Can content intelligence take the chaos out of content creation?

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This article is sponsored by [A] which specializes in helping companies implement better content intelligence strategies. Thanks for the support [A]! As always, the article is written by me and includes my interpretations. Check out [A]’s Content Intelligence Academy. 

Cruce Saunders
Cruce Saunders

Let’s create more content. Go faster, faster, FASTER!!!! Meanwhile we have experts screaming at us about being more deliberate! “I AM. While I’m going fast.” But what does it really mean to be more deliberate? How can we tame the often chaotic and siloed approach to content strategy, creation and promotions? Cruce Saunders, founder and CEO of [A], shared with me his concept of content intelligence on a live recording of the Business Storytelling Podcast. 

Today many “avoid the concept of thinking about our content and just jump in and do it ad-hoc,” Cruce said about the reality of many companies’ current content practices. “Instead of stepping back and looking at it as a supply chain process.”

Changing our mindsets can reduce the friction and help us create content and optimize existing content that can then be delivered within context.

Certainly, I’m a big fan of creating content, optimizing existing content and trying to drive that content performance culture. So I’m always open to hearing the latest and best ways to achieve that. For me, as a solo blogger on here it’s easy enough to manually use the Create Once, Publish Everywhere model.

Take this discussion around content intelligence:

And Cruce added on the livestream that this process might be the most efficient for solopreneurs to small businesses. But that doesn’t work when it comes to bigger enterprises- let’s say with 100 people up to top Fortune 500 companies. There are too many stakeholders, processes and variables in general that come into play to make manual, copy-and-paste workflows work for the long term.

Let’s dive in and see how companies can evolve their processes from their current state to using content intelligence.

Read next: Collaborate to Elevate: Co-Creation in Marketing

What is content intelligence?

Content intelligence is sometimes referred to as the content analytics of content strategy, but that’s just one area of listening to focus on. We can use that data to create better customer experiences and go beyond just pushing content at people. It’s also about decoupling content to maximize it across all channels.

“We need to develop component-based content that is delivered within context to customers,” Cruce said.

[A] defines content intelligence as, “a core organizational capability that emerges when an organization modernizes its methods of communication to acquire, manage, and leverage intelligent content.”

An organization with content intelligence will have the ability to learn about its market and its customers based on how its content is used and to apply what it has learned to improve how it performs and to maximize the overall value being realized including on its investments in content assets.

Once that system is built it handles the complexity. Many content strategists today just handle that complexity manually because there’s no system That can be a challenge – especially in enterprise companies.

content intelligence academy


How technical is content intelligence?

It does involve technical implications but that’s why you need what Cruce calls a Content Services Organization. The content team can’t just be a seen as a fulfiller team but needs to lead the strategy, implementation and technology integration. The Content Services Organization includes content and technology executives across practices, including:

  • Content Strategy
  • Content Engineering
  • Content Operations

They work to listen to the right audience signals, orchestrate authoring standards across teams, and empower creators with systems that put strategy into action. The need for this kind of organization became clear when other teams are actually leading the strategy. For example, if the strategy dictates an omnichannel approach, the technology needs to create the fields and distribution channels for implementers to insert the content into.

The IT Department should not be dictating how the strategy will be implemented. They should partner with the Content Services Organization to implement the strategy.

When I worked in publishing, I worked on projects to integrate print and digital content. Of course, the two mediums are very different and digital content has a lot of extra components that print doesn’t need. To even make headway on that kind of strategy, we need the right fields when we create content.

  • Print headline here
  • Web headline here
  • Social teaser here
  • Web copy here
  • Print copy
  • Etc.

It’s necessary to avoid failing in implementation

I  have read a lot of strategic documents that are fantastic content plans. They use all the right words, seemingly correct goals and even mention why something needs to be done.

Wow, I think this is a really good plan. And  then I ask how the implementation has been going. Or I might just look at the digital properties and see for myself.

And unfortunately I often run across dead digital properties that haven’t shared any content at all – leave alone content that was so flowery described in the strategic document.

What happened?

The answers can range from that somebody has left to that budget was slashed to the realization that implementing the content strategy is much harder than theoretically writing down how to do it.

So how do we actually implement our strategic vision? Here are some of the tips that I would recommend you consider.

Move as fast as you can from the strategic document to the implementation. I’ve seen teams do this in the matter of days. On Tuesday the document was finalized and on Thursday they were at it to implement it.

Many content marketing strategies can indeed run at that kind of speed. It’s not rocket science and that doesn’t mean it all has to be perfect on Day 1 one and chances are it won’t be perfect on Day 49 but the way to make content marketing work is to have a plan and then execute it relentlessly.

The trick is to involve the right people at the right time when the strategies are put together so they can actually go and implement it. The problem can arise when one group puts the strategy together and then never talks to the implementers until it’s almost too late to implement.

Cruce on the livestream also mentioned the piece of missing technologies. If the technology doesn’t make the strategy implementation easy, it might just grind to a halt.

Connecting content across silos

Cruce mentioned the importance of breaking down the right silos, involving the right people and – a piece I think is often missing – using the right technology. For example, if we want content creators to create content in a decoupled – atomized – way, we have to give them the technology to actually do that. For years, content creators wrote articles and other content in one big article field. That’s not setting them up to succeed to create content in a decoupled way.

Change management is a huge aspect of the move to content intelligence. You have to empower content creators and they have to have a stake. They need to see the success.

Once content creators see it’s working or has the chance to, buy-in and forward progress is so much easier.

“We create a content model that connects content across the organization,” Cruce said. “That only works when the different groups have a stake in it.”

How to start small with content intelligence

Agile Marketing Expert Andrea Fryrear said on the Business Storytelling Podcast that new marketing leaders often start with the website. “We have a new strategy, let’s redesign it.” That’ll take some time – months at a minimum and more advanced website installations can take over a year. Unfortunately, focusing on a “just a traditional website redesign” can also take away from your time to get started on content intelligence.

Andrea continued that in an agile process, projects are broken down into sprints where small wins can be reported on an ongoing basis.

Cruce mentioned a similar approach when it comes to content intelligence implementations. Don’t roll out the process for every single workflow there is. Find an area where you can start and show some early successes. Pick a piece of the workflow, then report the results to the larger group and implement content intelligence wider.

content intelligence implementation


“It’s about connecting parts,” Cruce said. “Many organizations are in the dark ages but you also can’t say that anyone has achieved content intelligence nirvana.”

[Tweet “Starting somewhere is better than starting nowhere.”]

It makes sense to start one piece at a time where it makes economical sense.

“We do that one a time,” Cruce said. “And then we start wiring it out. We are compounding the savings and making major improvements.”

Cathy McPhillips
Cathy McPhillips of the Content Marketing Institute

When you start also be aware of current workflows. For example, I’ve been a long-term advocate for creating directly in the CMS. Cathy McPhillips, of the Content Marketing Institute, said on the Business Storytelling Podcast that is likely not a realistic process when you have eight people – internally and externally – looking at content.

I will keep my fingers crossed that it will happen one of these days, but Cruce also mentioned that it’s unlikely that some internal experts will move away from writing in Word. So content intelligence needs to find a way to consider all these different inputs when it comes to the overall strategy and implementation.

The content then needs to transform into the system or systems that are being used.

“Our goal is to create models and system that people can have a stake in,” Cruce said. “People subscribe to the patterns that everyone is participating in if they feel they will have a better performance because of these standards.”

[A] wants content to be structured as early as possible, Cruce explained. In many cases that means a system will be build ahead of the CMS to accomplish that.

What’s the ROI of content intelligence?

Sometimes we don’t know if projects bring us the expected Return of Investment. Are we about to make the right decision to move forward? Why should we change anything at all? Things are going well. They are fine. No need for us to evolve today. But, it’s not about today, Cruce reminds us. It’s about staying relevant in 5-10 years.

Things change.

As marketing guru Mark Schaefer said on an episode of the Business Storytelling Podcast: Customers have different expectations today. They can turn brands out in no time. He calls it a marketing rebellion.

Using content intelligence can help brands stay relevant.

But will content strategies pay off? I can’t tell you what the ROI of one Tweet or one behind-the-scenes Instagram photo or even one blog post is. It’s too granular. I can tell you that all together they are all paying off on many fronts. The ROI is that they will help us build our brands, businesses and help us get in front of our potential customers and stay connected with existing customers.

Cruce mentioned that the ROI can also be measured in more effective workflows and less wasted time. Remember, that time is money. I often say when going into a meeting with 5-10 people “Hello everyone. This is an expensive meeting. I’ll try to make it worth your time and money.”

Everyone in that room is getting paid to sit there. Those costs add up. The more time people spend on wasteful workflows the more resources are wasted. Using content intelligence models and systems can help you save money, be more connected with your audiences and drive more results.

So many channels

There are just too many channels today to keep up without an integrated and intelligent approach. We have the web, social, email, now there’s livestreaming, podcasting, voice, chat bots. The list goes on and on. Personalization is another that has potential but that some companies have given up on.

“Many personalization projects have been shelved, really because of bad content hygiene,” Cruce said. “We are reaching that point ‘it’s hard but we’ll have to do it anyway’.”

“Content will continue to drive value,” Cruce said. “And the companies that care and will be able to decouple content will win.”

Some companies have shown the tendency to disregard the complexities of how content can help them stand out. “If you don’t care, hire somebody that does,” Cruce said.

Where to start? Sign up for the content intelligence academy now.

content intelligence academy

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