Using Content Models to Support Customer Journeys

One of the major challenges of enterprise content is that much of it seems unrelated. Different teams produce content separately. The content they create may not seem to have much to do with content produced elsewhere in the enterprise. The topics and types of content seem so diverse that they seem to have little relationship. And that hinders the enterprise’s ability to get the right content in front of customers when they need it.

Michael AndrewsPublished on Mar 19, 2020

Content models unify and relate different content items to support customers and also make it easier for different teams to share and combine their content. The models do this by organizing content according to its purpose and meaning. Organized content can be assembled in sophisticated ways to support customer journeys.

While much of our focus so far has been how content models allow content to be more granular and manageable, it’s also important to recognize that content models aren’t just about splitting up information. The model breaks content apart so that it can be put back together again in different ways. It provides a map of what’s available.

Bringing Cohesion to Diverse Content

When developing a content model, teams should consider two kinds of relationships:

  1. Content relationships: how do different content types relate to one another?
  2. Item relationships: how do different content items relate to each other?

These concepts will help us understand how to connect the pieces of our model together.

Connections support customers on their journeys. Customers want to know what else they should look at and which content they should pick when they have several options.

The model shows how items can be presented together: 

  • Companion items are meant to be used together so that readers can accomplish more.
  • Alternative items are meant to offer different perspectives relating to a specific decision so that readers can make the best choices. 

Your content model should support both these customer goals. To do that, you’ll want to decide when to present companion content and when to provide alternative content.

Connecting Purposes: Linking Content Types

First, let’s explore content types, the structure for creating and delivering content relating to a specific purpose. The content model can help us understand how different structures can be connected, which influences the scope of information that customers can access.

The way that content types are connected will guide the customer’s journey. Customers are more likely to look at information and messages when they are connected to other content they are viewing.

The content model structures content with distinct types that focus on specific purposes. Even though each type has a unique purpose, these purposes may be related to one another. Content types can be connected to each other. Different structures can be combined together. This happens when one type refers to another. For example, some content types are lists that enumerate information taken from other content types.

Two common patterns used to connect content are the aggregation pattern and the association pattern.

In the aggregation pattern, one content type aggregates information from another. For example, an overview of products will be linked to detailed profiles of these products. The overview highlights some of the information in the profiles. The overview is one content type, while the product profile is a different one. The overview aggregates information from product profiles.

In the association pattern, different types are shown together. For example, a content type describing an event will normally be connected to a content type about the location where the event will be held. These two content types work in tandem as a team. Customers want to get information from both these content types. 

When looking for connection possibilities, think about what else customers want to see, and what they want to do before, during, or after seeing certain content. These aspects influence the customer’s pathways through the content. 

Both the aggregation and association patterns can be thought of more broadly as companions. When should different content types be companions? When:

  1. Information should be presented together in order to provide a complete understanding of the issue that the reader is trying to understand.
  2. Information should be presented as a sequence so that the reader knows what the next steps they can take.

Content types are linked when they belong together. Linking is a way of referencing other material. In, this is done through “linked items.” 

Teams can specify the kind of links between different content types. They can make the links mandatory or optional, depending on whether different content types need to be presented always, or only sometimes.

Now that we have explored how content can be connected according to its purpose, let’s look at how content can be connected according to its meaning.

Grouping Topics: The Role of Taxonomies in Content Models

In addition to tracking the relationships between content types, teams will want to consider how content items are related. There are many occasions when it makes sense to group items together because they are similar in meaning. Such a grouping helps customers discover similar items and make informed decisions.

When grouping items according to their shared meaning, teams can explore two possibilities. First, they may want to group together items that are based on the same content type. Alternatively, they may want to group together items that are based on different content types. As we will see shortly, these possibilities support distinct customer goals.

Enterprises can group items according to their meaning by using an enterprise taxonomy that covers all the content published by the organization. Taxonomies categorize content according to a hierarchical set of terms. Taxonomies play a vital role in helping customers decide what specific information to consult.

Taxonomy terms reveal the meaning and significance of content items. They denote what a content item is about, which could be several topics. Taxonomies can indicate relationships between items: which ones are more specific and more general, and which ones overlap in emphasis.

Taxonomy terms categorize not only what the content is about, but also who the content is for and when it should be used. Enterprise taxonomies cover topics such as:

  • Product categories
  • Locations of services, events, or offices
  • People such as experts and executives
  • Customer problems and needs
  • Procedures and how-to instructions
  • Customer segments
  • Customer journey stages

Some taxonomy terms are values that are displayed within content items. For example, instructional content may have an element named “skill level”, and that element has a value such as a beginner, advanced, or expert. 

It’s also possible to classify content items with terms that don’t appear within the content itself. For example, marketing content may be classified according to the audience segment and buyer journey. These classifications are part of the enterprise taxonomy but would not typically be visible as elements within content types.

Every content item is based on a distinct content type. But items can have more than one taxonomy term—many items will have several. That means that a group of items may share a single term, multiple terms, or all terms. Teams should decide what terms are important to match in order to support specific customer scenarios.

The taxonomy adds additional detail to the content model. Let’s look at how taxonomy works with content types.

When content items are classified with the same taxonomy terms, they may use either the same content type or two different content types. 

If they use the same content type, they are alternatives. For example, a bunch of product profiles of different bicycles are alternative items. The exact information in each will be different, but they all follow the same structure and address the same category.

If items address the same category but have different content type structures, then they are companions. For example, if the topic is retirement planning, there may be different content types that are used to present content about that topic: worksheets, advice guides, etc. Companion items can be related through either aggregation or association.

The table below summarizes how content types and taxonomies interact to provide either companion or alternative items for customers.

The items have the same taxonomy termsThe items are the same content typeThe items are alternativesDescriptions of different products in the same category
The items have the same taxonomy termsThe items are different content typesThe items are companionsDifferent types of travel-related content that address the same destination

Connecting Purpose and Meaning Together

The content model links together content types that have related purposes in the customer journey. The taxonomy shows how specific items are related. Working together, content types and taxonomies shape the purpose and meaning of content.

The table below presents a framework for how content relationships (purpose) and item relationships (meaning) intersect. The content model can support many different combinations of content. This flexibility makes it possible to support a range of customer needs.

How can teams leverage this flexibility? They should pick the item relationship according to the goal they need to support. 

GoalItem Relationship
Provide customers with a more complete view or next steps in their journeyCompanion items
Provide customers with options to compare similar items at a specific journey stepAlternative items
Make a suggestion to customers about something different to explore, allowing them to start a new journeyConnected but unrelated items (Links to other kinds of content)

As discussed elsewhere, the development of content models should be guided by goals. We can see that the relationships within the content model are important in helping customers navigate through the content and discover what they need.

Planning Combinations Collaboratively

Designing a content model is a team activity.

It’s valuable to get a range of perspectives when thinking about goals and identifying useful content relationships and item relationships. As the content strategist Carrie Hane has noted:

“If you are creating your model collaboratively with stakeholders—and you should be—you are now on the cusp of creating a shared language around content structure and taxonomy. The stakeholders can see clearly how classifying or categorizing is more than just a list of words.”

Content models specify the characteristics of content items. But, more importantly, they’re about what customers can do with that content.

Written by

Michael Andrews

I’m Content Strategy Evangelist at I appreciate the value of great content. My mission is to help others produce the best content they can.

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