Scott Abel isn’t important. He’s loud.
At least that’s how he puts it.
Abel’s got a knack for getting people to engage with topics that they might not normally be exposed to. He uses his vast knowledge base to help people understand that content is important. It can represent the difference between life and death, or prosperity and ruin. It is a business asset that should be managed efficiently and effectively.
His outlook on content comes from an understanding not of the creative process, but of the components of the creative process. This is the basis of Intelligent Content, a concept that Abel — along with a handful of prominent content strategists — is spearheading. He is on a mission to help the C-Suite understand that this equation of content is a key ingredient to creating profitable companies and initiatives.
Scott might not be important but he is busy. His brand “The Content Wrangler” has published six books in the last year to go along with multiple content and information conferences. If you haven’t had a chance to see Abel speak, you haven’t been looking. I caught up with him as he was dusting off some jet lag on his way back from Technical Communications World in Stuttgart, Germany.
Goldman: Who are you? What do you do? Why are you important?
Abel: My business card says that I’ve been a Content Strategist since 2001 and I’m not sure that I’m important but I am loud. I tend to have the ability to get people to talk about topics related to content that they might not be otherwise exposed to.
I’m always curious about the next new thing and I don’t think we always do as good a job as we like to crow about. I’m kind of the “Negative Nancy” of the content industry because I like to point out that there are some serious problems. I’m trying to help us understand how to think about content as a business asset that’s worthy of being managed efficiently and effectively.
Goldman: Your background is in journalism. In what capacity and how does that affect what you do?
Abel: I was trained in Journalism at the University of Indiana and I worked in a department that studies “Computer Assisted Journalism.” My job was to test databases of information (pre world wide web) to see how a journalist might utilize them. We also did freedom of information requests with the federal government. There were nine track tapes filled with historical data that the government would be required to give us but not required to tell us how to read them. We had to work with technology vendors to get the information out of these databases. It was very similar to what we are trying to do today with data mining and structured content.
Goldman: You just released "Intelligent Content: A Primer" and it is part of a series of books. What are you trying to accomplish with the series?
Abel: The series is kind of a catch all. I try to work with practitioners that aren’t necessarily authors. They tend to have created a methodology or a tool that we think is useful to our industry but wouldn’t normally expose it in this format. "Intelligent Content: A Primer" was designed to help content marketers and other content professionals that might not have been exposed to the idea of Intelligent Content. What is it? What does it mean? What might you be able to do if you had Intelligent Content?
Goldman: Has writing all these books helped you understand your practice better?
Abel: I haven’t written all the books in the Content Wrangler series. Even this book is a collaboration between myself, Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper. That said, writing a book is a sure fire way to expose the weaknesses in your explanation of a subject. When you go through peer review the feedback you get can be quite enlightening.
Our original explanation had Apples and Avocados (not literally). They both start with “A.” They are both food, but they are different and related. Intelligent Content provides some capabilities and that is what management buys. But in order to have those capabilities your content has to have certain characteristics. There are things that make content intelligent and there are things that you immediately get with Intelligent Content that you can’t have without it. Until this book we were wrapping all those things up in our definition when we should have been separating them. One is what it is and the other is what you get from it.
Goldman: How do you know if people are starting to understand what Intelligent Content is?
Abel: Let’s look at an example. A company thinks it has a translation or a publishing issue. As content strategists we realize that the problems are related to what happens upstream. Companies can negotiate with translation companies to get a better price and reduce costs but ultimately you are in a race to zero. There is only so low you can go. But if you think about content programmatically your savings won’t come from a negotiation on a cost per word but from a more efficient use of those words. When companies understand that the cost of their content comes more from the source of the content than a vendor, they start to understand the concept of Intelligent Content.
Goldman: Who is your ideal client?
Abel: I’m no longer a practitioner in the traditional sense. I’m not going to create a content strategy for your website. I’m an evangelist and as an evangelist my job is to elevate the conversation. Unlike the XML Press Content Wrangler series, my next book will not be for practitioners. It will be for C level business people. My ideal clients are not necessarily in charge of content. They are in charge of making sure their company uses its resources wisely.
Let’s take a pharmaceutical company for example. They are issued patents that have an expiration date. That means they have a finite amount of time to get a drug to market. Everyday that patented drug isn’t on the market is money lost. The company can not make that revenue up because they only own the revenue source for a limited amount of time. If structuring your content can help the people who approve your drug (in countries all over the world) understand more quickly and easily the value and the precautions associated with that drug, it could save that company, days, weeks, months, years in the approval process. Is that drug worth a million dollars a day? One hundred million dollars a day? Helping executives understand that type of equation is key to what I do now.
Goldman: You’ve been in the business for over 20 years. How has content strategy evolved in a way you would have never thought when you began?
Abel: I’m surprised it has to do with writing. I always thought it had to do with planning and business. Some people are about planning. Some people are about voice and tone. Others are about cost. I’m surprised at the level of specialization we have today.
Goldman: As always, it’s been great speaking with you. Let’s close this out with some rapid fire questions.
Goldman: Who produces the most unintelligent content?
Goldman: What is the next game changing content technology?
Abel: IBM Watson
Goldman: If you could rewrite any website in the world, what would it be?
Abel: The Content Marketing Institute website.
Goldman: Shots fired! Why?
Abel: It’s not because their content is bad but I would love to have a shining example of everything Intelligent Content can do for content marketing if we had the opportunity to start from scratch.
Goldman: What is your favorite use of Intelligent Content?
Abel: It is a project by Jason Holmberg, a principal information architect at EMC. He helped a non-profit organization called WildmMe.org create a Whale Shark identification library that tracked and named endangered sharks around the world to help donors feel more connected to them.
Goldman: What’s next for Scott Abel?
Abel: Stay tuned in January. I’m going to be making some announcement on The Content Wrangler.