The Content-as-a-Service Imperative

Leveraging the power of disruptive technologies in innovative ways can help us produce products and services that previously seemed impossible — even unimaginable. To do so, though, we need to rethink how we do what we do.

I have written previously about the need to adjust the way we produce content for those who need it. I made a case for developing capabilities required to survive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the perfect storm of new technologies transforming how we live and work in radical, often unexpected ways.

Content is the single most-used way of understanding an organization’s products or services, stories, and brand. Innovations in the way we craft, categorize, assemble, manage, augment, localize, and deliver it affords us opportunities to develop content capabilities that provide value and spark engagement.

Doing that consistently, at scale, and on-demand requires us to rethink the way we produce and manage content. It entails the adoption of accelerating technologies and the development of new business models that can help us meet our goals.

Content is the new oil —it drives the global economy

Transforming an established, but inadequate, content production program into a lean, mean, content-producing factory demands that we determine whether conventional content production processes and tools can provide the capabilities required to succeed in the new economy. If not, then it’s time to consider transformation.

Old, outdated modes of production fail to provide the customer experience, scalability, flexibility, and acceleration leaders require of their organizations. Increasingly, those at the helm of forward-thinking organizations recognize that conventional approaches to content are ineffective and inefficient

The driving force behind the most significant changes in the way businesses deal with content is the focus on customer experience. Over the past decade, there’s been a steady uptick in interest in “customer experience” as captured in this interest-over-time chart from Google Trends [see figure below]. Brands that figure out the best way to help customers either “do something or feel something” will win customer loyalty, say customer experience analysts at Gartner.

Source: (mentions of “customer experience” from November 2009 to December 2019)

In companies where customer experience is more than just empty talk, customer-facing content crews work in cooperation to produce a consistent experience at every touchpoint along the customer journey.

They work to knock down silo-promoting processes between departments that prevent collaboration. They rethink the way they work by evaluating their methods, discarding outdated and ineffective approaches. Collaboration becomes the rule. And, they rethink the way they work. Effort is laser-focused on the all-important goal of effectively producing content that delivers the best customer experience possible.

Customer experience itself is proving to be the only truly durable competitive advantage

Jake Sorofman

“Customer experience itself is proving to be the only truly durable competitive advantage,” wrote Jake Sorofman, former chief of research at Gartner, on the company’s marketing blog. Sorofman’s opinions are backed up by a Gartner report that found 89% of business leaders said they expect to compete with adversaries mainly on customer experience. That view is backed up by numerous business- and consumer-focused surveys, including data from market researchers.

The focus on customer experience is driving a shift away from conventional
content production methods and toward the adoption of a Content-as-a-Service (CaaS) model.

What do we mean by Content-as-a-Service?

Wikipedia defines Content-as-a-Service as a “…service-oriented model where a service provider delivers content on-demand to subscribers via web services. Content is hosted by the service provider in the cloud and offered to subscribers that need the content delivered into a software application or other system.”

Content-as-a-Service (CaaS) is a relatively new term that has yet to catch on in the same manner as its taxonomic relative, Software-as-a-Service. You can think of CaaS as cloud computing meets service-oriented architecture delivered via Software-as-a-Service. Content lives in a single repository in the cloud, where management, categorization, and augmentation occurs before the content is made available by subscription to other systems. These integrations make possible the controlled sharing of content between connected applications, devices, and services.

CaaS affords organizations the capability to make content available in ways that subscribing systems can understand and process. This approach becomes more valuable to you over time. Once established, CaaS offerings can be weaved together to create composite services with significantly less effort than conventional development approaches require.

Subscribing systems collect and process this content, preparing it for automatic delivery to consumers who require it, on the device and channel of their choosing. Content provided as a service can be served up inside of software platforms and pushed to web pages, mobile-device apps, wearables, and medical devices. CaaS can power store displays, public kiosks, digital signage, chatbots, smart cars, connected appliances, voice-enabled assistants, and almost any new channel that may appear in the future.

By investing in the creation of content optimized to be delivered as a service, technical documentation, training, and other product information that you provide to users of your knowledge center can be made available as a subscription service to others inside and outside your organization. The goal is to create compelling, competitive advantage from the content you create.

Your customer support team, for instance, could be made more productive and effective by subscribing to your content, allowing you to develop capabilities that allow you to serve up relevant information directly into the call center management platform they use, preventing them from wasting time jumping back-and-forth from system to system in search of answers for your customers.

Your sales teams could benefit from a similar approach. You could deliver the content they need to the interface where they spend most of their time, inside Salesforce or your customer relationship management system.

Medical device manufacturers could make their content available to the network of medical devices connected to the Internet of Things, serving up the right piece of content to the right person on the medical device they are using.

CaaS requires us to produce granular, structured, modular, semantically rich components of intelligent content, the type of content that the Astoria Component Content Management System (CCMS) prefers. The Astoria CCMS relies on content rich in metadata to determine which pieces of content to personalize. Previous product purchases, market segment, role, level of expertise, stage in the customer journey, language, and other variables are common metadata types the system uses to serve content that uniquely relates to the individual consumer.

Why does CaaS matter? As technology strategist and angel invest, Salim Ismail says, “If you are not disrupting your business or industry, someone else is.”

Organizations that aim to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution focus on developing exponential growth capabilities that allow them to lower the cost of supply exponentially.

It’s about math — and money. Developing new capabilities allow forward-looking organizations to produce new content experiences with fewer input costs, resulting in a more systematic and efficient content production system. Organizations that reduce the marginal cost of adding new content channels realize economies of scale.

Conversion optimization expert and growth strategist Alex Birkett says it’s “bad business” to squander resources on content production tasks that could be better handled — more consistently, more accurately, and less expensively — through automation and intelligent content.

If you are not disrupting your business or industry, someone else is.

Salim Ismail

“If you can produce a cheap piece of content that gets the same or better results than an expensive one, why would you waste the resources on an expensive one?” asks Birkett.

Taking the math and money example a bit further, business leaders who develop CaaS capabilities can more easily expand their global reach by localizing content to make it more meaningful, appropriate, and useful for a particular culture, locale, or market. CaaS provides a framework that helps us to serve and laser-target groups of consumers from different markets around the world.

The value of CaaS is not in its technical capabilities. Its value is the service capabilities it provides.

The value of CaaS is not in its technical capabilities, but rather, its value is found in the service capabilities it can provide. Using CaaS to improve customer experiences is the focus of many global organizations today—and it’s a driver for the changes needed tomorrow.

Is Your Content Ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Technological changes are forcing the leaders of many of the world’s largest and well-established organizations to rethink how they do what they do. Their rethinking involves reimagining how they will create, manage, localize, and prepare content for consumption by the machines people rely on to deliver products and services.

These changes are due in large part to recent and rapid technological advances that have radically reshaped our capabilities, making it possible for organizations to offer products and services that previously seemed unimaginable.

This transformation of business is being driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an amalgamation of technological advances that promises powerful, disruptive, game-changing innovations assembled into new systems that provide unparalleled capacity and capability.

It’s time for an extreme makeover of “business as usual”

Unlike the three industrial revolutions that came before, each of which was made possible by the introduction of a single set of technological advancements, our current revolution — the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) — sometimes described as the perfect storm of new technologies, is an extreme makeover of business as usual. Made possible by harnessing the power of accelerating technologies and innovative new business models, 4IR is already transforming how we live and work in radical, often unexpected ways.

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4IR makes exponential growth possible

Leaders of institutions around the globe are searching for ways to leverage the exponential growth capabilities that the 4IR makes possible. New business models, big data, quantum computing, crowd-sourcing, automation, robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things, and a host of other accelerating technologies, are shaking up the business world.

Today, we find ourselves at the precipice of transformation. Never before have so many metaphoric technological breakthroughs taken shape simultaneously. When compared with previous industrial upheavals that revolved around the introduction of a single game-changing disruption (e.g., the steam-powered engine ushered in a new era of transportation and commerce), the fourth revolution is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. 

As someone intimately involved in helping healthcare and technology companies transform themselves, I should make clear that we’re not talking about digital transformation, the over-hyped marketing term du jour that is often misused as a synonym for the metamorphosis that occurs when an organization actually transforms itself. Instead, we’re talking about big change — the caterpillar-turns-into-a-butterfly type.

Business, government, education, and organizational leaders with strategic foresight to anticipate how this future might unfold are looking for ways to re-imagine — and reshape themselves — before a disruptive competitor enters the market and up-ends the status quo.

While disruption seldom sneaks up on a business or industry sector, the past few decades have seen some unexpected interruptions that few business leaders noticed in time to do anything substantial about them.

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Disruption is likely. Are you prepared?

Not all business leaders have the foresight needed to prepare for the future. Disruption isn’t new. It doesn’t discriminate. And, it seldom occurs in isolation.

It’s the speed at which disturbances occur that has changed. To survive and thrive in the 4IR, we need to adjust the way we think about disruption, understand the likelihood it will happen to us, and work proactively to both reconstruct our organizations and foster exponential capabilities necessary for future success.  

Meeting the demands of business leaders who see the need for transformation — those who don’t want their organizations to end up like Blockbuster and Blackberry — is the turf of a new breed of business consultants whose aim is to help companies succeed at digital transformation. Serial entrepreneurs like co-founders of Singularity University (a school dedicated to creating exponential business leaders) and futurists, Salim Ismail, and Peter Diamondis (chairman of the venerable X Prize Foundation) have introduced services and a global community of disruptive thinkers and business transformation practitioners to help business leaders create and manage what they call Exponential Organizations (ExOs).

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What is an exponential organization (ExO)?

Exponential organizations are companies that grow at an exceptional rate — often ten times faster than comparable companies — while using appreciably fewer resources. Exponential growth is intentional, and the result of the adoption of digital technologies that provide the organization with capabilities required to keep pace in the fast-changing, always-on, global information economy.

According to Ismail, who coined the term exponential organization, businesses that enjoy exception growth have some common characteristics

ExOs are guided by a Massive Transformational Purpose (MTP) — a “highly aspirational tagline” — a big, clearly focused, unique, forward-looking, audacious reason why your company exists. The MTP, Ismail argues, when properly aligned, captures the hearts and minds of those both inside and outside your organization.

Here are a few examples:

  • Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” 
  • Quirky: “Make invention accessible.”
  • X Prize: “Bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.”
  • Google: “To organize the world’s information.” 

Organizations that successfully grow at an exponential rate also share some common characteristics—or digital DNA—that separates them from their competitors and enables them to survive the massive shift taking place.

ExOs most often leverage the assets of others. When possible, they do not own their assets, opting instead to rent staff-on-demand, contract labor, lease space, and shift the burden of managing mission-critical functions to third-parties (think Amazon Web Services and software-as-a-service enterprise content management). ExOs also are astute at extracting value from the power of the crowd and at leveraging community to help them scale.

Information-Enablement Accelerates Everything

In his first book on the subject, Exponential Organizations (2014 — Singularity University Books), Ismail argues that information is accelerating the metabolism of products, companies, and industries. This acceleration, he says, “will continue to accelerate even faster to an almost unimaginable pace.” 

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To avoid the “asteroid of digital information” heading our way, Ismail says that organizations must adopt a “new information paradigm.” That means eliminating the limitations and errors common to manual information processing. It means employing algorithms to surface the right information to the right person at the right time and place, in the format and language desired. 

It also means providing dashboards that deliver dynamic content, surfacing up business metrics that support on-demand decision-making, following standards for information exchange, and supporting an organization’s goal of building interoperable content that can be deployed to solve myriad business challenges. 

To grow exponentially, Ismail says, today’s institutions must become “information-enabled.” ExOs benefit from the creation of interoperable content that is easy to adapt, augment, and deliver to those who need it. 

Unfortunately, Ismail and other exponential business gurus haven’t done a great job at defining what it means to be information-enabled nor do they lay out a roadmap for how an organization should make the changes needed to become so.

To be fair, in their most recent book, Exponential Transformation, Ismail and the ExO experts focus on what they’re good at — providing an open source roadmap for leaders who want to transform their organizations, But that map is more focused on helping leadership prime, prepare, and guide their staff toward developing exponential growth ideas using a 10-week sprint approach that aims to overcome internal resistance to change. 

They also make it easy for organizations to determine their Exponential Quotient (ExQ) — a score that allows leadership to understand whether their organization is ready — and mature enough — for transformation. It’s a much-needed approach that addresses how to suppress the corporate immune system that tends to attack new business ideas and derail the work many leaders face when bringing new ideas to their organizations.

Transferring knowledge to others

Fortunately, there’s an entire industry sector devoted to the art and practical science behind managing complex sets of information. Just as there are scientists who study how organizations work best, there are content strategists, content engineers, and content designers who work to establish best practices, standards, and technologies designed to help organizations leverage content to its full extent.

Astoria Software, makers of the world’s best SaaS enterprise content management platform, has a rich history of helping organizations around the globe become information-enabled. Astoria helps its customers develop capabilities that support exponential growth and ensure success in the new information economy.

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, 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.

Using audience metrics to measure content impact

Content creators and mangers are often faced with a relative one-to-one need/supply proposition: A need for specific content is identified, that content is supplied – either by creating new works or reconfiguring existing modules. Too often, however, consideration of the content’s efficacy ceases to be a concern once that immediate need is fulfilled.

This is bad business. Even using automation, the act of content creation is still resource and time intensive. To avoid redundancies or ineffective content, content marketers and managers need to measure the impact of the materials they generate. But which metrics offer the most meaningful insight?

Journey mapping: Naming the nameless
Crafting content that connects with its preferred audience requires understanding audience objectives – and how these objectives match enterprise goals. While often process can be as simple as soliciting direct feedback or taking requests, sometimes this ends up being more esoteric. Audiences may not know the kind of content that will have the most impact and fulfill a direct need – primarily because they may have never encountered content like it before. You can’t identify something that has yet to be named.

“Starting by aligning with your audience personas.”

To attempt to identify a need – naming the nameless, so to speak – start by mapping the journey your audience is taking involving your enterprise. Starting by aligning with your audience personas, use trend data to trace the lifecycle of a customer and their content needs.

The Content Marketing Institute identifies five distinct stages of the customer journey:

  • Awareness. A customer encounters a piece of content.
  • Interest. The customer expresses some form of active engagement with the content or the enterprise behind the content.
  • Evaluation. Both customers and enterprises take a closer look at the content products available and determine value.
  • Decision. Customers purchase and/or implement the content.
  • Retention. Any after-purchase activity, from returning audience members to subscriptions, to organic promotion.

This journey map is by no means fixed: Smashing Magazine, for example, only has four stages, consolidating evaluation and decision into a single “conversion” stage and dubbing retention “reward.” Regardless of specific structure of terminology, the goal is a simple lifecycle map that you can use as the bedrock for tracking where each content interaction – or “touch” – occurs.

‘Attention’ metrics
As Keith Grossman, global chief revenue officer at Bloomberg Media, told eMarketer, even if you understand the audience journey, knowing where the most valuable touches took place can be tricky. There is minimal standardization across any content industry by which engagement can be meaningfully measured, leading Grossman to measure the ability to grab “attention” rather than time spent or clicks.

“There’s a slow evolution taking place. The marketplace is trying to understand the right metric to standardize against, but it hasn’t figured itself out yet,” Grossman told eMarketer. “The question is, what is the proper amount of time to measure success and engagement? If we agree on 2 minutes but then I give you a 200-word piece that takes 2 minutes to read, that’s not successful.”

Key performance indicators
At each stage of the journey, there are opportunities to identify key performance indicators as well as gaps points in the customer experience that are disjointed or painful, causing the customer to drop out of the cycle. Crafting these KPIs is particularly important since these are the metrics that you can use to measure how effective or enticing the content. Some common metrics CMI identifies include: keyword rankings, impressions, overall search visibility, webinar registrations, white paper downloads, conversions, shares, comments, subscription renewals and social media engagement.

“KPIs in a audience journey aren’t the be-all, end-all.”

Credit where credit is due
The presence of these KPIs in a audience journey isn’t the be-all end-all. Rather, the value of these KPIs as metrics fluctuates based on situational factors and audience person. What may be a valuable metric to measure engagement for one audience member may not be true for another. This is where analytics platforms step in to create an attribution model, weighting KPI value based on profile engagement trends.

This may mean mean that certain touchpoints in the audience journey have more value than others: For some, that first touch deserves more credit, for others it is the last touch that will foster long term engagement. Weighting touchpoints can help recognize the inherent attributes of the content that seems to resonate most with which audiences.

Segmentation to measure performance
Finally, once you have your KPIs and attribution models in place, you can build audience subsets out of your analytics data. Segmenting your channels and measuring engagement rates can help confirm or debunk assumptions born out of trend projections. Look at the frequency and depth of these engagements and the dividends they pay. The goal is to match segmentation, KPIs and attribution models with the data derived from your audience journey.

Dynamic Delivery vs Dynamic Content

Dynamic content is a staple of modern marketing and customized web experiences. Our ability to manage content in a CCMS at ever higher levels of granularity is matched only by the increasing sophistication of our tools for building and tagging content. Add to these increased automation and computer learning, and it’s clear that content delivery is ready for another round of innovation.

Delivery bottlenecks
With componentized data modules and advanced CCMS enabling fast, smart content configuration on demand, the possibilities related to the creation of personalized content are virtually endless. What is not endless are the ways users encounter content. Websites, social media, ads, emails and newsletters: We can customize content on demand and deliver on these platforms, but we are still running into problems when it comes to controlling delivery on a granular level and avoiding pile-ups related to speed and performance.

“How can we optimize delivery of dynamic content?”

We’ve been here before. In 2001, Greg Parker, CEO and president of SpiderCache, prophesied to ComputerWorld, “There is huge growth occurring in dynamic content. People are moving away from static ties [sic] to dynamic content-driven sites, and that exposes the bottleneck [dynamic content] causes….  [Traditional caches] can’t handle the performance required for the speed of delivery of dynamic content.”

His company sought to address this problem for web sites by building a more dynamic page-caching capability, which was good for the time but does not fully address content delivery in the era of apps and messages. So the question is: How can we optimize delivery of dynamic content?

Going where the users are
Optimizing delivery requires identifying where users are interacting with content. Innovative content delivery ideas in 2001 are ready for retirement since apps are common platform where content is being delivered. Apps provide the opportunity for real-time feedback to content delivery engines, so algorithms can take advantage of that feedback to send content with more intelligently than is possible when sending content to a website. And that may be changing soon. Some industry experts caution that the app marketplace may soon collapse given the dominance of platforms like Facebook, so there may be limited utility in investing the time into building out an innovative delivery infrastructure for mobile apps.

So where can content delivery be optimized? Newsletters and emails still remain a vibrant and engaging delivery method. With audience segmentation rules allowing a CCMS to build tailored content, more granular and specific content delivery could come from turning attention to the modules of a newsletter: inserting a customized event calendar based on user location, promoting specific products and services based on individual user engagement metrics and so on. Rather than separating a newsletter delivery into broader “campaigns,” a CCMS can manage user profiles and build a unique product on demand.

“Forms essentially act as a type of content.”

Optimizing forms
Forms, where users voluntarily submit data, are one of the most invaluable assets for content managers. While behavioral and engagement data can inform an algorithm, as well as show and potentially predict patterns, forms offer a direct pipeline of data that can be integrated straight into a CCMS.

The relationship of forms to content and delivery is more than symbiotic. Forms essentially act as a type of content. They can be optimized and made dynamic based on user behavior.For instance, if your profile shows that a particular shopper on an e-commerce platform has a high bounce ratio, you can deliver a simplified form that asks only for the most vital information. A user who returns again and again to a platform and spends a significant amount of time on certain sites can be paired with a form that focuses on data related to his or her browsing patterns. By being able to gather specific, in-depth data from users, the ability to glean even more granular insights about content grows. This in turn fosters CCMS sophistication, enabling pinpointed, dynamic delivery.

Content strategy best practices

Marketers seeking to foster engagement and content usage have a variety of tools and tricks to make sure the data hits in the right way. In this article we explore one of each to ensure that your content strategy delivers valuable material.

Science: Establish your content benchmarks
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s Ahava Leibtag, the key to creating valuable content is to establish specific benchmarks, by which you can measure the efficacy of the content you have created. While some of Ms. Leibtag’s benchmarks have psychographic elements, most of the challenges of creating high-value content can be traced to technical aspects related to CCMS integration, as well as dispersed teams struggling to follow a comprehensive, coherent plan.

Taking a page from “Checklist Manifesto” of Dr. Atul Gawande, Leibtag urges content strategists to break things down into an easy-to-follow workflow available for the entire team, checking off various metrics along the way. The internal checklist serves as a guide for all departments when assembling content for publication. As part of her step-by-step content creation checklist, Leibtag has content teams ask the following questions:

  • Is the content easily able to be be found? To ensure findability, Leibtag urges the inclusion of heading structures that produce heading tags (such as the <h1> tag) in HTML, significant SEO-optimized metadata, links within body copy and text descriptions that find there way into @alt attributes in HTML for images.
  • Is the content readable? Design and formatting play a vital role in content readability, which ultimately may determine its relevance.
  • Is the content comprehensible? Distinct from simple readability, comprehension considers the audience’s reading and understanding level as well as writing for that specific audience.
  • Is the content actionable? What kinds of calls to action or invitations to share are associated with the content? Are users compelled to comment? Is feedback solicited?
  • Will users share the content? This ties to the organic integration of a call to action and the ease by which content can be shared via social media.

Artistry: Emphasize content relevance
Creating relevant content requires a different sort of content tailoring. The first task is to zero in on data that is relevant to your audience and then structure that content to present this information clearly.

“Establishing credibility with your audience is crucial.”

Second, establish credibility with your audience. Choose data and topics that are squarely associated with your area of expertise, leaning heavily on hyperlinked connections to unimpeachable sources and timely thought leadership. By showcasing connections to other content sources within your chosen market, you show that your content is part of the larger ecosystem.

Finally, innovate. Repurposed content has limited value and may invite litigation. Instead, use previously published data to synthesize new, innovative content that challenges previous assumptions and findings, creating content of inherent value and specificity that links directly back to your organization.

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 —

50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach —


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

When a CCMS meets customer intelligence platforms

Developing alongside the increased sophistication of CCMSs, customer intelligence (CI) platforms represent the sibling to content management and delivery software, with more focus on the marketing aspect. Yet when the two work together – either as an integrated, automated build or as different departmental concerns – the true potential of effective content can be unlocked.

The Power of Personas
As we’ve written about in the past, one emerging aspect of a modern CCMS is the ability to configure data modules based on audience persona. CI platforms are where the bulk of the persona building can occur, since CI is designed to capture and sort customer data. Using analytics, CI platforms can break consumer data into demographic categories, such as:

  • Personal demographics like age, income level, debt level, educational profile, marital status, and other lifestyle features.
  • Geographic demographics such as residential location, country of origin and travel patterns.
  • Attitudinal data, showing preferences and taste.
  • Situational customer data, identifying the specific method and environment in which engagement occurred.

This last metric is can hold particularly compelling data when building an audience member persona: Recent research has shown that the device by which a customer accesses content can portend certain behavioral patterns, which in turn can inform a trend line and help guide content marketers in pairing content to hungry audiences. For example, according to AddThis, desktop users are above 50 percent baseline consumers of job and tech related content, while mobile users consume weather-related content a whopping 355 percent above baseline.

“There are several key data aggregation tools that CI platforms can utilize.”

Sourcing Data
To glean this data, there are several key tools that CI platforms can utilize. The first is direct gathering. Surveys and response boxes built into existing content can effectively gather meaningful data, volunteered directly from the customers themselves. However, this data cannot be deemed 100 percent verifiable, as it gives customers the opportunity to mislead or omit what might otherwise be useful information.

Other means of gathering tend to be indirect. Whether it’s scraping a popular social media platform with an eye for keywords or looking at IP addresses to determine location, indirect gathering can actually offer more verifiable insight, albeit perhaps more limited in scope, and deeper implications.

Customer Development
One of the key areas of potential for CI is the concept of Customer Development. As defined by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits, authors of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development, customer development represents the culmination of CI insights into a responsive understanding of not just behavioral cues, but also what customers are looking for from a piece of content you can provide.

“The results of the customer development process may indicate that the assumptions about your product, your customers, and your market are all wrong,” Cooper and Vlaskovits told the content marketing Institute. “And then it is your responsibility, as the idea-generator (read: entrepreneur), to interpret the data you have elicited and modify your next set of assumptions to iterate upon.”

Customer development is still in its infancy, but the capabilities of CI platforms are ever-expanding. With increased integration with CMS, the ability to configure even more effective, impactful content is well within reach.

“Uplifting” to a Content Management System

When it comes to migrating content from an unstructured paradigm to true XML-based authoring in a component content management system, the challenges include changes in content architecture and navigation, forcing you to make important decisions about the design of your content well ahead of migration.

Unstructured content, including what is stored on intranets, can differ dramatically from content that is prepared and approved for distribution to customers in both form and function. According to CMS Wire, those looking to transfer content from an intranet to a CMS are likely to run into one or more of these issues:

  • Complex or counter-intuitive data distribution.
  • Data that is transactional or with a narrow application (and thus incomplete or incomprehensible outside of context).
  • Information that is client-specific or author-specific, requiring careful review and perhaps specific permissions for publication.

Each of these challenges represents an aspect of migration planning that must be addressed by the enterprise and the content architect.

“Each of these challenges represents an aspect of migration planning.”

‘Lift and shift’
So how should enterprises approach a content migration? The simplest answer from an organizational perspective is what many CMS experts dub the “lift and shift”: the manual re-entry of unstructured data into some kind of XML structure. This effort consumes significant man-hours, and often the data quality is compromised by the repetitive, tedious nature of the task.

Automation could be the answer to some migration woes, but before you set about re-keying unstructured data as structured content, developing a coordinated plan of attack is key. Here are the four main steps for planning the most efficient migration possible.

Step one: Content inventory
Understanding the breadth and scope of your migration will give you a sense of the resources required and a potential timeline. Access your existing content library, making sure to include any additional repositories that may be included in the structured system.

Inventorying content requires identifying:

  • Content permissions and authorship requirements.
  • Locations of content.
  • Content formats.

It should be noted that an inventory is just that: a moment prior to a migration where you take stock of what you have. The next step is where you take a more evaluative eye to the content that you will (or will not) be migrating.

“Content auditing involves looking at the content on hand.”

Step two: Content auditing
Content auditing involves looking at inventoried content and making decisions about its relevance. Often, this is where an enterprise puts its content to the test, identifying it as worthy of migration or earmarking it for deletion/archiving.

“Chances are, you have quite a bit of content out there that nobody — user or owner — has looked at in a long time. It happens to everyone,” Alicia Backlund, Product Strategist at Level Five Solutions, told Nielsen Norman Group. “An intranet redesign is the perfect reason and opportunity to take a good, hard look at your content and move only what makes sense to move.”

When auditing, ask:

  • What is the age of the content?
  • When is the last time this content has been accessed, either on its own or as a component of another piece of content?
  • Is this content still relevant/accurate? Is it incomplete on its own?
  • Could the user interface for accessing this content have been more intuitive?

Step three: Mapping
Once you’ve made sense of the content – where it currently exists and what data you need to transfer – you need to map your data into the new XML structure. This includes determining pathways to shared content as well as the basic usability plan of the new component content management system.

Consider the migration sequence of your content. Is there operationally essential data that should be moved to the front of the line, giving you leeway to complete the rest?

Get your plan in place, and then start your migration. Once initiated, track where content ultimately ends up and compare it to your original plan to help ensure that the process is a success.

How “right” where they? A look back at the content and content marketing trends predicted for 2017

2017 was right around the corner when CMS and content marketing specialists began churning out trend projections for the new year. Now that 2017 is done, let’s see how well they saw the future. More weight is given to correctly foreseeing less prominent drivers taking the spotlight; no fair claiming credit for trends that were already visible at the end of 2016, such as increased automation, growing CMS sophistication, and the increased integration of community editing.

Trend: The rise of rich media content.  Prediction Weight: Low.

CMS designers have already jumped to the task of integrating increasingly sophisticated data languages and digital asset managers into content structures. The next frontier is content with native – non-plugin-based – media embedded as modules. Video, interactive tools, games, survey and app extensions are all primed to become the next aspects of content language.

“The next frontier is native media embedded as modules.”

While pundits got this right as the “next frontier” in content, 2017 did not see a wave of new content with embedded native media.

Trend: Content as a tool of native advertising.  Prediction Weight: Low.
The ubiquity of free content has changed the way that content authors approach development models. One of the more unsavory aspects of this evolution – from the consumer perspective – is the idea of “clickbait.”

It was Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu who pointed out that “clickbait” as actually an organic evolution of content marketing and commerce. Without the ability to monetize content directly, authors would naturally become more psychologically savvy in the type of content they develop, designing it to attract the eye and hold attention.

“This attention-merchant model has spread to so many areas of our life, where we’re completely used to everything being free,” Wu explained. “But then the payoff, or the exchange, is that then we also agree to stuff that is compromised, because it is always trying to get us to click on ads at the same time.”

“Experts” warn that users are growing savvier and more cynical about brute-force advertising efforts – but there is likely to be a shift to different monetization models that may help abate some of its more unpleasant effects. The Content Marketing Institute points out that native advertising – where ads are part of the content, albeit relatively unobtrusive and embraced by authors – could prove an effective countermeasure to clickbait that is minimally disruptive to the content itself.

Perhaps.  But as a prediction, “native advertising” was a flop.

“Social media will be further divided into factions.”

Trend: The social media split.  Prediction Weight: Medium.
Social media consultant and trainer Andrew Davis warns that social media content is heading for a major fork in the road, based on behavioral patterns of users. Similar to the warnings that previous content experts have given about messaging apps supplanting traditional web pages, Davis sees a future where social media – already acting as the hub for nearly all web-based interactions – will be further divided into factions.

“Social media will be split into two areas: the visual web and the community focused web,” Davis tells Writtent. “Visual content will increase at a rapid pace but so will messaging platforms.”

This split was particularly evident in the Russian meddling of the 2016 US Presidential elections.  The so-called “Internet Research Agency” company exploited the trend toward factionalism to develop a series of Web sites and personas that attracted the interest of scores of like-minded US voters. Whether or not this tactic affected the election itself is the subject of vigorous debate, but to some extent that debate is moot given the level of participation and engagement these Web sites and personas engendered.

The Internet’s broad reach allows people of similar persuasions to connect easily even if they live in comparative isolation. It will be challenging for many brands, accustomed to mass marketing, to adapt successfully when they find themselves cut off from their consumers. As closed-loop messaging subverts content development and marketing algorithms, Davis sees many brands retreating to traditional web and visual content advertising, rather than doing the hard work of nice advertising.

Trend: Reevaluation of content efficacy.  Prediction Weight: Low.
According to the Sword and the Script, anywhere between 60 and 70 percent of B2B content developed by brands and organization goes unused. This points to the ease and inexpensive nature of modern content development, but also underscores that brands haven’t yet mastered creating content that connects with users. Focusing on additional automation and perfecting user personas may mitigate some of this waste, leading many experts to say that 2017 will be a peak year for content authors who can guarantee effective content.

Regrettably, 2017 wasn’t the peak year for effective content.  Furthermore, there will be no peaking of content that piques anyone’s interests until the incentives of content authors is aligned with the interests of content consumers.  As it stands now–and has stood for several years now–the majority of content authors are compensated on the amount of material they produce; there is no gating factor imposed by the expense or technical challenge of putting that content on the Web.  So, there is little incentive to produce content that people want to read.

If you want to see a peak in effective content, tie a content creator’s compensation to the number of page-views and the net increase in backlinks.  With a properly incentivized writing team in place, you will definitely see a reevaluation of content efficacy.