Sign on a brick wall that reads, "Do you believe there is intelligent life on other planets?"
PHOTO: the real Tiggy

Intelligent content is an approach to the management of content as a business asset that includes content that is modular, structured, reusable, format-free and semantically rich. This, in turn, makes the content discoverable, reconfigurable and adaptable for its creators, such as marketers, according to Ann Rockley, founder of The Rockley Group, who shared that definition from her book, “Intelligent Content: A Primer." 

Intelligent content can be an asset for marketers, but it often depends on your use cases and content needs to determine whether you should implement the practice in your organization. So, we asked practitioners and experts for their thoughts on today's intelligent content concepts, best practices and key definitions and components in order to determine if it's something that should make its way into your marketing programs. 

Intelligent Content is Practice and Mindset

According to ClickZ, intelligent content is “part practice and part mindset.” Marketers and organizations can take content out of the context of its presentation layer (like a webpage for example) and break that down into smaller frgaments. The fragments then are structured with semantic metadata to deliver the content. 

Related Article: AI's Missing Ingredient: Intelligent Content

Intelligent Content Helps Educate and Inform Customers

Sales and marketing have long wanted to align organizational messaging — despite the constant struggles between the departments. Salespeople today need “situational fluency to know what content will add value and differentiate them in the sales process,” according to Byron Matthews, president and CEO of Miller Heiman Group. What differentiates them, he said, is how they educate their customers and help them think about a problem differently. “And they need intelligent content to do that,” Matthews said. “How do you get relevant content to a buyer and educate them: that’s what I see as intelligent content. Intelligent content is relevant, specialized content that makes sense for the viewer in the context of their needs at that very moment in time in which they’re receiving it.”

Marketers can provide intelligent content in a way that’s providing value to the disseminator as well, not just to the person being disseminated to, according to Matthews. “It’s the difference between customer-facing content — often content marketing materials — and enablement content, which provides the seller with the most valuable tools to best inform them on their buying decisions based on where they are in the ‘customer path’ or buyer journey,” he said.

To often, sales reps think about adding value to the sales process by telling customers something they don’t know about their company’s solution or the value it brings, Matthews said. “In reality, true value comes from educating the customer and framing the problem differently,” he added. “It’s about bringing value in a holistic way: not just trying to sell them a product or service. In doing that, sellers are able to build deeper relationships from which they can sell. Intelligent content is a major tool in starting this conversation and helps sellers bring greater value to prospects.”

Related Article: Understanding the Intelligent Content Journey

Intelligent Content vs. Content Marketing

Intelligent content itself is not content marketing. Content marketing is a “strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content,” according to Content Marketing Institute (CMI). Nor are we talking intelligent content as in “smart content,” or content that leverages machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) (it just may, but we're not fully deep-diving into AI-infused content here). The goal of intelligent content is to attract a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action, according to CMI.

Organizations should see intelligent content as a potential crucial component of content marketing. “The difference is in the purpose of the approach,” Robert Rose, chief strategy advisor for CMI. “Content Marketing is a branch of marketing and communications that centers on our ability to create audiences by creating valuable content for them. Intelligent content is the approach to managing all content in a way that’s structured, well, intelligently.” These two disciplines overlap because when we create strategic content for the businesses we run, we do so in a way that scales elegantly and efficiently, according to Rose. “So, if my team is responsible for creating a series of brand magazine experiences as part of a content marketing strategy, I’d like to do that using an intelligent content approach, so that the content can be adapted, reused and structured for any of the other company’s digital experiences.”

Rockley furthered Rose’s point by adding intelligent content is a methodology for creating content, any type of content. Content marketing is a type of content. “Intelligent content marketing is content that has been designed to be modular, structured, reusable, format free for omnichannel delivery and richly tagged for optimum content retrieval.”

Related Article: Get Smart About Intelligent Content

Intelligent Content Embraces Metadata

Intelligent content embraces metadata tags, or, as Rose put it, “content that describes the content.” Metadata helps organizations with basic information about data, according to Wikipedia. Marcia Lei Zeng highlights types of metadata, including:

  • Descriptive metadata: helps with discovery and identification. Includes title, abstract, author and keywords and more
  • Structural metadata: how compound objects are put together; i.e. how pages are ordered to form chapters
  • Administrative metadata: manages when and how data is created, file type and other technical information, and who can access it.

“Metadata is the mortar that helps connect the bricks of content together,” Rose said. “So, a great metadata strategy is, in itself, just as important as the content that’s created.” Metadata as structure means that the content can be filtered to show and hide content where appropriate and auto-map the structure to different style displays and extract for different channels, according to Rockley. “Metadata for retrieval optimizes retrieval for personalization, chatbots and consumer searches,” Rockley added. 

Metadata is “what truly yields organizational execution,” Matthews added.

Semantically Categorized Content

True intelligent content is semantically categorized. Semantic means meaning, so when you semantically categorize content you are adding semantic structure to the content that has meaning, according to Rockley. “Semantic structure acts like metadata that can be processed,” she said. “Semantically categorized metadata enables you to add rich metadata to the content for processing and retrieval.” Matthews called semantically categorized content and semantic metadata “prerequisites to intelligent content." It fuels the ability to uncover key trends and drives direction on what intelligent content to use and when to use it.

Marketers and other intelligent content creators can use semantically structured content and metadata to leverage and scale content around context and meaning, rather than just by literal attributes, Rose said. “When it’s done well,” he added, “you can leverage semantically structured content and metadata to connect communication to desired contexts, such as an implied connection or correlation.” He cited the common “if you like this, then you’ll probably be interested in this,” content-targeting approach. 

Related Article: Marketers in Search of Intelligent Content 

Intelligent Content Should Be Discoverable Reusable, Reconfigurable and Adaptable

CMI reported that intelligent content is designed for automation, including content components that can be mixed and matched assembly-line style. Automation is a key factor in why such content is intelligent — it’s efficient for marketers and their organizations because it’s automated and re-used in smart ways.

Marketers can create modular content that can be mixed and matched to build new content, Rockley said. They can create reusable content that can be written once and used multiple times to optimize content creation and increase content consistency. They can create format-free so that they can deliver the content to any channel without being burdened by embedded format styles that is appropriate for one channel and not another. They can add metadata to content to optimize retrieval and reconfiguration. “It starts,” Rose said, “with structure. So you might actually argue that content creators aren’t the first step. Rather, the first step would be for content creators to work with content strategists to really frame the house — as it were — so the creators know exactly what and how they will be creating.”

Matthews contends content creators play a significant role inside sales enablement functions in his new book on sales enablement. The sales industry needs to be able to have a capacity like sales enablement that harvests content, writes the business rules and puts technology in place that actually analyzes metadata and pinpoints what’s top of mind for buyers, Matthews said. “This makes the content creator role,” he said, “a key factor in the success or failure of an organization’s sales enablement function.”

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Intelligent Content Components

Behind the practice of using intelligent content are technologies that help build the intelligence. They include:

  • Content marketing technology
  • Component content management systems
  • Web content management
  • Marketing automation
  • XML, DITA
  • Authoring tools
  • Digital asset management
  • Analytics
  • Business process management
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Customer relationship management

“Languages such as XML and HTML5 support semantic modular content,” Rockley said. “Component content management systems support components of content rather than files or documents. Headless CMS supports omnichannel delivery, not just web.”

Who Should Implement Intelligent Content Strategies?

Rose said intelligent content is less about the “who” and more about “what’s the right situation.” “If you are responsible for managing a very large corpus of content,” he said, “and you need to do so for multiple channels, interfaces, regions and functions, then some aspects of an intelligent content approach are probably right for you.” You may never be “finished” with intelligent content, he added, since it’s much like other business approaches that include accounting, marketing, sales or technology. “Given your situation, intelligent content is an ideal, and you should leverage this approach in varying degree that’s suitable for your needs,” Rose said. An airline that needs a million pieces of customer-facing content to make its way through hundreds of different interfaces, in multiple languages and be managed effectively — that’s a good candidate for an intelligent content approach. “But at that same airline, if you’re responsible for one country’s blog, you might not need that level of structure,” Rose said.

Any company would benefit from the basics of intelligent content, structured, modular content even if they don’t have the technology in place to automatically process the output of content. “Authors which follow structured authoring guidelines write better content,” Rockley said. “Thinking about creating more modular content creates more usable and reusable content.”

According to Rockley, the following types of companies would benefit from intelligent content:

  • Those that produce large volumes of content
  • Those that have products or services that have some commonality or overlap (where content reuse makes sense)
  • Those that have omnichannel delivery requirements
  • Those that are considering or are using chatbots.

“If a company is very small and not producing a great deal of content, it may not be appropriate for them,” she added.

Related Article: Get Smarter About Your Content Marketing

How to Start with Intelligent Content

Rockley suggests organizations should analyze their content. Start with structuring your content and providing your authors with templates and structured authoring guidelines, she said. Where possible, move to modular content. Identify opportunities for reuse and develop and communicate a reuse strategy. Don’t feel that you have to have new technology to get started with intelligent content. Intelligent content is methodology, not a technology. 

Intelligent Content Resources

We’ve discovered some resources that will help you identify some case studies and relevant information for intelligent content strategies.