Welcome to a special edition of Towards A Smarter World
. This is your host Cruce Saunders and I'm joined today by Alan Porter
's head of strategy practice. He's not been on the program before, but he has been working on content intelligence, content engineering for many years, both at [A]
and in the enterprise. He's also the author of The Content Pool
and promotes the concept of content as a shared enterprise-wide asset with real value.
Alan advocates for the convergence of content across an organization and the foundational role of content intelligence to deliver exceptional customer experiences. Alan will be presenting a keynote coming up here at LavaCon 2019
, called The Heroes of Content Strategy, which includes characters representing different archetypes that help us understand a little bit about the epic stories and battles that are being fought within the enterprise all over today.
Meet some amazing heroes that have devoted, in some cases, years to transforming messy environments into something more coherent, organized, strategically aligned and more valuable. Something that can be truly used to move knowledge and customer experiences to the next level. Anybody going to LavaCon can use “ATEAM” at the LavaCon registration
for a $200 discount. And it is a pleasure to be finally sitting down talking with you. Welcome, Alan.
Thank you, Cruce. It's a pleasure to be here and I'm looking forward to being on the podcast and discussing the Heroes of Content Strategy, it should be a fun conversation.
It will be. Well, good. Can you tell us a little bit about your work within enterprise content?
Oh. Alright, that goes back a few years. I really started out in the technical documentation side of the business doing Enterprise Content and technical documentation in the aerospace industry. And working with a whole bunch of large enterprises, helping them with technical content issues, technical content strategies. And then, sort of moved over to the software side of the business. And I've held various positions with a lot of the software vendors that you will find at events like LavaCon.
So I’ve worked with the content management solutions, authoring solutions graphics solutions publishing solutions, really been on that side of the business. And then probably the last third of my career to date has been on the content marketing side where I did content marketing and localization strategy for global 50 brands, and looked at things from sort of a broader international perspective as well as the enterprise perspective.
I've been on the creative side, been on the technical side, been on the software side and also been on the marketing side. And it's those experiences that really drive the idea of content convergence, that content across the organization is an asset, irrespective of which functional group produces it.
You know, you just got back from Content Marketing World
and they have been growing year in year out, and it seems like the content marketing star has risen as the value of content has been really seen by marketing departments as an absolute essential baseline. I'm curious about your thoughts on how marketing's role with content differs from technical communication’s role with content?
I actually don't think it does. I was actually having this conversation at this STC event earlier just two nights ago, and I think every piece of content is marketing content. I know some content strategists who would disagree with that statement. But I think It's a brand experience, therefore, it's marketing content.
So I think that the content that is produced by technical documentation groups is essentially marketing content and there has been studies showing that actually showed that the vast majority of people who come to, particularly websites for technical companies, are looking for technical information first and foremost, they want the stuff that's produced by the technical publications department.
I think where the difference is that some is traditionally seen as a pre-sales activity and probably is better funded and has a higher visibility in the C-suite, while the rest of it, the more technical stuff, has traditionally been seen as a necessary evil and overhead and doesn't really get funded and thought of in the same way. But I think the more and more that people in marketing are realizing that their customers are wanting the technical information or wanting answers to questions, they're starting to realize that, and I think there's a lot of bridges starting to be built between those functional areas.
I always found it interesting to look into the numbers. Something that Andrea Ames
came up with at IBM
regarding how many sessions are originated with documentation-based content that then lead into marketing conversations, or influence direct-sales thinking and acquisition patterns. It's like the Google juice that comes from that dense technical content is super valuable, and needs to be looked at through the lens of customer experience holistically, not just from the lens of, to your point, a cost center that is just post-sales fodder for customers not churning.
Yeah, as you say, I think, unfortunately, it's been seen as a necessary evil in the past that we do the minimum we need to, to either meet regulatory needs, not realizing the value that is actually there in the technical content and just, as you pointed out, you know at IBM, I think the figures are something like 60% to 70% of the people come into IBM.com are looking at technical documentation first before they then go and look at the marketing.
When I was working with a smaller software company actually here in town, we made the decision to put all our technical content online as a wiki and that had a huge driver in the amount of sales leads and new license revenue that it generated because people could actually get in and see what the product does and get answers to questions. So by the time they actually engaged with the sales people, they were much farther down the sales path, self educated, ready to ask the right questions, closer to making a buying decision.
So yeah, just from personal experience of putting out technical documentation with a marketing mindset and putting it in front of the customers and allowing people to actually get answers to the questions they're asking really does help drive the bottom line. And I think the more that organizations can start to see the content, irrespective of where it comes from, can actually drive the bottom line. The more respect content gets, the more budget it gets, the higher profile it gets.
Well and that cross functional value of content is one of the themes in the book you wrote The Content Pool.
And can you tell us a little bit about that book and the central thesis of it?
The central thesis really is, and it's the subtitle of the book, is that “content is the greatest asset, hidden asset in a company.” So the book is about how to leverage content across the organization. So it talks through a lot of ideas around the costs of, do you know the cost of developing content, are you developing content in a way that's reader friendly, are you thinking about localization? Are you thinking about things like delivery costs and maintenance costs, and it sort of all comes together.
You know, it sort of introduces the ideas of structured content, and being able to take content and reuse it across the organization to answer the customers’ questions, and it all sort of leads together towards the end, where the end really is a call for the fact that and really the only place that all those reporting lines tend to come together is the CEO, and content is very rarely on the CEO’s radar.
Anybody can write supposedly. So content is created all over the place without really anybody having that holistic mindset, that holistic governance, and bringing it together from a strategic point of view so that every content-driven brand experience is consistent and until you really have somebody in place that can do that.
I'm starting to see a few companies now that actually do have Chief Content Officers, at least the role. They may not be in the C suite, but at least they're a bit like a Chief Digital Officer in some places that those roles are starting to be created, which is great. And it's interesting, I'm starting to see probably fewer CMOs, Content Marketing Officers now and more Chief Experience Officers and Chief Content Officers.
We have been seeing quite a bit of that haven't we? The idea, I think we were on a call the other day with somebody that runs the Head of Global Omnichannel Customer Experience.
And so it was this role built with cross-functional content authority implied, and then realizing when they look at their portfolio that in order to make that all happen, a content pool needs to exist, out of which the experiences can be drawn and formulated and assembled and created for these new customer contexts that are being defined.
Very much so. And I think also it's part of the fact that we're starting to see also an integration of the content with the physical products as well. People starting to realize that, digital worlds, particularly when we move towards things like the Internet of Things, whether it's the digital and physical interface and you're getting more software. I was talking to somebody yesterday about oil rigs and they were telling me that, I think it was like 60% to 70% of what comes out of oil rig manufacturing now is software. Not necessarily the hardware.
And we're starting to see more, I think- that is actually being exposed within the organizations as well, is driving up to this idea of the customer experience as a holistic whole and people starting to get authority to do that. And I would say in the vast majority of customer experience, particularly the digital environment, it's content-driven. So it’s sort of implied that content drives that, and then in a few places that's becoming explicitly expressed as well.
One of our clients is actually a Head of Product, aren't they? In the software business they’re a Head of Product that owns customer experience within the product per view. So that's a very interesting kind of frame as well. Right. So in one scenario, it's a head of Global Omnichannel Customer Experience and somebody else owns product, but all of them are essentially looking at customer journeys from the moment that somebody's interested in that product, all the way through the time that they are in, and using the product itself, through the time they're being supported and managing the product. It certainly gives us a lot to consider, I'd love to transition though to this LavaCon keynote you're giving, and the theme which is very interesting, could you tell us a little bit about that theme and how you arrived at it?
Certainly, so the theme is the heroes, and to an extent, the villains of content strategy. For those folks who listen to this podcast or who know me already know I'm a big comic book geek. And I've also written comic books, and I know the superhero iconography is so strong at the moment, the idea of superheroes is very strong within cultures like that at the moment with the movies and everything else.
It just sort of seemed a natural fit to think about how can we apply that model to what we do in terms of content strategy, who are the good guys of content strategy, who are the sort of villains that we have to sort of, I won't say beat, but maybe persuade as we're going through the organization. So really, that that drove it.
So what we're doing at LavaCon is actually sort of- and I had a comic book artist that I've worked with in the past, he and I sat down together and we've actually come up with some imagery and designs for some actual content superheroes. So at at LavaCon, we will be introducing those and talking about them and the sort of archetypes they represent and hopefully you know folks in the audience and stuff will be able to relate to various characters either from their own perspective or people that they've actually worked with and we'll talk through what that actually means, in sort of practical terms as well as it being a bit of fun.
Nice, so in this wonderful keynote you've devised, there's a whole world and I'm looking at these characters, they're enthralling, who are these heroes and who are these villains?
Let's talk about a couple of heroes first, I think we have four of each. So starting with Captain Content, Captain Content is our hero. This is who we all aspire to be, the hero with the strategic vision and understands the value of content across the enterprise, and how it can be used to help those in need, our customers. Another hero is the Channel Master, the Channel Master really is the magician of content, the one with the mystic understanding of the overall customer experience, and sees all possible levels and ways that a customer can engage with our content. The Channel Master has the empathy and knowledge of how content can be delivered to multiple different touch points, yet tell a cohesive story.
So someone who's about to think creatively, but do so within enough of a structure to be able to reach out to all the different channels?
Cool, and there's these villain's here that look awfully difficult to work with, I've got to mention Corporate Inertia. That one's hilarious this huge giant monolithic, can't possibly get through it, figure.
Naturally resistant to change. Doesn't want to move. Really the hardest challenge a content hero can face.
And who's Slick Copy Man?
Slick copy man is the person in the organization who really likes the latest technology, likes buzzwords and the trends, and wants to look good but not necessarily thinking about what that means from a customer's perspective, it's all about making the company look good or themselves as an individual look good, taking a very inside-out point of perspective on content.
Gotta make it buzz, gotta make it go viral.
Maybe that's an example I can talk about. One of my favorite ones in my past was when I was within a marketing organization and we actually did get a mandate from a CEO, that we had to make a video that went viral. That was the mandate from the C-suite, he wanted a video and it had to go viral. It was like, “I don't think you actually understand the definition of the word viral.”
Somebody bring out the kittens! Cue the pug!
So we ended up doing a very fun video, which was very slick, but very nice, and was fun and presented the products in a completely unique and different way, and it got I think around 3 million views, which basically covers a check box in the c-suite. But when we went back and presented that, we also presented the fact that we got zero sales leads from it, we spent a fortune on this video and all we got was 3 million views, which is just vanity metrics.
Oh my gosh, it reminds me of the airline that decided to prioritize ontime departures over any other stat, they were going to be on time, and by golly they got on time, but they lost all their customers because of lost luggage, and people were really furious.
But from a Captain Content point of view, what we did as well, we had the budget and the crew and everything to shoot this video, and we shot a much lower production value video that showed a practical way of using the product, and in that we also put links to the online ecommerce site. It didn't get 3 million views, but what it did do, was actually drive a very noticeable uptake in online sales revenue.
So it was answering one of the key questions we were getting frequently from customers about “how do I do particular things with the product?” It was a short video, very cheaply produced, and included an embedded URL that drove people to go and buy the right spare parts they needed to do this in a particular way, or they'd broken something because they'd done it in the wrong way, they could then go to the website, and say, “oh, that's how I should have done it,” then go to the website and buy.
A “how to” with a link to the ecommerce site, so it actually drove revenues up.
Well, sometimes that brings it up, you know, like, sometimes the content superhero is just doing something practical and necessary and cutting through the BS and making something valuable for the customer at the end of the day.
And often, it can be it can be a small thing that has a very large impact. It doesn't have to be glossy and slick.
I wonder, where do content engineers fit in in in the superhero pantheon?
Wow, that's a good question. We've talked about it before in sort of the way that we define the content strategists, I mean we know a lot of really good content strategists. But content strategy is about what somebody should be doing, this is what we should be doing, and this is where we should be doing it. Content engineering really is about “how do I actually go do that once we've got that strategy in place.” So, you know, I definitely see perhaps I need to add in a content engineer architect to the Pantheon here. That's sort of the Iron Man, I guess, the tinkerer, the one who can pull with stuff together and actually make stuff work and work with the systems and work with the technology that underlines it.
Okay. Nice. Nice. That's good. What about this Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E, right, because I think in content, we end up facing this villain of Corporate Inertia so much that we can sometimes easily give up. I mean, I've seen more times than I care to think about really passionate driven content folks, kind of get beaten into a little bit of a compliant pulp because of inability to actually create systemic change. Others have been able to do it, but it takes a long time, sometimes a bear of a battle. Who is this Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E and how do they work through corporate inertia?
Well, as I said earlier that you know I think they're the ones with the toughest job. Sometimes when you think about it, it's a people process technology play and unfortunately most organizations start with the technology, rather than thinking about the people and the process. And really, that's .
Really, its being the specialist in being the customer advocate, building empathy for the customer, building empathy also for the internal content producers and understanding what they do, and how they do it, and why they do things the way they do it, and then sort of really working with them to help educate, to show business benefit, build business cases. It's not glamorous, to your point, it can take a long time. It can be pretty tedious. It can be a bit like, you know, water dripping away on a rock, sometimes, but you just have to become your own marketeers, if you like.
I like to think of the Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E as really being an internal marketeer, where we're actually marketing what content means to the organization, marketing how we can make effective change. I just saw a presentation that came from another conference that was on last week where somebody from content got up and their basic business case was, “it used to take us 3000 hours to do this update. If we do this one thing I can do it in two hours.” The people in the C-suite corporate inertia didn't really need to understand the bit in the middle of how they did it, it used to take 3000 hours and we can now do it, if you invest in this, we can do it in two.
It was a very compelling message. If the bit in the middle was a bit mysterious to the folks with the budget, it didn't really matter because they were talking to them in their language. And I think, again, that's where the Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E can help is really understanding the business perspective and the business needs to be able to put business cases together as well. And also, do the internal marketing, and the change management, and the people side.
So it's really a multi-faceted role, it's probably a group of people. But as we quite often find when we're on our engagements, It's easier to say- somebody actually said this to me the other night- “we don't change anything because my boss says this is the way we've always done it and we're going to keep doing it this way.” Well, you know, I'd be surprised if that company is around in 10 years time because surely, somebody in the industry is going to come up with a new way of doing stuff and they're either going to have to catch up quickly or go out of business.
So if you've got the Agent of C.H.A.N.G.E, who's already looking at what's happening, preparing people, preparing their thought processes and so forth, to really help drive that organization, when the change comes, maybe the organizational inertia doesn't have its feet planted quite so firmly.
Interesting. Love it. Yeah, it's reminding me of a conversation I had last week with a mid-market manager, VP of a marketing group and essentially “I hate everything, we're just going to need to blow it up and rebuild it kind of mindset.” The idea was “if we don't innovate quickly in this area, the competitor we don't know yet, we haven't seen yet, is going to just wake up one day and eat our lunch and we need to go through a process of creative destruction in order to get to a new state.” And of course, that isn't the majority of the companies, mid market companies have a little bit more ability to do that than our large enterprises, but even in the enterprise, there's a sense of “this is going to eventually break if we don't do something.” And so those change agents at the front of that are leading that conversation and showing the way. So they are really heroes.
They are but it's also, to your point earlier, about how you can take, you know I've said this before, a lot of these digital transformation projects look very daunting to start with. And what we often hear it is, where do we start? Well, how do you climb Everest? You get to base camp first, you don't run to the summit. So figure out what the base camp is and maybe get there, and the change that you have to drive is smaller and you can get demonstrable results. And then you can take that and say, okay, now we've got here, now we want to go to the first level and move on a bit further. It's great to have the end view and
To acclimate to each level. Now, that makes a lot of sense, it's an evolution, rather than a revolution. It's, I think, some Agents of Change are evolutionary and able to be as effective as others who are revolutionary.
Revolution is a lot harder thing to sell within an enterprise. No matter how many times that the enterprise comes out and says “we're going to innovate.” The amount of enterprises I've seen who have innovation labs or, so they can save it innovating, but the actual real change comes from within the organization and process changes and people realizing that they can make small changes that add up. And as you said they acclimatize over a period of time.
Yeah, yeah. It's like it's an evolutionary process when you look back, it looks like a revolution that happened, but it happened in these evolutionary steps.
Well, let's talk about some of the superheroes in the market, just some of the people that have been driving conversation around content strategy, content engineering, content operations and how those things fit together, some of those people that are practicing content, day in, day out; any folks that stand out to you at all? I can just kickstart us and can just list a few.
I think of Joe Gollner
our master architect. He's somebody I kind of consider the father of content engineering, he’s really built a lot of incredible work, in his blog
over the years and has certainly been helping us to develop some incredible standards for structure and semantic approaches at [A].
I think about Ann Rockley
who many consider sort of the mother of Enterprise Content Strategy, she's really also been somebody that bridges both the technical aspects as well as the creative aspects of content strategy.
I think about clients like like Jay Maxwell
at the Mayo Clinic
, who's been leading an evolutionary revolution in the way content is structured and managed
as Director of Health Information at Mayo Clinic.
I think about Carolyn Swift-Muschott
, the director of content engineering at Cengage
she's working on a year four or five, six, something like that, of revolution in the way content is structured and managed at one of the world's largest educational publishers, and the battle she's been able to effectively fight through to just throwing down technical solutions that tactically work for folks and doing it month in and month out until eventually content is managed and produced in a new way. I love seeing her cases and she's writing an article for an upcoming STC edition that we're helping to edit.
So those are some of the folks I think of, who do you think of?
Well you actually just mentioned, I came back from Content Marketing World
, you can't be involved with Content Marketing World without thinking about Joe Pulizzi
who kicked off the whole thing. I mean his philosophy when he started the Content Marketing Institute
was to create content and then build the business. Which is a great philosophy really, when you start to think about it is, you know, develop content and make people interested in what you have to say, make people position yourself as an industry expert and then sort of gradually grow the offerings around that.
So, you know, they really just started off with a blog and an email letter and then so the email list and sort of grew that to the point where now they host this conference every year with 4000 people from around the world who come to talk about content marketing stuff and Robert Rose
, who's the head of strategy at the Content Marketing Institute, who seems to spend his life in airplanes and conference rooms teaching content strategy to most of the world's largest companies and he has a very open and effective way of talking about content, a very inspiring way about talking about content and the power of content.
Those two guys together, who have written both books together and separately around the power of content and not just from a marketing perspective as well, they're a couple of guys from a marketing background, who really understand the idea of content across the organization.
And another one is our friend Rahel Bailie
, she actually just posted last night. She just won an award from the STC
equivalent in the UK, which was basically the Lifetime Achievement Award for technical publications and she was like, I won this as a content strategist, so she has some great ideas around actually how you actually implement content strategy at the enterprise and a lot of practical experience.
Another one who has written some good books Colleen Jones
, the author of The Content Advantage
, I've used her book, prime is in quite a lot of cases, particularly as I was talking about content visioning and she's got some really good ideas around developing content vision.
And Mark Lewis
, really been leading the efforts to try and quantify and define and put metrics to content, which is something that everybody's asking for is, you know, how do we measure content? And you know he's written for those folks who are working in this sort of the XML and DITA environment, you know, he's already written the primer on how you actually get metrics from a digital XML environment. I know he's looking at it in a broader context too.
So I think those folks who are sort of leading us and positioning where content is within the enterprise, how you go about practically applying it and how you actually measure and can build business cases around it. So I think if you put all those together they form a really good team, of content strategy here.
I love it. Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think we'd be remissed if we didn't mention some others too, like Kristina Halverson
, CEO of Brain Traffic
. She also hosts the Confab
event. And is really quite a strident and delightful advocate for content strategy and its practical use and really helps to bridge the UX design and sort of experience communities into the content strategy conversation, sort of the web development and ecosystem that really requires a lot of layers to create these customer experiences that all depend on content and I think she does a good job of bringing that all together.
And Hilary Marsh
, president of Content Company
and she also leads many conversations within the ecosystem of content strategy. Spent a lot of time with nonprofits and institutions and really is an advocate for the customer and very practical uses of content strategy.
And Carrie Hain
founder of Tanzen
, she wrote a great book recently on structured content
, content modeling and I'm a fan of her advocacy in the space- and oh gosh, there's so many. I mean, it'd be hard to mention everybody, Scott Abel
, Jack Molisani
, leaders of big communities around content. I think they're heroes as well. So there's just hundreds of people fighting these fights inside of organizations too and many of them are anonymous heroes. I mean, or something like that. They're all moving.
Policies and procedures or finance or wherever they're producing content. Now, there are so many people who- and I was lucky to have a conversation with somebody just before I came over here to record the podcast, who I, to be honest. I'd never heard of before, having this conversation. And she was telling me all the great stuff that she'd been doing for some major household name fortune 500 companies around realigning their content and stuff, to your point. She's not a name that's on the convention circuit or written books or blogs or whatever. But she's actually in there doing this day in, day out and making a difference.
That prompts me to think about all the taxonomy consultants and the niche metadata consultants and the DAM and technology consultants and all the people that help to bring together dialogues around the tools, technologies, semantic systems and other parts that make up a healthy content environment.
And you make a good point about the tools and now we say these sort of people process technology, but also a lot of innovation. And a lot of this has been driven by folks in the tools and group tools companies. Who are talking to customers, looking at the way their products, but looking at the standards, helping to bridge some of those silos that exist within these organizations, by making their tools talk to each other and sort of opening up those areas of dialogue and making it so content can start to move around the enterprise in easier ways than it ever did in the past.
I hope someday we can tell more of our clients' stories because there's some really epic journeys in there as well.
Oh yeah, we've been through some great challenges and had some great victories and we're still on some really interesting heroic journeys with some of our clients.
It is very much a hero's journey. We start with a sometimes a very messy and challenging landscape and move it towards order over time, a new way of looking at content. So how do we bring all these content heroes together, industry, but also in the enterprise? I mean, there's both the archetypes of heroes and just some of the people. There's this wonderful shared conversation we're having as a society about content and where it's moving, how do we band together?
I actually think from the industry point of view, I think this is where the industry is a little lax, is that I think some of our professional organizations could really help facilitate some of those industry conversations. It tends to happen ad hoc at various conferences like LavaCon
where you will get a bunch of people who are on those, some of the ones that we just mentioned earlier, will just so happen to be in the same place at the same time. So we saw that, I know we've obviously, through [A] we've already seen it, we’ve done a couple of roundtables and got people together, through the Content Order
and that's a great step.
But as you say, I think some of the professional organizations that we're involved with, you know, things like the Content Marketing Institute
, the STC
or whatever, maybe even they need to start collaborating, coming together somehow. Within the enterprise that's a very good question. I believe, really, the answer lies in what we term the “Content Services Organization” and developing a cross functional organization or cross functional team where you're actually bringing in people who've got the skills we want in these content areas, but also include some of the villains. So they're involved in the conversations earlier on, and it doesn't become a battleground. It actually becomes a collaboration.
So bringing together a cross-functional team that includes folks from content strategy, people who understand content engineering, and how the content's put together, the taxonomists, and so forth. People who understand content operations, how we actually create, manage, produce and deliver the content, and then bringing people who actually also understand the customer point of view, and those who have that internal process mindset as well.
Bringing them all together and really creating cross-functional teams, we've seen in a couple of clients, where they've gone out and created a specific content service organization. We've got other clients, where it's become more of a sort of a cross-functional matrix type organization. But in every case, we've actually seen definite increases in collaboration and communication, building a greater understanding of where they need to go with their content.
That's great and it's a good chance to put in a plug for the Content Order
, which is a free membership-based program that we rolled out earlier this year. Basically, it gives everybody access to some conversations, we're also hoping to ante that into more peer-based discussions that are being facilitated among practitioners, as well as hosted and moderated roundtables among industry experts and luminaries and the like.
But then also there's a really interesting conversation happening around content operations. We believe that that is very much a function of, as Alan mentioned, the content services organization. And we've defined that in a long white paper put together, that's also in available to Content Order members so sign up
for that for free on simplea.com
And I really enjoyed our sit down today we have covered so much and I'm really looking forward to hearing all about how LavaCon 2019
goes and your keynote and we've got five [A]gents going, I think, with you. And so that's going to be a good time. It always is, every year, and I'm going to miss it this year, but we'll be there next year. And I guess this year it's in Portland
Yes it's in Portland and I'm really looking forward to it, as you say, it's usually one of the highlight conferences and shows of the year and it's always a great time and hopefully some people will enjoy the keynote. And as I said, they may recognize a few of the archetypes that are up there. And I think Jack's got a few things planned around the theme of Heroes
for this year as well. So it should be a fun event and looking forward to being there.
He always had so much up his sleeve in terms of amazing and fun times for attendees so, good times on this discussion. Thanks for joining us and look forward to our next conversation in Towards A Smarter World
and thank you very much, Alan.