hawk in midflight holding a fish it caught
PHOTO: Keith Luke

In recent months I’ve seen a lot of people posting and reposting an interesting infographic that showcases the “30 Technologies of the Next Decade.” It’s an impressive list of where digital transformation is taking us and how the customer experience will change in the relatively near term. 

One thing that's clear: the technology stack we are used to working with is going through a period of increasingly dramatic change.

Over the last year or so I’ve also been privy to the plans of some major organizations, across a wide range of industries, which map out their aspirational goals for addressing the challenges such change will bring. I’ve seen a lot of systems and architecture diagrams, proof of concept, and prototypes demonstrated with varying degrees of success. And, with a few exceptions, they all share a common weakness.

If you look at that infographic of 30 technologies, I estimate that at least 50 percent of them are dependent on content — be it written, graphical, video, audio, animation or developing media like augmented reality — to deliver the customer experience. Yet many of those future-looking projects that aim to embrace those same technologies suffer from what I term "The Content Fallacy." That is, an unstated belief that "content just happens."

Related Article: Digital Experience Stacks Evolve Once Again

Content Needs to Be Engineered

A common trope when talking about the impact of digital transformation is to focus on the end result, which is great. We all need a shared vision. But the roads to achieving those visions are often built on foundational understanding. And the one I believe is largely missing is the concept of content engineering. To achieve any sort of personalized, high quality experience across a growing number of delivery channels, you need to think up front as to what sort of content you will need and how it will be engineered to achieve those goals.

To give a real world example, when discussing with a client how they would meet a C-suite level mandate for personalizing the customer experience as part of the their digital transformation strategy we discovered that to meet all the different vectors of marketing campaigns, product types, customer segments, industries, languages and delivery channels they were targeting they, would be looking at potentially delivering over 18,000 variants of one piece of content.

They had assumed that because they already had the baseline content they could just feed it into their new systems and it would be delivered in the format the customer needed. But content for a website is not the same content you need for a smart phone or watch. The content you have will most likely not be written or structured for the question-context-interpretation-answer model you need for a chatbot or voice assistant. If your customer communications has primarily been text-based then it will probably not work alongside visuals, or provide the right context and enhancement for an augmented reality experience.

Related Article: Looking for Structure in the Dollar Menu

The 6 Facets of Content Engineering

Content engineering is a six-faceted approach to thinking and designing your content for the emerging digital transformation experience:

  • Model: Representation of types of content, their elements, attributes and interdependent relationships.
  • Metadata: To help applications, authors, systems and robots use and relate the content in smart way.
  • Mark-Up: A way to identify the content outside the content itself, it describes and presents content and can include XML, Markdown, etc., and content transformations.
  • Schema: A form of metadata that provides meaning and relationships to content. Schema often involves published standard vocabularies for describing concepts with standardized terms.
  • Taxonomy: A map of related concepts which are applied to content, often as tags. Enables and supports features such as related content reuse, navigation, search and personalization.
  • Topology: The art of developing organizational structures and containers that create coherence across content management and publishing systems.

By taking an engineering approach, content moves away from being something that just happens (and then often doesn’t deliver the expected results) to becoming the foundational fuel to power digital transformation and deliver those exciting new multi-channel experiences we are all looking forward to.