In the next 25 years or so, the world is going to be a dramatically different place. Computers will become as intelligent as humans. Our experience of the world will be much more dynamic and driven by intelligent connections between online information and real life. As a result, every aspect of information delivery will change. 


The changes this will have on our society are so unpredictable that futurists refer to them collectively as The Singularity. Just look at the impact technology has already had on today’s news media. Who would have thought that over the course of a few short years, most of us would go from reading the news in a printed publication to reading it in a digital format on a PC, tablet or mobile phone?

With the advent of smart devices and cloud data synchronization services, the dividing line between the physical world and online information is blurring. In the near future, people will be connected online constantly (if they aren't already) and will expect the same for any information they seek. They will not be confined to any single format, device or language, and accessibility will be determined by the content consumer, not the content creator.

So for the information management and customer experience management (CXM) professional, content and publishing processes need to be adaptable and agile to meet these emerging changes.

A critical first step in establishing a future-proof content practice is to understand exactly how customers are using product information today, and how it affects their purchasing behavior. My company recently conducted an independent survey to collect this data and a few key takeaways emerged:

  • Self-service is important: 87% of respondents agreed that high-quality product information makes it easier for them to solve service problems on their own.
  • Good content helps build customer loyalty: 79% of respondents agreed that high-quality product content improves their impression of that product and brand.
  • Websites are more valuable than printed materials: Respondents’ preferred channel for product content is a manufacturer’s website.
  • Context is everything: Respondents’ unanimously preferred their information to be contextual.

These data points can help us to ask the right questions to best determine how to future-proof content. Knowing that customers would rather solve a problem on their own, for example, we know that content needs to be as useful as possible. So that leads us to our first question:

What makes content useful?

For content to be useful, customers need to not only easily search for content, but they also need to find it fast. And this content must be available via PC, tablet or mobile device. It must also be globally accessible to all of your customers, regardless of what language they speak.

Once a customer finds the information they’re looking for, it should also be relevant. Because if the content doesn't answer the specific question they have, their precious time has just been wasted. Finally, the content should be measurable through some form of analytics in order for the content creator to better optimize that content and determine how useful it is to customers.

With so much riding on the quality of our content, we must also then ask:

What makes content compelling?

Compelling content is information we hear about from our friends and colleagues, whether that’s in person or via social sharing. According to a social impact survey conducted earlier this year, 62 percent of online shoppers have read product-related comments from their friends on Facebook, not to mention the plethora of reviews available on most websites, search engines and content aggregators.

Companies have a huge opportunity to leverage social media to engage their customers in a more meaningful way. Instead of just one-way communication, content can be interactive. One such example is “interactive help” which allows communities to contribute and comment on problems and solutions. When content is personalized and tailored to your preferences, it will also be more compelling.

It’s also important that you update your content regularly based on what your customers are looking for, whether they can or can't find it, and how much use they get out of it.

Now that we've established what makes good content (i.e. useful and compelling), a final question must be asked, which is specifically targeted at optimizing the content creation process:

How do we make content that’s easy to create?

So how do companies prepare for this future today? The answer to this is simple: companies must separate form from content if they want to keep pace with emerging technology changes while still delivering content that is both useful and compelling.

Unlike traditional, flattened content, which is siloed, inconsistent and locked into channel-specific formatting, structured content can be organized into recognizable blocks of information eliminating writing and translating of the same content over and over again, and enabling re-use across different collateral and departments.

Both of these capabilities not only create cost- and time-efficiencies, they also give customers consistency in their experiences, as well as a more diverse quantity of content to choose from.

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. But you cannot reap the full benefits of structured content with XML alone.

With XML and tools in place to effectively manage structured content, companies can meet these increased customer demands. Additionally, all this rich customer usage information can be monitored and analyzed to intelligently tailor the content required to increase brand loyalty and create repeat buyers.

We all know change is coming -- we just don’t know exactly what it will look like. Regardless, you have to ask yourself: is your content prepared?  

Image courtesy of Bruce Rolff (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: For more content strategy tips, read Carla Johnson'sWhat Marketing Can Learn from IT about Content