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There’s a new approach to content marketing that seems counterintuitive at first. With this new approach, you can increase audience reach by creating less content. And you can improve personalization by using the same content for all audiences, channels, and devices.

Crazy, right? Yet enterprises like 3M, Cisco, and Google are proving it works.

How and why it works was explained at the Intelligent Content Conference held in Las Vegas this spring.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), opened the event by inviting attendees to drop what’s familiar. He said standard content marketing practices stunt your content’s shelf life, limit ROI, and hinder opportunities.

“Innovative enterprises who want to deliver remarkable experiences to customers must start to invest in scalable practices that enable less human involvement in content creation and production.” – Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute.

What he calls the traditional cut-and-paste approach to marketing doesn’t work anymore in this super-connected world. Instead, successful enterprises should adopt a single-source, modular, and format-free approach where the same content works with many audiences across different channels and platforms.

When content works with such fluidity, it can be reused over and over again. In turn, this generates more impressions and may increase the content’s ROI and reach.

This is the vision for the future of content: recycle and reuse for higher ROI.

While this sounds promising, we can’t make it happen with how content is created now. Instead, we must structure content so that it automatically works across multiple channels, multiple platforms, and multiple audiences. In other words, we must create content that works more intelligently…

What is intelligent content?

Intelligent content doesn’t refer to the content itself, but to how you structure content so that it works more intelligently for you.

To make content intelligent, it’s removed of formatting and tagged with metadata. This enables all content (data) to be easily discoverable, configurable, adaptable, and reusable. In other words, it makes it easier for anyone on any device, in any location, and on any platform, to find the most relevant data or content immediately.

To illustrate, let’s say your prospect is working late one evening on a weekend house project when a part breaks. A quick search from their smartphone pulls up a link for a replacement part, locations where they can pick it up within five miles from their location, and that are still open. For convenience, it has a video link showing how to replace the broken part.

Here’s why it’s so smart: You won’t need to create a special page for all of that information. Your company already has all of this data in various forms: videos, white papers, spec sheets, web pages, etc. By tagging it and removing the formatting, that content can be filtered, repackaged, and served up to the user in a hyper-personalized way.

This structure affects content so dramatically, it changes content’s role within companies and how we handle it. Below are four more key takeaways from the conference presenters:

Takeaway #1: Content should be part of your business strategy—not a subset of marketing

CMI’s chief strategy officer Robert Rose says companies that treat content as an institutional competency will become more valuable. Because the greater their competency, the more in tune they’ll be with their customers and better able to communicate with them. Which leads to stronger relationships and higher sales.

Treating content as a competency requires balancing how we think about the cost of content. Many companies will spend $1 million to produce a TV commercial and $50 million to distribute it. But they won’t spend $20,000 to create and distribute a video for their site. That’s a problem.

It’s a problem because in addition to natural search value, content drives the value of differentiation.

For example, your company may compete with thousands of others that make and sell athletic equipment, but how well you tell stories showing athletes using your equipment can build a bond that strengthens trust, increases site traffic, and ultimately boosts sales.

When viewed as part of your business strategy, content’s purpose is to deliver more efficiency and higher demand for content. So don’t change content to fit marketing’s purpose—change marketing to fit a strategic content purpose.

Takeaway #2: Content is a valuable corporate asset

Your content can deliver more return than what you invested to create and distribute it. This can be done by extending your content’s shelf life so it continues generating more engagement—or impressions.

Cruce Saunders, founder and principal consultant at Simple [A], explains all ROI for content comes from engagement—or impressions. Impressions occur when a human or a robot interacts with your content.

Intelligent content is structured for repeated reuse, to drive more impressions long after each piece was created. This increases your content’s value and lowers the cost of asset production. Which is why Saunders suggests we think of content as a balance sheet asset.

To illustrate, if your content costs $1,000 to create and generates 50,000 impressions across a single channel, your CPI is $0.02 ($1,000/50,000).

When your content is structured for easier reuse across multiple channels, you compound the number of impressions generated. Thereby significantly lowering your CPI. Using the same example above, that same $1,000 piece of content may generate 230,000 impressions across multiple channels. That would drop your CPI by five times to just $0.004 ($1,000/230,000).

Content is an asset that gains value by maximizing impressions.

Therefore, content must behave intelligently: It crosses multiple channels, is readable by robots, is accessible on multiple platforms, and is scalable.

Takeaway #3: Structure content for atomized marketing

Presenter Kate Kenyon who leads Cognifide’s content strategy and management practice says content should be structured to maintain three characteristics: scalable, fluid, and manageable.

This structure allows for what she calls “atomized marketing.” Which is akin to building a kit of content parts for use across platforms. Atomized marketing helps you amplify efficiency by reusing content in several strategically sound ways. In turn, you:

  • Reduce the amount of creative and development investment needed
  • Extend your reach with less work than launching new content
  • Increase personalization and relevancy by executing a content theme across multiple platforms, in multiple ways
  • Allow for controlled management
  • Generate more impressions by spreading your big idea/theme out in multiple, smaller ways
  • Lower localization costs for higher returns

Takeaway #4: Prep the company for structured content

Structured content is delivered by platforms, people, and processes. Platforms change easily. People and processes don’t. Before making your content intelligent, determine if you have the people, skills, and processes to make and manage it.

Start by defining the ideal operating model that will deliver the changes you need, at a pace the company can achieve.

Structuring intelligent content takes work. When defining your operating model, make sure you also have the right resources to revisit all of your content regularly. And that you have enough to optimize assets as you see them succeeding. This includes repeatedly reworking headlines, introductory paragraphs, and keywords.

Most of us already know content is a key component of a company’s success. The Intelligent Content Conference suggests that to succeed, we can no longer treat content as something to be created, archived, and forgotten. Instead, content is a moving, growing, breathing asset that requires periodic handling for the promise of greater returns.

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