Cleve Gibbon

content management, content modelling, digital ecosystems, technology evangelist.

Content modeling revisited

I miss writing about content design. However, when I wrapped up my content modeling series four years ago (Oct 2016), I started getting mail. A lot of mail. From practitioners to managers, and the odd executive. All asking the same questions. So today, let’s revisit content modeling to see what was on their minds.

Advertising & Marketing

I work in the advertising and marketing industry. Brands implement data-driven processes to get to know you, the consumer. Research shows, and purchases prove that the just-in-time assembly. of content, to drive personalization, which delivers better customer experiences. Innovations in advertising and marketing look to reach target audiences with relevant messaging that resonates. Get it right and consumer engagement increases exponentially. Everybody is happy.

Web, mobile, social, and email are some of the more important channels to reach consumers. However, content that is relevant (across channels), resonates (on message), and has the desired reach (typically global) needs well-designed content to get everywhere it needs to be. And this is where the content modeling questions wanted specific answers that showed them how.

Insights behind the questions

So Cleve,

  • Where do we personalize the content within the model?
  • Can you design content so it’s shareable across email and web?
  • How does taxonomy fit with content modeling?
  • Should the content strategist own the content model?
  • What is the best way to overlay audiences with atomic content?
  • What tools are you using and which ones should be core?

Better questions requiring more in-depth answers. But look at them. The questions focused on how and who (modeling) rather than what (model). This told me that content models were being used. The industry had moved on.

So, whilst answering the questions, a few recurring themes kept popping up. I wrote them down as observations that the people asking the questions had. To be clear, they are not my observations, but I agree with them! For sure, we have all got smarter about content design. Take a look at what we thinking:

  • Copy and assets are both content, but with different lifecycles
  • CMS for Copy and DAM for Assets, obvious but important
  • Content modeling is an iterative and incremental design process
  • Designing for content requires a multi-disciplinary team
  • DO NOT leave content modeling to technologists
  • Content modeling is based upon tried and tested design principles
  • UXers and Content people still struggle to work together
  • Atomic content is not cheap

There were many more. However, I’d like to pick up on the last bullet as it always comes as a surprise to those responsible for funding well-design content.

Atomic content is not cheap

Breaking stuff is easy. Atomizing content so that it can be assembled, disassembled, and re-assembled into different forms, by machines is a totally different ball game.. However, it’s possible, if you design for it.

Designing content that is raw (channel-agnostic), self-describing (machine-readable), and modular (like lego) requires time and effort from everyone participating in the end-to-end orchestration of customer journeys. This is what costs the money.

A solid right-to-left plan helps you focus on the content design outcomes and outputs. Then test and break the model against real engagement use cases, with real audiences to ensure that the content delivers the right communication at every moment in the journey. Even if you build this, the test effort alone requires a significant investment of time upfront, and ongoing people and processes to run and operate effective content delivery.

Summary

For the record, I didn’t have silver bullet answers to the questions. My answers were merely confirmation of what they already knew, with a few tweaks.

The noticeable shift in thinking from how do we create a content model (design-time) to how to best apply atomic content (runtime) is clear. The need for atomic content is well known, however, the effort required to apply it, not so well understood.

We have moved from awareness to the adoption of atomic content within our people, processes, products, production, and publishing efforts. Leaders in the field are scaling up to liquidize their content fast. They are done with experimenting and are actively executing (read as connecting) across more and more channels. The laggards are not, and struggling to structure within existing channel silos.

Where are you?

Towards a Marketing Content Hub

Last month industry experts met to discuss the state of content management. Janus Boye facilitated CEOs, CTOs, market analysts, and subject matter experts unpack the term content. What we discovered, with the help of Theresa Regli, was the undeniable rise of the marketing content hub.

Content

Content is communication. As an industry, we struggle to communicate effectively at scale across multiple:

  • Audiences
  • Languages
  • Markets
  • Channels
  • Devices
  • Technologies

Traditionally, we view content through two important lenses:

  • Copy as text
  • Assets as images, documents, videos, sound, etc.

In doing so, this gives us to very simple formula for defining what content is:

  • Content = Copy + Assets

About Copy

In the early days of the web, communication was heavy on copy. A web site migration was a lift and shift of company documents onto the web. The resultant was walls of text positioned copy was king.

As we learnt to write more effectively for the web, websites applied the “less is more rule” to copy. Web pages became easier to read. Whitespace was celebrated. The amount of web copy reduced and the use of assets increased.

About Assets

Today, people are engaging more and more with videos, sound and images than ever before.  The use of assets in marketing communicationsis on the rise:

  • YouTube uploads 300 hours of video every minute.
  • Netflix is 15% of the total downstream bandwidth for the entire internet.
  • Instagram has over 100 million post per day.

Copy remains important but so are assets. Assets are a critical part of any customer experience. Great experiences need both copy and assets.

Managing Content

So, what does this mean for the systems responsible for managing content? Technology enables content authors to effectively manage copy and assets. Interestingly, vendors have also divided their technology solutions along similar content lines. A CMS predominantly manages copy where a DAM focuses on the asset part of the content equation.

Content Management Systems

A CMS is better equipped to manage copy than assets. The majority of CMS solutions target the web. A Web CMS (WCMS) creates copy through a web authoring interface and publishes for desktop, tablet and mobile consumption. The popularity of WCMS increased in line with the ubiquitous spread of the web. Although WCMS solutions purport to be channel agnostic, the web remains the channel of choice them.

WCMS capture copy, mix-in assets, and publish web pages. The strategy is clear. Build just enough asset management capability within the WCMS to enable authors to assemble web site content. WCMS vendors chose to integrate with enterprise DAMs, some made strategic partnership, whilst others built their own web-based DAMs. But for WCMS, treatment of content was:

  • Copy First, Assets Second

Digital Asset Management

Assets are fundamentally different from copy. Assets have different properties, life cycles, audiences, and use cases. As a result, a DAM solution does not manage assets in the same way that a WCMS manages copy.

DAM solutions need to track asset usage with rights management software. Approval processes tend to be more rigorous. The storage and streaming of assets are critical and differentiated by asset types (e.g. video vs sound). Assets need to be channel agnostic and accessible across the enterprise so that same video can be re-purposed at a market level.

DAM solutions are purchased by marketing departments that share assets across e-commerce, outbound communications, social channels, point of sale systems, and of course web sites. However, pure play DAMs no longer meet the needs to marketing departments that need more accessible and available assets at scale to create great experiences. A DAM solutions view on content is:

  • Assets first, Copy second

Marketing Content Hub

Useful and usable content is intelligent. This requires both copy and assets to be:

  • Raw; enables content to be produced in one channel and consumer in another.
  • Self-Describing; enables machines to ask content questions and get meaningful answers back.
  • Modular; enables applications to disassemble and re-assemble content on demand

A marketing content hub treats copy and assets as equals. The hub is based upon a content model that is well-structured and meaningful. The content hub enables marketing to gain fast accessible to highly available copy and assets at scale. The marketing content hub sits at the centre of the content universe, co-ordinating and collaborating with traditional systems of record such as DAM, WCMS, PIM, eCommerce, Point of Sal, and ERP.

Marketing Content Hub

Simple?  Not quite.  It never is when there is revenue on the table.

The above shows DAM vendors moving into the marketing content hub space. WCMS vendors are also trying to keep their products relevant. by adding more sophisticated asset management capabilities to their solutions. Drupal’s Content Hub syndicates content between Drupal sites and Sitecore recently acquired Stylelabs into its WCMS offering.

The marketing content hub is a vendor solution for providing content at a service back into the business. It is just one part of the content engine, but an important part none the less.

Content Modelling Series – Done

KristinaAndCleveIt’s been fun few years, but my content modelling blog post series has come to an end. I started it to amplify what others were saying about structured content, and to make it accessible. When I started, there was gap: everyone knew structured content was important but there weren’t many places to go to show you how to approach it.

Content modelling is important.  It’s about designing content together, as part of a cross-disciplinary team.  Not from the tech up, or from the business down, but as a joined-up, sustainable team across the organisation.  

A content model is a communication vehicle.  Content modelling is the process to facilitate that communication. Value content modelling over the content model.

As I close out this series, I want to review where we’ve been, what we’ve learned and start to think about what comes next.

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The Connected Customer Journey

Last week I had the good fortune to attend an unconference session run by Chris Satchell.  He’s ex-CTO of Nike. He understands customers. Now as Chief Product Officer over at Comcast, he led with this thought provoking one-liner:

Your brand is your customer journey.

Think about that for moment.

We’ve all heard that your brand is not what you say it is but how others perceive it.  Brand perception boils down to how your customers engage with you. The journeys you take them on.  It’s the sum total of all customer experiences – for better, for worse – across all touchpoints.  Your brand is your customer journey, but they must been connected.

 

 

The challenge lies in mapping out these interconnected customer journeys.  They are hard to create in the first place and really difficult to sustain ongoing success.  Continuously changing over time, connected customer journeys require so many people across the business to collaborate.   But that is exactly what success looks like for those companies building superior brands.  The ability to design and deliver connected customer journeys is a critical component of competitive advantage in digital today. No longer an optional, connected customer journeys are the new norm.

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No model survives first contact with real content

At Content Strategy Forum 2013 in Helsinki, in a great presentation on “Deblobbing in the Real World”, Jeff Eaton said something that resonated deeply with me:

No model survives contact with real content.

explosion

I whole-heartedly concur.  But, something was still not right.  A week later, all became clear.  I  needed to tweak the sentence, just a little, to make things right with the world again. So here goes:

No model survives first contact with real content.

Better. Definitely expand “first contact” to mean the first few encounters with real content, but it’s an important distinction to draw out for anyone designing structured content. Why you ask? Read the rest of this entry »

Content APIs: A is for Access

Please watch this two minute video. It does an amazing job of describing the utility of APIs using a deck of playing cards.

Content APIs are on the rise because we need ubiquitous access to content.  For a while now, I’ve felt like our content management systems are being deployed as Roach Motels (see resources at the end), where content checks in, but it doesn’t check out. Forever locked into a single (web) channel with no easy way out.

A couple weeks backs, I explained why content APIs are becoming critical to those in the content business.  They help mitigate the Roach Motel problem.  The big guns are already reaping the rewards of their early investments in content APIs. Take Netflix, after just two years of deploying an API, it’s seeing a x37 increase in API usage, the majority of which is through internal consumption.

Today, let’s walkthrough through a couple of examples to drive home the point that APIs lower the bar to making content accessible: available to people, processes and products that potentially do not to contribute to the production or ongoing management of the content.

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Why Content APIs

Have you been hearing a lot about APIs recently? Or maybe the Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE) thinking that came out of NPR? It doesn’t matter whether you have or haven’t really. What’s important is that we understand why APIs are on the rise.

Why did the big guns invest heavily in APIs and are now reaping serious benefits. Netflix, NPR, Twitter, Facebook, Expedia, Guardian, Google, to mention a few, have well established APIs that grant third parties, that’s people like you, me and other companies,  controlled access to their functionality and content.  That’s right, these companies have created a playroom filled with shiny new toys (content and functionality) and have given us the key (API) to play with them.  But why?

What value do these companies see in APIs? Why do they continue to invest in them?  And how do I get me some API action?

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Meaningful HTML

Today you’ve been asked to create some meaningful HTML.  What’s that you ask?  We’ll get back to that.

However, you knew that this day would come and prepared for it.  You have a very simple, but workable content model jammed packed with meaning and structure.  You’ve already done the hard content modelling work and identified the key content types for your business.  For for each content type, you have:

  • A name.
  • A one line description of its purpose.
  • A list of its attributes and a one line description for each.
  • A clear understanding of the relationships it has with other content types.
  • Open and transparent agreement, across business, UX and technology, on all of the above.

So, back to the meaningful HTML task.  HTML was never designed to convey meaning.  It’s a display language. However, search engines, web crawlers and browsers need meaningful content to better display search results and deliver awesome customer experiences.  They can’t do that with a display language.  Microdata, RDFa and Microformats are popular Internet specifications that add semantics to HTML to make it meaningful.

You have a content model.  Let’s put it to work.
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The Rise and Rise of Content Junk

The amount content we produced in 2011 alone exceeded the content created in all previous years combined. ALL previous years combined! We more than doubled the size of our digital content universe.

That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if all that content could get everywhere it needed to be today.  It can’t. Instead, it’s trapped in the applications (CMS, DAM,Word) and/or channels (e.g. Web, Email) that created it.  This is not a sustainable business model for many companies that create and publish content to better engage with their customers.

It’s stupid, costly and uncompetitive to create great content and not invest the time and effort to make it structured and meaningful. To make it future friendly. And yet the rate of growth for digital content continues to rise exponentially, more than doubling every couple of years.  It’s time to stop creating more content (junk) and start making content work more.

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What do content strategists do?

It’s a question being asked a lot these days.  By clients, the industry, fellow colleagues, creatives, technologists; the list goes on. So in June I attended an EConsultancy course on Digital Content Strategy delivered by Catherine Toole, CEO of Sticky Content to find out from a seasoned content strategist.  It was a great one-day overview that provoked a lot of lively discussion.  Then I got the slide that listed just some of the things a content strategist does.  Take a look:

brand strategy
messaging strategy
competitor content audit
format development
tone of voice
content style guide
copy deck
idea generation
editorial calendar
editorial strategy
SEO/PPC strategy
language guidelines
message map
content production schedule
terms of use
page tables
content licensing
sitemap
style guide
taxonomy
content approval workflow
migration strategy
content analysis
content audit
content inventory
content assessment
content gap analysis
content model
editorial workflow
content types
quality assurance tools
metadata strategy
cms architecture
content migration plan
metadata framework

 
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About Cleve Gibbon



I'm Cleve Gibbon, CTO at Wunderman Thompson where we are passionate about digital content.

My sort of up-to-date cv tells you my past, linked in shows you my professional network and on twitter you can find out what I'm currently up to.