that best suits the needs of the consumer at the exact moment.”

“It’s all about improving content to enhance the customer experience,” Abel proclaims. “Focusing on anything other than getting it right is a waste of time and money.”

Crafting amazing experiences with technical content requires you understand the experience consumers have with your brand and the content you publish. You can’t claim to be customer-focused and then discover content challenges only after they’ve become a problem. By then, you’ve demonstrated your lack of customer-focus. By then, it’s too late.

As CEO of Astoria Software, creators of the world’s leading component enterprise content management platform, it’s probably not surprising that I agree with pundits like Abel. Experiences rely on content. Great content experiences require a well-thought-out, strategic approach to creating appropriately managed content, and delivering it on-demand.

Getting it right is challenging. Getting it right involves making technical content available to those who need it, when, where, and how they desire it. Doing so

“No matter how you characterize these experiences, technical content played a starring role in every one of them.”

will not only help you delight existing customers, but it can be used to convert prospects into paying customers. While you must make smart decisions that are in the best interest of your company, you do not have to make all of your content decisions stakeholder-centric. To create exceptional customer-centered experiences, you have to understand and design experiences from a technical content consumer’s perspective. Becoming customercentric means recognizing that every consumer experience with your brand impacts how they perceive you. Every piece of content they consume at every touch point affects the perception they have of you.

It’s time to start thinking about the types of content you produce and why you create it. It’s time to reconsider how you work—how you create, manage, translate, localize, publish, and deliver technical content. The goal is to get it right. Getting it right means admitting that the value of technical content is not limited to post-sale interactions with existing customers. Increasingly, marketers are beginning to see the value technical content can provide them on their journey to convert prospects into paying customers.

Technical content enables sales; helps us turn prospects into customers

“Getting it right means developing a seamless experience that ensures relevant content is available to consumers at every touchpoint along their journey.”

But it’s not just marketing departments that see the value of technical content. Sales teams now realize that prospective buyers often seek out — and value highly — technical information. While technical content is sometimes needed in business-to-consumer (B2C) selling, technical content is almost always an essential ingredient in business-to-business (B2B) transactions.

The message here is simple: Technical writers can play a crucial role in helping your brand deliver exceptional content experiences.
Consumers today often require precise content designed to help them substantiate their purchase decision. It is during the consideration stage of the buyer’s journey where you must communicate a clear, compelling reason for choosing your products or services over others.

It no longer makes sense to limit technical content to post-sale distribution channels. Instead, technical content should be front and center. It should be crafted to inform, convince, and convert. It should assist you in turning prospects into customers and customers into advocates and evangelists. To do so, you must collaborate with sales and marketing (and other departments like training, public relations, and human relations), to build a repeatable, systematic approach to providing the right technical content

“86% of buyers they surveyed said they would be willing to pay more for products and services offered by companies that provide a great customer experience.”

to the right audience at each stage of the buyer’s journey. Moreover, you’ll need the right tools and technologies to help you manage multichannel technical content experiences at scale.

Connecting technical content to sales isn’t just an intriguing idea. It makes perfectly good business sense.

“By mapping technical content to buyer intent you can improve your search presence and make your content easier to locate,” Abel says. “By focusing on the creation of fresh, new content of value to various audience segments, your organization will achieve higher SEO rankings. Updating legacy technical content and revamping it for sales purposes also improves search performance, especially when intent metadata is used to categorize and deliver the right content to those who need it.”

Leveraging technical content to craft experiences that support prospective customers is not only a best practice, but it’s also a business imperative.

“Mapping technical communication content to buyer intent you can improve your search presence and make your content easier to locate.”

Researchers say consumers are willing to spend more money with brands that deliver exceptional experiences. How much more? Up to 25% more to avoid confusing, frustrating, inconsistent experiences.

Researchers at PWC say 59% of consumers stop buying from brands after they have several bad experiences; 17% say they might switch to a competitor after just one bad experience. In Latin America, 49% say one bad experience is enough.

Researchers at Walker Information found that 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for products and services offered by companies that provide a great customer experience.

Researchers say consumers are willing to spend more money with brands that deliver exceptional experiences. How much more? Up to 25% more to avoid confusing, frustrating, inconsistent experiences.

Add to this, the fact that the costs of acquiring new customers are five to 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones. It’s clear that technical content plays a critical role in helping us serve prospective customers during the consideration phase.

Technical content is often what determines whether your product or service will make the short list.

During the decision phase, prospects seek clarification and understanding before they commit to becoming your customer. They often require precise technical content designed to help them support their purchase decision. It is during this stage of the journey where you must communicate a clear, compelling reason for choosing your products or services over others.

Is your content safe from cybercriminals?

Privacy. Passwords. Phishing. Breaches. Trolls. Hackers. Bots. No matter where you look, everyone seems to be using these terms in the context of cybersecurity. Any business with a digital presence is a potential target for cybercrime, which helps to explain why the words used to characterize and describe cybersecurity have crept into our business vernacular and become part of the daily news—and late night comedy—cycles.

No industry sector seems particularly immune from cyberattack. Attacks have been aimed at political organizations, credit bureaus, law enforcement agencies, retailers, universities and schools, entertainment companies, financial, automotive, insurance, pharmaceutical, health and hospital firms.

You might have noticed that most cybersecurity stories have to do with the release of—or unauthorized access to—personally identifiable information or sensitive personal information. That’s because this type of information is a valuable commodity as it can be combined with other data (or utilized on its own) to identify, contact, or locate a single person, or to identify individuals in context.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology define personally identifiable information as, “any information maintained about an individual, including (1) any information that can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity, such as name, social security number, date and place of birth, mother’s maiden name, or biometric records; and (2) any other information that is linked or linkable to an individual, such as medical, educational, financial, and employment information.”

Protecting the Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information — bit.ly/protectingconfidentiality

50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach — bit.ly/FacebookBreach

PREVENTING UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS

Unauthorized personal data disclosure is bad for business. It transforms a company’s carefully crafted image into headline fodder. A disclosure redirects corporate resources away from the advancement of products and services and toward the rebuilding of customer trust, brand loyalty, and operational integrity. It forces business leaders to make cybersecurity part of everything they do, and attempt to anticipate and prevent an increasing variety of cybercrimes.

Customers are not affected solely by the disclosure of personally identifiable and sensitive personal data; customers are also impacted by an organization’s content. That’s because content is the intellectual property of the company. When it is insufficiently protected, the entire organization is put at risk.

IT’S NOT JUST PERSONAL DATA: CORPORATE CONTENT SHOULD BE SECURE, TOO

History shows us that a motivated perpetrator of cyber-misdeeds can gain access to content stored in content management systems with the help of free or inexpensive software tools. Such access allows a digital hooligan to change, replace, or delete content that would otherwise be of help to a customer or prospect. Whereas in the past such tools required a certain level of digital wizardry, the widespread availability of free or low-priced hacking-as-a-service (yes, you read that right) “offerings” make it possible for novices to easily get into the mix.

The news media tends to focus most of their storytelling on sloppy data management practices and data theft at big name brands that impact hundreds of thousands or millions of consumers. There are actually plenty of examples where the lack of a formal cybersecurity plan made it relatively easy for a company to accidentally leave the data doors open for cyber-attackers to do damage to content.

All of this to say that content should be just as secure as any other type of intellectual property or data a firm collects, stores, and uses to conduct business. To be clear, the popular media’s focus on cybersecurity stories with big numbers and wide impact is designed to attract a lot of eyeballs for the benefit of their respective advertisers. Viewers get all the juicy details about data thefts and accidental disclosures reported by brands like Adobe, Exquifax, Bitly, Disqus, DropBox, Forbes, Home Depot, Yahoo, Linkedin, and Target. However, the situation is just as serious for the luncheon meat firm with lax content security.

While it may be hard to imagine how poor cybersecurity could damage a luncheon meat company, the examples that follow illustrate how casual corporate content security and laxed content governance can have a negative impact on revenue and public relations.

LEAVING CONTENT UNDER-PROTECTED: FEW EXAMPLES

HARGREAVES & SON: ALTERED LABEL CREATES NEED FOR PRODUCT RECALL
H.R. Hargreaves & Son, the makers of a luncheon meat product sold primarily in the UK, were shocked when they discovered in the news media that the ingredients list on their package had been altered. The primary ingredient was no longer ham; it was dog sh*t. The culprit was a disgruntled employee who had intentionally altered the label as a prank.

The company took a substantial financial hit as a result, having to do image repair and run a product recall.

CLOTHING MAKER: ALTERED LABEL LANDS MANUFACTURER IN POLITICAL TURMOIL
The management of a clothing line realized someone had added an extra line of text to the “Made in the USA” tag included in the inside of their garments.  The additional slogan: “Don’t blame us, we didn’t vote for him.” The culprit was again a disgruntled employee.

No product recalls were necessary, but the altered label alienated a portion of its customer-base and recast the company’s image into something more political than patriotic.

O’REILLY AUTO PARTS: FICTIONAL PRODUCTS INTRODUCED ON WEBSITE
The automotive parts retailer, O’Reilly, received an increasing number of calls from prospective customers about their catalog item with part number “121G”. O’Reilly doesn’t sell this product—the Flux Capacitor is a time-travel device made famous in the science fiction comedy film, “Back to the Future”. The culprit is, at the time of this writing, unknown.

O’Reilly has not yet taken the item out of its online inventory, opting instead to add the words, “This item is
not available for purchase” to the listing.

YOUR NEXT ACTION

What would be the impact to your firm if you woke up one day to find out that your entire content catalog had been replaced with bogus information—or worse, erased and no longer available?

As is the case with many content snafus, having a proper response plan in place—and selecting the right tools for the job—are critical success factors that will help you minimize the negative impact content hackers could have on your business.

Take a page from the book of lessons learned from the data thefts and accidental disclosures suffered by the big brands. Reexamine how your content is created, curated, translated, and disseminated, and institute policies and procedures that treat your written intellectual property as valuable as your customers personally identifying information.

How artificial intelligence will help you deliver exceptional customer experiences with content

Artificial intelligence (AI) is at work right now, even if you don’t notice it. While you’re busy creating new marketing campaigns or documenting new products and services, AI systems are busy augmenting your capabilities.

Behind the scenes, AI is working to help you understand the bigger picture by providing an always-on alert system designed to ensure recognition of patterns, trends, threats, and opportunities hidden deep in the data. Content management systems depend on this data to help improve the way content is created, managed, translated, and delivered; that is, the right content to the right people, when, where, and how they need it.

And yet, most content management systems have yet to incorporate AI-powered functionality into their products. But, that’s about to change.

Once you recognize that content is a business asset, you will see the importance of leveraging every ounce of value from each dollar that is spent developing it. But, recognizing a need—and tackling it—are two very different things.

When ready to take action, you’ll likely find yourself in need of a digital transformation; a profound evolution of business activities, (including all things related to producing content) designed to help meet the fast-changing, technology-fueled needs of today, while simultaneously preparing your organization for changes coming tomorrow. AI is certainly going to be part of the mix.

Today, AI is in use in content production departments around the globe. It helps financial service companies automatically generate content that adheres to U.S. government regulations. AI helps news organizations (like the Associated Press) make corporate earnings reports on demand, and at scale, much faster—and more consistently—than its business reporters can. And it helps small businesses compete with much larger competitors by helping them develop capabilities previously limited to Fortune 500 companies.

AI also plays a significant role in content distribution and delivery. Today, with a few commands from the keyboard, intelligent agents can be put to work on your behalf. Intelligent agents can be instructed to generate a website, publish content simultaneously—and at the right time and to the right people—to multiple social media outlets, and provide predictive analytics designed to create relevant content of value to prospects and customers.

As AI matures, expect it to expand into other areas of the content lifecycle. For instance, your content management system can be fed insights generated from predictive analytics that can help guide conversations with customers. AI will serve up content designed to steer your prospects toward relevant content, product, and service offerings.

One of the promises AI will deliver is improvements to content management over time. As machines learn, they adapt and become smarter. AI will enforce the rules set in place to govern the creation, management, translation, and delivery of content. AI-enabled content management systems will identify threats (like incongruent content, bad links, security concerns) and help prevent violations of conventions, rules, regulations, and laws. Properly tuned, AI-augmented content management systems will help spot opportunities to produce new content and assist in determining whether the content created delivers the value expected. Education, business, and government will all benefit from AI-powered content personalization.

The future of artificial intelligence is uncertain in many ways, but one forecast remains clear—all worldwide industries, governments, employees, and retail consumers will be affected.

There exist doomsayers, such as Elon Musk of Tesla, who says he believes that artificial intelligence poses an “existential threat to human civilization”. Some technology leaders are more optimistic, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who says artificial intelligence applications will help businesses “build things” that make the world “better.” Zuckerberg says AI promises—over the next 5 to 10 years—to help us develop new operational models.

While I understand the need to be aware of the dangers, I believe harnessing the power of AI cooperatively through partnerships with Fortune 500 companies is our best strategy. An example would be the recent deal announced by AT&T and Oracle that combines AI technology and data analytics to improve AT&T’s field service technician’s workflow—problem discovery, solution efficiency, and overall customer experience. When scheduling an appointment with a telephone installation technician, imagine being given a firm appointment time, rather than a 4-hour appointment time window. This same strategy could be deployed in the content world to build an AI-enabled Component Content Management System with content creation, quality, translation, and distribution interacting in real time.

My advice: Learn everything you can about AI. Seek out opportunities to become involved in projects, both at work and in your free time. In a world in which machine-ready content will play a critical role in your remaining relevant, it’s best to stay ahead of the AI curve.

Michael Rosinski, Astoria Software’s President & CEO, Discusses Augmented Reality: Will It Live Up To The Hype?

There’s a lot of hype about augmented reality (AR) and its impact on content. Lately, it’s getting difficult to avoid. From analyst firms to magazines—and from newspapers to corporate websites and blogs—everyone seems to be writing about how AR will transform the way we live, work, and play.

Virtual reality versus augmented reality

To understand the potential impact that AR may have in the future, it helps to start with a clear understanding of the difference between augmented and virtual reality (VR). AR and VR are related. AR is a distant cousin to VR. The primary difference between the two is rooted in reality.

  • Virtual reality aims to create convincing—yet artificial—computer-generated experiences that feel real. VR experiences are designed to be stimulating, immersive simulations that are made possible with the help of a headset like Facebook’s Oculs Rift.
  • Augmented reality, on the other hand, aims to complement reality by adding a layer of complementary information—something useful or entertaining—on top of reality. It’s live and in real-time. AR makes it possible for us to produce content that can be super-imposed over an image of physical world with the help of a camera-equipped mobile device or specialized headgear. If you’ve watched live television broadcasts of sporting events, chances are you’ve seen AR in action. But, AR’s true value is in the capability it provides users. AR can help consumers make simple repairs to an automobile, learn to cook, and more.

    Related:
    How Augmented Reality Works

While opportunities to apply AR to business are almost unlimited, opinions about its value vary.

The Future of Computing? Perhaps.

Some exclaim AR is “the future of computing!”. They cite examples of AR’s ability to radically transform education, healthcare, food safety, manufacturing, fashion, retail, and entertainment. A recent report from Forrester says AR’s “immersive digital overlays represent an opportunity to improve customer engagement.”

Gartner predicts that “through 2021, businesses will see a rapid evolution of immersive content and applications that will range from consumer entertainment experiences to optimizing complex work processes.”

Gartner also predicts that by 2020, 10 million consumers will use augmented reality while shopping online. “Immersive technologies such as augmented reality increase user engagement with a product or service by enabling a consumer to fully explore features and conveying additional information that can aid in a buying decision,” Gartner says. “This will drive immersive interfaces, including both augmented and virtual reality, to become the standard customer experience paradigm for scenarios requiring human-to-machine interactions.”

Others are not so easily impressed. The nay-sayers complain that adoption of AR technology is slow; and the bar to entry, too high. Others say what started as a revolutionary technology with amazing promise has been co-opted—and dramatically watered-down—by the tech players like Facebook.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, predicts augmented reality will dramatically change the types of content we produce. At its annual F8 developer’s conference in San Jose, CA recently, Zuckerberg laid out his vision for incorporating AR into Facebook. Zuckerberg says he believes the future of augmented reality won’t involve headsets or televisions. Instead, widespread adoption will be driven by smartphones and other mobile devices with cameras.

 Not Everyone Agrees

“The problem is that the acceptable bar for what can, or should, be considered augmented reality is dropping quickly,” reports market researcher, Bob O’Donnell in USA Today. O’Donnell (and others like him) believe the original promise of AR has been diluted and can’t be delivered through a smartphone camera.  (NOTE: see also: Camera Effects Platform)

The question of which technology company will be the big winner in the advancement of augmented reality to a wide audience is not clear yet. Some speculate that Apple (a late entry into the AR space) could easily find itself on top. “If Apple put augmented reality in the iPhone 8’s cameras,” writes Caitlin McGarry in Macworld, “the company would own the full stack: hardware powerful enough to put AR experiences in the palm of your hand without burning through your battery and the software support to entice developers into creating those experiences.”

A Big Market With A Big Opportunity

With support from industry heavyweights like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook, analysts predict the AR market in the US could reach $50 billion USD (see chart below) in annual sales by 2021. Global growth is expected to reach 90 billion USD annually by the same time. With such a big opportunity for revenue generation, it’s no wonder that nearly every tech brand is looking for a way to grab their share of this promising market.

The question for content producing companies is not should they create AR content, but how will they manage the complex relationships between content assets in a world of layers. Add localization and translation to the mix, and the need for powerful, enterprise-wide content management becomes clear.

 

Artificial Intelligence and Work: Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

We’re at the beginning of what some analysts call The Fourth Industrial Revolution—sometimes referred to as Industry 4.0—the marriage of advanced manufacturing techniques with artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). The goal is to produce a hyper-efficient, automated, interconnected system capable of communicating, analyzing, and using information to drive progress.

There’s a lot of talk about the impact of Industry 4.0 on jobs and the future of work. It’s a newsworthy topic that has made its way into the daily media cycle, particularly as some investors predict more automation and fewer jobs in the future.

What is AI?

According to the Google dictionary, “Artificial intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

AI is not a discrete technology. It’s a constellation of technologies that mimic behaviors and cognitive abilities associated with humans, such as rationalizing, reasoning, problem-solving and learning. Being able to sense, comprehend, and automatically act upon what is learned—without being explicitly programmed to do so—is what makes AI more powerful than traditional computing technologies.

Some of the most popular AI technologies are:

  • Speech Recognition — transforms human speech to text and other machine-readable formats
  • Natural Language Processing and Text Analytics — makes it possible for computers to understand sentence structure, intent, meaning, and sentiment
  • Machine Learning Systems — algorithms that learn and make predictions based on patterns in data
  • Decision Management — automated decision-making engines
  • Virtual Agents — chat bots and more advanced personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri

AI is with you already. There’s no escape.

No, robots will not organize a digital insurrection and take over the planet—at least, not any time soon. But, AI will usher in dramatic and significant changes to the way we live, work, and play.

Today, no matter where you look, AI is likely to be making a debut appearance. While previously limited to the fictional world of motion pictures, AI is making its way into almost every product, service, and technology imaginable. In fact, if you’re like many people, AI has been part of your life for a few years now:

And, if you own a smartphone, chances are, you have a helpful personal assistant powered by AI at your beck and call. Perhaps the most widely-known personal assistant, Siri, is now available across much of the Apple product line. Siri’s power increases by connecting it to Apple HomeKit, allowing you to communicate with—and control—connected smarthome devices from afar with your voice.

The impact of AI

AI evangelists often tout the potential benefits AI may have on business, education, and humanity as a whole, but some experts worry that it may also introduce significant negative repercussions if allowed to develop unabated. Just imagine the arms race that might occur with the introduction of autonomous weapons.

Fear of mass destruction—or a hostile robot takeover—aside, currently AI is being employed to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges:

In 2016, Gartner ranked AI as its number one strategic technology (for the second year in a row). Google, IBM, Salesforce, Amazon, and Apple have invested significantly in the development, purchase, and acquisition of AI technologies. And, the AI race is on inside global brands. According to research from Narrative Science, 38% of enterprises today report using AI. By 2018, that number is expected to grow to 62%.

With Fortune 1000 companies embracing AI in a major way, it is no surprise that AI will continue to be a growing influence on the technology front impacting jobs, automation, and productivity—all with touchpoints to the political landscape.