LAS VEGAS — One of the key challenges for modern marketers is to create content that is by definition "intelligent" — automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable.

That was the premise of last week's Intelligent Content Conference (ICC) here, a two-day event preceded by a full day of workshops.

Now in its eighth year, ICC 2016 brought together marketers, component content management specialists and technology professionals. The objective was to put a spotlight on intelligent content, a content strategy leveraging metadata, modules and fluid formats.

From Rockley to Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Cleveland, Ohio-based Content Marketing Institute (CMI), bought ICC from The Rockley Group in June 2014. “We melded a little more of the marketing side to [the conference], but we’ve tried to keep intact the mission around really treating your content as an asset and thinking about it that way in an organization,” Pulizzi told CMSWire.

“There’s a lot of content being created in silos from large enterprise,” he said of the content business.

“If we’re going to treat this as a real profession, we have to start thinking that this is ultimately going to be part of the business strategy in the organization … We need to look at this as content professionals, regardless of industry.”

Traditional, flattened content is siloed, inconsistent and locked into channel-specific formatting. In contrast, structured content can be organized into recognizable blocks of information, eliminating repetitive writing and translating of the same content and enabling re-use across collateral and departments.

In other words, creating intelligent content saves everyone time and money on content production, but the best practice also ensures higher-quality content can be adapted based on an organization’s or its customers’ needs — more than once.

In 2015, Gleanster Research found B2B content marketers in the US spend more than two-thirds of their time and about $5.2 billion a year making content. On top of that, the inefficiency surrounding content production ends up costing mid- and large-sized US B2B companies about $958 million a year.

Ann Rockley, CEO of Schomberg, Ontario-based The Rockley Group, started ICC in February 2009 to spread the word about intelligent content. “I just wanted to put it out there and [let it] grow and become an industry standard,” she said.

Rockley, widely known for coining the term “intelligent content,” offered this definition in 2008:

“Intelligent content is designed to be modular, structured, reusable, format free and semantically rich and, as a consequence, discoverable, reconfigurable and adaptable.”

These days, the definition has morphed only slightly: a commonly referenced definition is that intelligent content is structurally rich and semantically categorized content that is therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable and adaptable.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always describe the content that is issued forth from typical marketing departments.

Rockley has remained as an advisor and participant for ICC, leading three sessions on intelligent content and workflow topics at this year’s conference.

“Eventually it will completely be theirs,” she said of CMI’s purchase. “I am the lead person in intelligent content. My concept, my ideas, definition, my baby … They’ve put their own stamp on it, and they’ve done a terrific job.”

Content Marketers Must Evolve

Pulizzi’s team at CMI introduced a basics track in the conference for those newer to the intelligent content model.

“There’s a lot of people here on the marketing side, this is brand new to them,” Pulizzi said. “I feel like a marketer is like, ‘Hey, we got a big idea. Let’s brainstorm about it, and then … let’s launch.’ It could work, but that’s it. It’s done, and then they start over again every time.

“Look, you have to build a model so you don’t have to start over every time. And then every department starts over every time. We just have to be smarter about what we’re doing.”

Two main camps of people came to ICC: the intelligent content people and the marketing people.

The content marketing side deals more with the creative process and campaigns, whereas the intelligent content side knows more about content engineering, semantics, taxonomies and related technologies. And Pulizzi argued that the two houses need to work as one. “We're betting on the fact that these two groups are going to start doing the same thing. They have to,” he said.

“Both sides need each other, but right now they’re really not talking to each other. Or that role could be one and the same at some point. There’s a lot of different cultures here. Everybody’s trying to figure it out, so I think these are your first movers.”

Rockley, who some call the godmother of intelligent content, said marketers still have more to learn when it comes to adopting this practice, adding, “They’re in the early phases.

“We’ll see it grow, because, frankly, it has to. Especially as you move into the larger companies, you simply can’t do what you need to do and meet all the needs … unless you start doing intelligent content.”

Turning the Corner

Some more familiar with intelligent content believe in educating the new kids. Rahel Anne Bailie, chief knowledge officer of Scroll, a London-based content services agency, has attended all eight intelligent content conferences. “It started off with what I call the really geeky crowd, and now since CMI bought it … You’ve got people at all different stages,” she said.

“Marketing people are coming in … and they don’t know about intelligent content. They just know they have a pain point and are trying to figure out how to get their arms around it. And then you have people like me who have been doing content modeling for years, and it’s second nature. Somebody will marvel over something, and you think, ‘Yeah, but we presented on that 10 years ago.’”

Beyond the conference, Bailie teaches workshops on content strategy back in London, and she says education around these topics is taking shape.

Institutions from the University of Kansas to FH Joanneum, a university of applied sciences in Graz, Austria, now offer master’s degree in content strategy. Programs differ, but at the latter school, for example, students learn code and use an XML editor.

There are several types of structured content technologies including XML standards like DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture).

XML, the industry standard for structured content, is the foundational format required to achieve this vision. It gives companies the agility and resources they need to adapt their content to consumers’ changing behaviors. Additionally, the structure facilitates the metadata needed to support the smarter filtering capabilities from emerging technology.

Last year, Scriptorium Publishing, a content strategy company in North Carolina, launched a free DITA training for people to learn the standard.

“Whether or not you use the DITA standard, doesn’t matter,” Bailie said. “You’re learning the principles of it, as well.”

But the hope, at least for organizers of the conference, is for everyone to eventually subscribe to and practice intelligent content like the pros. For Rockley, the goal is “when people realize that one-off is not the best way of doing things.”

The next ICC is planned for March or April 2017, and Pulizzi said CMI hopes to keep convincing people to work together toward intelligent content. According to Pulizzi, feedback on this year's ICC was positive.

At least one attendee with a technology background wanted more case studies and practical information to take back and “convince the boss.”

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Title image by Elisabetta Foco