Prepare Your Content for the Future

While choosing the right tool in the form of a headless CMS is an important step for being omnichannel ready, it would be far from the truth if we said it’s the only thing you need to do. 

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Ondrej SirockaPublished on Feb 7, 2018

In one of our previous articles, we talked about What Omnichannel Is and Why It’s Critical for Your Success. It’s undeniable that digital marketing is not just about the web anymore.

The number of channels we use for content publishing is quickly growing and no one can really tell you what’s coming next. More and more, businesses are starting to be aware of this trend and realize they need to change in order to keep up.

As I mentioned in the lead paragraph, selecting  a headless CMS will help you achieve omnichannel readiness, but it is only one of the steps you need to take. The biggest challenge actually lies in adapting your organization and content production processes. It’s necessary to stop teams from working independently in so-called organizational silos, and start collaborating and producing a unified experience across all of the company and its channels. Content authoring must have a clear set of rules and boundaries and stick to a common structure. And that’s what we are going to talk about today.

Intelligent Content

A lot of companies have been producing content for the purpose of publishing it to one particular channel, be it a web, print, or even mobile application. They tend to adjust the content in preference to the chosen platform, which usually leads to the production of piles of unstructured content that is stored somewhere in the layout or template. If you ever tried to reuse that content for any other purpose, you would most likely have a hard time with questionable results only leading to frustration. And even if you miraculously managed to go through the process and migrate the content to a system supporting your new use case, you would find yourself stuck in a content trap, managing multiple versions of the same content in different content management systems.

To avoid this kind of situation, organizations need to start thinking about content differently. Thankfully, there is no need to come up with a new revolutionary approach or technique, as we can revisit the definition of Intelligent content that has been around for a while and perfectly meets our requirements for omnichannel-suitable content.

Intelligent content is content that is structured, reusable, presentation independent, and contains meaningful metadata. It is also an advantage to have a competent team and a usable CMS interface that can help you tackle the challenge. To get a better idea of what it all means, let’s take a look at the elements in more detail.

Structured Content

This term is pretty much self explanatory. Instead of producing and storing content in unstructured blobs, it is necessary to provide a fixed structure which is then used as a template for the content production.

Let’s say I’d like to create a call to action similar to the one in the picture below.

As you can see, it consists of an image, title, text, and call to action button. There are two ways of completing this task.

The first one would be creating the content in a WYSIWYG or rich text editor as one blob, making it a pile of unstructured content. Even though the result might look pretty decent, the main issue of this approach is, that content is tightly coupled with its presentation, and because it doesn’t have any structure, it’s almost impossible to reuse it for any other purpose or channel.

This gets us to the second option. Instead of having content stored without any order, you can break it into smaller elements like title, image, text, etc., and wrap it as a Call to action content type or model, which is basically a container for all the attributes. In short, you are providing the structure of your content and, thanks to this, you’ll have much more control over its production and will be on the right track to fulfill another aspect of intelligent content, which is content reusability.

Reusable Content

When we talk about reusability, we differentiate between two various aspects of it. The same piece of content can be reused across multiple places within one particular channel (e.g., a website) or across multiple platforms (e.g., a website and mobile application). Combination of both is, of course, a valid scenario as well.

Let’s take a look at the first case, i.e., utilizing the same content in multiple places within one channel. Imagine that we have written an article or blog post and we would like to include the call to action (CTA) from the previous example in its body.

We can create the CTA directly as a part of the article, or we can build a separate CTA object and link it to the article, or, in other words, create a relationship between those two objects. While in the first case, the CTA is tightly coupled with the superior article, in the second scenario we are able to reuse the CTA and display it anywhere else throughout the website. Basically, we can associate it with any other content, not only with the one particular article. You should always have this kind of use case in mind when modeling your content and apply it wherever it makes sense.

The latter case, reusing content across multiple platforms, builds on the foundations of the former. Content should be reusable across any channels, existent or even nonexistent. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it always has to appear in one identical form for every platform. It should definitely provide users with the same, consistent information and experience, but its form or structure can be different.

Let’s say you are using a table to display some data, and this table looks perfectly fine on the web, but doesn’t really work with your mobile app. What you can do is provide an alternative in the form of a chart or graph to present the same information. Or you might have an image that looks good on a smart watch, but is not sufficient for a bigger screen. In this case, you can simply substitute it with another image or text.

If we’d like to demonstrate this kind of approach on the call to action, we could, for example, provide an additional field called Short Text as an alternative to the Text field, because we know, that we’ll need a shorter version of the description for devices with smaller displays like mobiles or watches.

Please note that we didn’t use a field description like Text For Mobile, Watches, or any other channel-specific name. Rather than that, we used the generic “Short text” because, as previously mentioned, we never know which other channel is going to consume it in the future. Today, it might be mobiles and watches, but tomorrow they could be joined by refrigerators or car head-up displays, who knows?

To sum this up, when speaking about multiple platforms, content can be reused as is or in its multiple variations. However, this isn’t only a precondition for your content to be compatible with multiple channels.

Presentation Independent Content

Since you are pushing your content to various platforms and devices, you need to make sure that content will be displayed correctly on all of them. To be more specific, you need to let the targeted channels decide what your content looks like. In order to do that, your content has to be created and stored in a presentation-independent way.

No more text positioning to the left or right, no custom font or image wrapping styling, and so on. The only control content editors should have is via semantics because semantics provide content with actual meaning and can be represented however is best for the particular platform. We realize this might be a shock and look like a step backward in comparison to advanced WYSIWYG editors known from traditional content management systems. However, we believe that content authoring without all the additional styling effort actually leads to a higher efficiency of content editors and is necessary for your omnichannel scenario.

Speaking about semantics gets us to the last element forming intelligent content, and that’s metadata.

Meaningful Metadata

Since we are separating content from its presentation and pushing it to multiple channels at the same time, it is essential to provide high-quality metadata to describe our content and assure necessary additional information. 

Metadata can carry information about semantics, content categorization, personalization, taxonomy, and so on. For instance, in our example CTA, we’ve added a Persona categorization, which will help us target the message to the right audience. Or there is the Delivery channel which specifies targeted devices, where this call to action would show up.

Actually, even the names of all object elements like Title, Image, Persona, etc., are some kind of metadata, as they inform us about semantics or the meaning of their values. So as you can see, metadata is an important part of the intelligent approach as it provides us with more context and help us organize our content.

The Supportive Elements of Intelligent Content

Now you might be thinking: “Defining content structure, content types relationships, following reusability rules and enriching all of that with relevant metadata… Wow, that sounds like a lot of work!” Well... it is an extra effort, but we believe the related benefits are definitely worth it. Moreover, there are things that can make your life significantly easier when tackling this challenge and turning it into a smooth going process.

As we already mentioned above, one of the things that can be of great benefit is the utilization of the right tool (or set of tools). Most headless CMSs are specifically designed for creating intelligent content and having all the necessary capabilities. The tool can provide you with the right engine, but since there are so many contexts, possible directions, and various kinds of projects, it can’t assure you’ll follow the principles of intelligent content correctly and in the right way for your particular case.

Therefore, you’ll need to have a competent team and support of the initiative within your organization. Creating a content model for large projects can sometimes get really complex, and a competent team is very important for your content to be designed in the right way, following all the principles and guidelines. Furthermore, the support of management and the whole organization is necessary to get rid of the silos, connect teams together, and start real collaboration with one common goal—a coherent and consistent customer experience across multiple channels.

What's next?

In this article, you could learn how to meet customer's growing demand for consuming content on multiple channels or platforms by producing intelligent content. Do you find any of the elements of intelligent content particularly challenging and would like to learn more about them? Let us know in the comment section. We'll be happy to provide you with some best practices and advanced knowledge.

In my next blog post, we will take a look at some inspiring real-life examples of omnichannel content delivery implemented by popular innovative companies, so stay tuned!

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Ondrej Sirocka

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