May 12, 2017
Q&A with Robert Rose: Modern Marketing and Intelligent Content Delivery

Marketers face a dilemma. They are responsible for delivering a great deal of engaging content to a wide variety of channels, but they aren't necessarily given the time, resources and funding to make it happen. The result is a desire to rely on technology to do the work necessary, but technology isn't the answer. Intelligent content may be – but are marketers ready for the work required to implement it successfully?

We had the opportunity to chat with Robert Rose, founder and chief strategy officer for The Content Advisory, and chief strategy advisor for the Content Marketing Institute, about the challenges marketers face today, including implementing an intelligent content strategy, as well as the role web content management can play in supporting their goals. Here is part one of a three-part post of that conversation.

Barb Mosher Zinck: Marketing and Intelligent content. It's becoming a much bigger topic for marketing with the number of channels growing and the need to create content that works across channels. What kinds of struggles are you seeing?

Robert Rose: It’s a double-edged sword at the moment. The operative word is scale. Marketers, broadly speaking, are being asked to create more content across more channels than ever before. That number continues to rise exponentially. They are being asked to do so without any increase in headcount or budget. As they try and scale, many are looking to technology to help them structure content in such a way that there is an automated process that enables them to use content across multiple channels. The whole, create once, publish many, distribute multiple, idea is interesting; however, what marketers are discovering is that is a very difficult process, requiring capabilities they don’t necessarily have.

The idea of intelligent content or content that scales (that is structured, reusable, adaptable) is becoming a big demand. It’s a much higher priority due to the need to scale content across so many channels without the extra hands and legs and brains normally required. We're finding the interest in technology and structure, and all the things around content strategy (broadly speaking) or content engineering is becoming a much more popular topic these days for marketers to get their arms around (as evidenced by the Intelligent Content Conference).

On the other ‘edge’ of the sword, and where I spent a lot of time in my keynote at the event, is that marketers are often relying on technology to come in and save the day, and it doesn't. We all learned our lesson in content management in the early 2000's thinking it was going to save the way we did digital marketing, and that didn't happen. It didn't happen when we invented email technology; it didn't happen when we invented marketing automation technology, and it certainly won't happen as content becomes more structured and reusable across channels. It has to be both a combination of producing less content that is higher quality and structuring it in a way that scales across all the different platforms we need it to scale across.

My point is, that if we simply rely on technology to help us scale, we're going to be disappointed in the results. Whether we look to AI or machine learning or content that is created by bots, if we don't put the thinking and wisdom into the content then it doesn't matter how much it scales, it will still fail.

BMZ: So, before you even pick your technology, you have to figure out your strategy to create this content.

Rose: Exactly. Too often the technology designs the strategy instead of the other way around. We get this new ‘flavor of the month’ technology and think, ‘Aha, we'll use its’ capabilities and that will define our content strategy.’ What we should be doing is defining a strategy first and then finding a technology that best fits that strategy.

BMZ: Marketers are faced with a lot of more technical content as well, in many forms and coming from many different locations. And they are finding it difficult to pull it all together cohesively and use it. Do you hear much about that?

Rose: There are two sides to that. First is the content which we would broadly describe as metadata (the content about the content). We’re finding there's more meta content than content itself. What marketers think about when they say, 'we need to produce this much content,' is the content that actually goes out on the screen. What they fail to recognize, and it's a painful thing when they do, is that there is a whole cloud of content that surrounds anything on the screen in an intelligent content approach. And thinking about that – the metadata, the categorization, the taxonomy, the technical content that helps to do all those wonderful things we want to do, has to be thought up, written and applied.

The second point is the modularity of the content; the ability to plug in different components (creating the atomic bits) of content that make up a web page or manual and a tech doc or a FAQ or a marketing ad. Thinking about content in a modular way is a really difficult thing to do as content gets assembled in a much more dynamic fashion. These challenges are front and center for marketers these days.

BMZ: You mentioned the roles of a content architect or content engineer. Do you see those roles in the marketing team?

Rose: The skills are for sure. It's funny, content strategy and content engineers and people that are skilled in this and have been searching for greater responsibility in the organization since I've been in the industry. You'd like to think we are making some headway there, with getting this to be a core part of marketing, but it’s still a very painful thing. Marketing, by the way, is the place where they are finding a home.

Consider the marketer who says ‘I can add two resources to my team this year – which ones do I add?  Do I add someone who is great at content engineering and can help me scale and is really good at the technical bits of the CMS or do I hire a writer?' What a lot of people are doing is trying to find both. That's a difficult thing.

I would absolutely agree it's an intimately important piece of the team. I wish I could report that I see businesses accepting this as a required bit. I find a lot of shoehorning and companies trying to make good with both.

There’s a broader challenge related to the investment of content as a strategic process and a strategic function in the business. It is not uncommon for me to walk into a huge Fortune 500 company, ask to talk to the content people and find there are two people in the department trying to support the entire organization. And they're saying, ‘We can't even keep up with what we have, much less scale into something that's more interesting.' They’re right; you can’t scale with two people supporting an organization of seven products and eight regions across the world; including translation and globalization and all that kind of stuff.

There's no technology in the world that could help two people scale to that level. The level of investment needs to rise considerably.

BMZ: It seems like most are trying to spend their money on the data now; getting the data right. They think that the content will come along with it.

Rose:  Right, and of course it's a GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) situation because what they are doing is saying ‘Hey look, we've done all this stuff and we can extract all this data and it's awesome.’ But they are tracking the wrong things usually and tracking the wrong things against content that is sub-par to begin with, so why would we expect the quality of the data that comes out of that to be any better than it has been?

You can scale a piece of content all you want; hire people and employ technology that will mine that data, but if what's going into that data isn't very interesting or the content isn't very differentiating, then who cares what the data says on the other side?

Stay Tuned for Part Two!

We’ll bring more insights on intelligent content delivery from Robert Rose in Part 2 of this interview.

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