If you want to understand the ins and outs of effective content strategy, then you go to someone who works with some of the largest organizations as they define and build their intelligent content frameworks. That person is Cruce Saunders, and he has some very useful insights every organization can learn from as they think about the relationship between their content and customer experience.
Saunders has a long history with content. He’s been working with content technology his entire life, starting his first internet consultancy in 1995. He then started an interactive agency in the late 90s to early 2000’s and later founded a CMS vendor offshoot of that company. He ended up focusing on the implementation side of the technology, adopting best of breed third-party platforms and helping other agencies implement content within their content management systems.
Eventually, Saunders foundedand focused the firm’s efforts on helping others engineer their content sets. [A] has a distributed team across the US, Mexico, Canada, and Europe that works with some of the largest companies in the world with complex content sets. His team works on transformation initiatives that bring intelligence and coherence to content sets from authoring to management and publishing.
Saunders said they are also starting to work on longer-term engagements that involve the transformation of strategy and publishing processes inside an organization that ties together structural and semantic standards, technology, system architecture, and the delivery services layer for content. As part of these efforts, [A] also works with many vendors and platforms.
An Always Changing Content Management Environment
Content management is a dynamic environment, Saunders told me. He said the nature of publishing changes entirely every two to three years. We are constantly dealing with new publishing environments to meet our content sets.
Because things change so much and so quickly, technology vendors and the organizations that own the content sets struggle to keep up. “Organizations are in a constant process of needing to reinvent themselves and their processes.” Those that haven’t been able to adapt have found their ability to reach the customer decline rapidly. It’s a struggle to engage in this omnichannel world if you aren’t prepared to adapt.
For those embracing change, they are creating more nimble experiences for customers. These organizations are prepared to meet the customers in their context. Saunders made the point that we are all busy and we don’t have the time or brain space for anything “extra,” yet we have an onslaught of content handed to us by the second. So, what does a company do? They need to make experiences as easy as possible for customers. He offered Amazon as an example, explaining that it has been able to take market share because it reduces the friction involved in transactions and a big part of that is the content experience.
“As enterprises, we are all in the business of reducing customer effort through nimble content experiences. Therefore, our publishing operations must conform to meet this new world.”
Getting Started with Intelligent Content Modeling
Is there a right time to start your content strategy? Saunders said content strategy should happen before a CMS project or alongside it. He pointed out that everything about a CMS configuration depends on the strategy. The technology is never the solution, it enables and advances the strategy.
How do you start then?
Start with the customer and the strategy; then define the content and semantic models. Once that is done, you implement, build, configure and deploy the CMS technology.
“It’s a simple matter of knowing what our future should look like before we step into that future. We create with our strategy and our technology follows.”
Success Requires Executive Leadership Support
I asked if there are some types of organizations that get it right more than others. Saunders said the ones that get it right are usually the companies where the leadership has recognized customer experience as a key competitive advantage and is willing to invest from the highest levels to create the best experiences.
A successful, intelligent content framework requires cross-functional initiatives that stitch together marketing, support and customer services, documentation, training, and other touchpoints to create the best customer experiences. Saunders said once the dialog is started, the organization is already on a path to defining more intelligent ways to handle their assets.
“It’s not because smart people inside the tech comms group or marketing decide the content should be better, the actual thing that makes the most difference is the enrollment of the most senior executives in an organization.”
Strategy, Like Customer Experience, is Ever Evolving
If customer experience is ever evolving and things are changing so much, how do you keep your strategy in line?
Saunders said that organizations need to build a regular muscle that not only builds a strategy once but can then optimize it based on the constant inputs they get from customers, the market, competitors and the industry.
Some of Saunders’ clients are dealing with millions of content interactions per minute. He said if they waited three years to change their content strategy they would be in some form of decline. When the market is interacting with them at a rapid speed, organizations need to evolve their strategy continually. That strategy then needs to manifest itself within their structure, and that structure is expressed within the CMSs.
He gave the example of a company that made a strategic decision to interact with customers on a new social channel. The addition of the channel required they add another element to a content type. There was a content engineering focus on extending the content type with a new element that needed to be matched with schema.org and any XML standards that happen internally and then had to be rolled out in an iterative release.
On the semantic side, there are constantly new rules companies need to add to their customer experience platforms to enable personalization. Saunders said that organizations need to be able to trigger things such as related content in a recommender-like model based on the customer’s behavior to reduce the effort for them to take the next logical step. This means tags are constantly changing as well and there needs to be a muscle that recognizes the change from a strategic point of view. After that, there is an engineering focus to implement the change within the CMS.
Saunders said that writers should not have to deal with this work. They should not have to maintain the metadata or manage the tags. “There should be functions inside the organization that lets content authors and subject matter experts do what they are good at, while we enable strategy and engineering to happen as an ongoing muscle inside the organization.”
In some ways, it sounds very complicated, and Saunders doesn’t argue that it can be. But he was quick to point out that we don’t run away from complexity in any other supply chain in our business, so why would we run away from complexity in content? “We can’t neglect the complexity that is necessary to manage knowledge.”
We’ll continue our conversation with Cruce Saunders in part two of our interview. We’ll discuss CMS technology, including the new conversational UIs, as well as how to build your intelligent content framework and determine ROI.