What is intelligent content, and how can it future-proof your content marketing?

In today’s multichannel and multi-device world, the content demands placed on a business can be incredibly complex – and are becoming increasingly more so.

As anyone who has set out to create or manage content for a business will know, a single business can have at least half a dozen ‘content outlets’ requiring dedicated copy: a website, emails, customer FAQs, staff FAQs, print advertising, social media content, flyers… the list goes on. They need to be accessible from desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart watches…

And the more technology leaps and bounds ahead, the more the list expands. Chatbots, augmented reality, virtual reality, voice assistants, hyper-personalization – all of these require dedicated content in order to optimize for the channel and its unique constraints. But trying to develop content ad hoc for each new channel quickly becomes a massive headache. How, then, can businesses and their content be expected to keep up with the pace of change?

What if there was a way to ‘future-proof’ your content such that you could seamlessly deploy it across any channel – even ones that might not exist yet?

What is intelligent content?

Last week, the Content Marketing Association held its monthly Digital Breakfast, which this month focused on the theme ‘Content of the Future’. At the Breakfast, Nicola Fleming, VP Head of Digital Content Strategy at Barclays, spoke about the concept of ‘intelligent content’ and why businesses need to start putting it into practice.

In her presentation, Fleming detailed how the landscape of how we deliver content is changing. According to some in the industry, chatbots are the new apps, and voice assistants are the new browsers. When these trends are taken together with new developments like AR and VR, artificial intelligence, empathic tech and hyper-personalization, there is an evident need for businesses to rethink how they deliver content if they are to keep up with the pace of technology and be present on the channels that they need to be.

So what is intelligent content? Ann Rockley, CEO of The Rockley Group and founder of the Intelligent Content conference, defines intelligent content as content that is “structurally rich and semantically aware, and is therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable.”

Intelligent content is part practice, and part mindset. The practice of creating intelligent content involves taking the content out of the context of its presentation layer (such as a website) and breaking it down into fragments. These fragments (which are also sometimes referred to as atoms, chunks or modules) are then structured with semantic metadata, to enable easy assembly, formatting and delivery.

Businesses can build the collection of fragments and deploy them across different channels, tweaking them slightly depending on the audience.

The mindset of intelligent content involves seeing all content as inherently structural. Businesses are in the habit of creating bespoke content for each channel, which is time-consuming and makes it very difficult adapt the same content across different media. But by approaching content as essentially a series of component parts, it becomes much easier to see how it can be deployed in various forms, across various devices and in various contexts.

When done right, intelligent content can save time and money, provide a better customer experience, and be future ready, says Fleming. And if your content has a device- and design-agnostic structure, it can easily adapt to any device – even those that aren’t in the market yet.

However, a number of obstacles often stand in the way of businesses implementing intelligent content, including siloed organizational structures, large volumes of unstructured content, design prioritised over content, and a lack of time, budget and manpower. People can often get very attached to how things look and feel – which makes striving towards a design-agnostic approach to content challenging.

How does intelligent content work in practice?

Fleming used the example of an imaginary business, ‘Acme Insurance’, to illustrate how intelligent content would work in practice.

Acme Insurance usually has eight different versions of the same content distributed across different channels: a web product page, email copy, customer FAQs, staff FAQs, print ads, social media profiles, flyers and a chatbot.

Using non-intelligent content, this would involve creating eight different versions of the same content from scratch, each tailored to the design of the medium it was written for. But by cleaning up that content and breaking it down into fragments to create intelligent content, you get something that looks more like this:

Presentation slide showing the content for Acme Insurance broken down into various form fields: Title, Summary, Feature 1, Feature 2, Eligibility, Price, Apply 1, Apply 2, Related Products and Related Content. Arrows point away from the form towards icons representing the different types of content it can convert into, such as chatbot, FAQs, flyers, etc.

The next step in the intelligent content process, as mentioned earlier, is the removal of content formatting and the addition of metadata tagging. Metadata summarizes basic information about what the data contains, which enables the “discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable” part of the intelligent content definition. As The Rockley Group explains in its article ‘What is intelligent content?’:

“Semantically aware content is content which has been tagged with metadata to identify the kind of content within it. For example, you might tag your content with industry, role or audience, and product. If it is tagged with semantic metadata it is possible to automatically build customized information sets based on audience or industry for example. As more organizations start to create personalized content (content which is dynamically assembled upon user request that specifically matches a user’s need or user profile) this type of metadata becomes really important.”

Creating intelligent content means not only understanding the structure of your existing content, but the structure of the eventual form you want it to take. For example, a whitepaper might consist of an executive summary, introduction, main body and conclusion. Knowing this allows you to identify the relevant parts of your content to slot into those fields, and search through your existing content to find the right data. Later on, it also makes the content easier to manipulate and convert into various other forms.

For businesses who want to get started with intelligent content, here are Fleming’s tips for how to go about it:

  • Make intelligent content part of your strategy
  • Run a small-scale test first, to help with getting buy-in from the upper levels of the company
  • Invest in experts. Radically rethinking the way that you approach content is no easy task, and it’s a good idea to bring on a specialist agency or consultant who has experience implementing intelligent content at other organizations
  • Think about a single or headless CMS
  • Make organizational and process changes – for example, setting up a team to review content changes before they go live
  • Progress iteratively (little and often). Moving to intelligent content can be a big job depending on the size of your company; don’t try to achieve it all at once.

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