Scriptorium Publishing

content strategy consulting

Content strategy and the big picture

April 20, 2015 by

What’s the best way to minimize conflict when developing and implementing a new content strategy?


Keep everyone focused on the big picture:

Conflict is inevitable, especially the unproductive kind. When people take their eyes off the bigger picture and focus narrowly on their own needs and views, conflict fills the gap. People who put aside their preferences, styles, assumptions, inflexibility and selfishness are seen as part of the solution.

On content strategy projects, I’ve often seen personal preferences affect the evaluation of tools and processes. Employees understandably get very attached to tools when they master them. That mastery, however, creates a tendency to view all other tools through the prism of the incumbent technology: the dreaded “tool myopia” described in Content Strategy 101.

Another common pattern is shifting the burdens of inefficient processes to other departments: “As long as I get my stuff done, I don’t care about how my department’s inefficiency affects you.”

Both of these content strategy showstoppers require all parties to focus on the big-picture business requirements. Upper management also needs to be very clear that supporting those goals is mandatory. Do the current tools and processes bolster business goals such as shorter time to market, the breakdown of content silos, or more efficient localization? If not, the new content strategy must address the deficiencies with new tools and processes.

Couple the implementation of those new tools and processes with thorough training and good communication, and you’ll reduce conflict and align your content strategy with the big picture.

P.S. I’ve yet to see “support each employee’s personal preferences” as a company’s big-picture goal. If such a business existed, I’m sure we’d all want to go to there (to paraphrase 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon):

Content strategy: What’s your exit strategy?

April 13, 2015 by

You’ve probably heard the announcement countless times: “Please locate the nearest emergency exit.” Chances are you ignore these exits most of the time, but you feel safer knowing they’re there. You wouldn’t go to a restaurant or movie theater or travel on public transportation that didn’t have an emergency exit—so why would you develop a content strategy without one?

In a recent blog post, Alan Pringle brought up the the importance of having an exit strategy, and I wanted to expand on that idea. Without a plan for what to do if your implementation doesn’t go as expected, your company could face tremendous costs—in terms of both time and money—trying to move on to a system that works.

We’ve had some organizations come to us for help when they ended up stranded without an escape. This tends to happen as a result of some common content strategy mistakes:

Exit strategy plus extra legroom. flickr: Kevin Jaako

Exit strategy plus extra legroom.
(flickr: Kevin Jaako)

  • Choosing the wrong tool for the job. It can be difficult to resist trying out that shiny new tool that claims to do it all. Maybe you think it will provide a simple, all-encompassing solution to your content creation problems. Maybe your time for implementation is limited, so you don’t dig any deeper to make sure this tool really is the best choice. It’s not until after you’ve installed and begun using it that you realize it doesn’t serve your needs, after all. Now, you need to find another solution that will work—and, in some cases, deal with the painful process of extracting your content from your new tool.
  • Making hasty decisions. Your manager has agreed to help your department produce content more efficiently, but you only have a few weeks before you’ll lose your funding. With the deadline looming, you can’t stop and think about an exit strategy when you come up with a plan to move to a new system. Then, after you start trying to create new content—and after you’ve blown your budget—you discover that the new workflow actually has more problems than the old one, and you need a way out.
  • Not customizing your strategy to your needs. It’s good to pay attention to industry trends, but before you decide to follow along with them, you need to consider the issues your company is facing. Maybe you notice that all of your competitors are migrating to a certain content management system or using a new tool with great success. Before you jump on the bandwagon, do enough research to determine whether this is really the right solution for you. Remember that every company is unique, and if you measure your business by others’ standards, you may end up making a decision you regret.

While you should always have an exit strategy in place, you can reduce your chances of having to use it by being more careful in your content strategy planning:

  • Put your requirements first. Instead of buying a new tool and hoping it will solve everything, identify your current issues, needs, and goals and then choose your tool(s). Tool selection should be the last step in your equation, not the first. Keep in mind that you may need a combination of tools or services that provide your optimal workflow, rather than a single “fix-all” tool.
  • Think about the long term. A “quick fix” solution may help you in the short term, but if it doesn’t address the root of your problems, it won’t be sustainable. If you don’t solve the larger issue, you’ll be more likely to need an emergency exit in a few years (or even months). Your short-term solution could even fail altogether.
That didn't go so well—I'm outta here! flickr: Lord Jim

That didn’t go so well—I’m outta here!
(flickr: Lord Jim)

Exit strategies aren’t just helpful for dealing with the fallout of an implementation gone awry—they’re also a vital part of planning for your company’s future. Your content production process may need to scale up if your company grows larger or expands to serve an international audience. You may have to adapt your process to a company buyout or new management structure. Whether your company goes through major changes or not, you can always count on advances in technology affecting content development. In any of these situations, you’ll eventually need a way out of your old system, and planning for that in advance will help things go more smoothly when it happens.

Here are a few exit strategies you can put in place:

  • Keep your content in a standard format. Avoiding proprietary formats and sticking to standard ones (such as XML) will help ensure that your content is still usable in the event of a company buyout or major technology overhaul. It also means that you can transfer your content from one authoring tool or content management system to another without a painful, expensive conversion process. Along those lines…
  • Choose tools you can get out of easily. When evaluating tool choices, eliminate any that would be difficult to change if you realize they don’t work as well as you’d hoped. Watch out for strict file format requirements, workflow issues, or contractual obligations.
  • Try a pilot project. Instead of jumping headfirst into implementing your new content strategy, use a representative subset of your content to test things out on a small scale. That way, you can get a better idea of what works well and what needs changing before you make the full switch to a new system.

Even the best content strategies can end in failure. No matter how well your plan may be tailored to your needs, you could run into all sorts of unexpected roadblocks when you try to put it in place—change resistance, learning curve, or budget cuts, just to name a few. Before you implement a new system, you need to account for what could go wrong, and be prepared for what you will do if that happens. Don’t forget to build in those emergency exits. Otherwise, you could find yourself stuck in a system you can’t get out of.

Webcast: Content Strategy vs. The Undead

April 9, 2015 by

Implementing a content strategy often involves overcoming significant technological and cultural challenges, but some of these challenges are so scary, so heinous, that they earn a place among the undead because they Just. Won’t. Die!

In this webcast, which debuted at Lavacon 2014, Bill Swallow takes a look at these nightmare-inducing monsters—from unrelenting copy-and-paste zombies to life-draining, change-avoiding vampires—and shows you what can be done to keep your content strategy implementation from turning into a fright fest.

(more…)

The perils of early adoption

April 7, 2015 by

It finally happened. A part of your production pipeline has failed too many times, and everyone is in agreement: you need a hero.

You’ve identified your needs, researched your options, and your best option is something new. It’s on the cutting edge, promises to solve your problems, and supposedly has none of the issues that led to this point in the first place. But is this really the hero that you need? Before turning on the Batsignal, there are a few crucial things you need to take into account when you’re considering becoming an early adopter.

Support

If you’re working with a new software vendor or implementing an upgrade to an existing vendor package, how much can you count on their support? If you run into a problem, there may not be a handy solution, either creating a bottleneck in your pipeline or forcing you to adopt unsavory workarounds. Is there a user community you can reach out to, or are you at the mercy of your vendor’s support?

Integration

How does this new process integrate into your current pipeline? You may have procedures in other parts of your pipeline that are specifically there to deal with your old process. You may even need to create entirely new procedures to handle the idiosyncrasies of your new process. Depending on the extent of these procedures, implementation may be significantly more difficult than anticipated, and in a worst case scenario, may be completely infeasible.

Cultural entrenchment

Processes can often ossify, with the result that any level of change can be very painful for an organization. How ready are you to dig out entrenched behaviors or practices that could sabotage the efforts of your new process? I’ve witnessed one instance of switching to a different project management platform where a developer lost hours of productivity because the hours tracking system was different.

No more heroes

A vendor or service can be as innovative and flashy as it likes. If what they offer doesn’t fit with the way you do business, you need to be ready to make hard calls about what you really need as opposed to what you think you need. Whether you’re looking to switch from a waterfall production method to Agile or Kanban, or changing your publishing platform from Word to InDesign, think of your options less as heroes and more as gears that keep your system working smoothly.

Uber, disruption, and content strategy

March 30, 2015 by

I used Uber and lived to tell the tale. And I found a lesson for content strategy in my rides to and from the airport in San Francisco.

Uber competes with taxi and car services. It is controversial and possibly disruptive.

From the customer’s point of view, Uber is an incredible improvement. It fixes all the bad things about the traditional taxi experiences—you get cashless transactions, a map on which you can watch your ride approach, and lower fares than taxis (sometimes). No tipping. Near-instant response.

But look a little deeper, and I’m troubled by the business model that seems unfair to taxi drivers, who have been thoroughly vetted and who paid a lot of money for their taxi licenses. Uber undercuts this model by providing the technology layer that connects drivers to riders, and arguing that they are not in fact a transportation company, only a match-maker for ride-sharing. The German government disagrees, and has banned some Uber services, as has the city of Portland, Oregon and several other jurisdictions around the world. Uber has also engaged in some…questionable…business strategies.

But my misgivings about using them were outweighed by the convenience and, critically, the strong recommendations from Val Swisher and Scott Abel, both of whom are Bay Area locals. After using Uber and emerging unscathed, I offer some lessons for content strategists:

  • The customer wants a good experience. They don’t really care about how you achieve the good experience. Your organizational problems are of no interest to the customer, only your interaction with the customer. A few companies have made their ethics a key reason to buy (Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s come to mind), but without an explicit story, customers will not make this connection on your behalf. (Possible content marketing strategy for taxi companies: Tell the story of their cabbies—the plucky immigrant who is living the American dream, the New York native who loves working on cars and knows all the back roads, and so on.)
  • Your regulatory problems are of little interest to me, er, them. (Possible exception: life-and-death content, such as medical information or aircraft maintenance information.) Uber has aggressively positioned taxi regulations as outdated and inconvenient. The taxi companies need to tell the story of why the regulations are necessary and good, such as launching a sustained campaign around Uber’s infamous surge pricing policy.
  • Banning your unauthorized competitor is probably not going to work. (It doesn’t work with Uber; it’s definitely not going to work with information.) So figure out how to accommodate illicit content as part of your strategy. Or improve your customer experience so that people don’t go looking for a (possibly sketchy) alternative. (Unauthorized translations by resellers come to mind. They usually happen when the content owner fails to make the content available in the needed languages.)

Uber is a cautionary tale for anyone who makes their living in a closed market.

After finishing this article on Friday afternoon (March 28) and scheduling it for publication on Monday morning, I received this email late Friday night:

They are your drivers, and we want to celebrate them. Meet the people behind the wheel who make it all possible. (Image of smiling driver.)

Well played, Uber. Well played.

Money and technology are not a content strategy

March 23, 2015 by

Having the budget to buy new technology isn’t the same as having a content strategy. Case in point: the US government has spent billions on electronic medical record (EMR) systems that can’t communicate with each other.

The American taxpayer has funded the installation of electronic records systems in hospitals and doctors’ offices — to the tune of $30 billion since 2009. While those systems are supposed to make health care better and more efficient, most of them can’t talk to each other.

[Technology entrepreneur Jonathan] Bush lays a lot of blame for that at the feet of this federal financing.

“I called it the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ bill,” he says. “It gave $30 billion to buy the very pre-internet systems that all of the doctors and hospitals had already looked at and rejected,” he says.

On the surface, the idea of installing the EMR systems makes sense: sharing medical records electronically increases efficiency and accuracy, and it eliminates duplicated medical procedures. Unfortunately, the offices installing these systems were blinded by the government funding and didn’t ask some important questions:

  • What are the business goals the new technology must support? Easy exchange of medical information is a primary reason for implementing EMR systems. Therefore, the selection processes should have focused on interoperability and support of standards for data exchange.
  • Can I trust what the vendors are telling me? Generally, vendors are not going to volunteer information about their products’ deficiencies, tell you whether a product is reaching the end of its life, and so on. That’s where some good research on industry web forums, LinkedIn, and elsewhere can help you uncover information to back up (or refute) vendor claims. Also, spending some money on solid advice from a third-party consultant (such as Scriptorium) is a smart investment, especially compared to the cost of a system that ends up not supporting your needs.
  • What is the exit strategy for moving to another system? If you outgrow a system, how hard is it to transition to another system? Can you, for example, export data to an industry standard format that other systems can import? Completely re-creating information in a new system is an inefficient, error-prone time sink you want to avoid.

It’s always great to get the budget to buy new tools and technology. Just be sure the tools you buy support clearly defined business goals.

Breaking down content silos: expectation vs. reality

March 16, 2015 by

You’re probably hearing it more and more: silos are bad for your business. They discourage collaboration, lead to duplication and inconsistency, and prevent you from delivering a unified content experience to your customers. But what really happens when you try to break them down?

Expectation: One big happy content-creating family. Reality: "We don't like change!" (flickr: Daniele Nicolucci)

Expectation: One big happy content-creating family. Reality: “We don’t like change!”
(flickr: Daniele Nicolucci)

In Marcia Riefer Johnston’s recent post, Scott Abel discusses the importance of eliminating silos and restructuring content departments to foster collaboration. I agree that developing content without silos would be extremely beneficial for companies, content creators, and customers. However, the reality of achieving this goal can be slow, difficult, and painful.

Before you start the process of breaking down the barriers between your company’s content groups, it’s important to think about how and why those silos formed in the first place. Silos may not seem to add value to your business, but they do exist for several reasons:

  • Structure. Companies need to be divided into departments to stay organized and avoid chaos. This is especially true as a company grows larger and larger.
  • Accountability. With the department structure comes a reliable management system and chain of command. People can be held responsible for departments’ successes or failures.
  • Focus. It makes sense to group people together based on what type of content they are best at creating (for example, technical writers or marketing specialists).

Silos are often deeply entrenched. Maybe they’ve existed for years, or they’re an integral part of the company culture. Sometimes they lead to competitive relationships between departments (we’ve seen this happen with technical and marketing groups). The more ingrained these silos are, the more difficult they are to change. In many cases, it’s easier to leave silos as they arefor those who manage them as well as those who work inside themthan to try to dismantle them.

Here are challenges you can expect to face when you attempt to break down your company’s silos:

  • Lack of motivation. Some of your colleagues may say they support your efforts, but never do anything to back up their claims. Others may agree with you in principle, but feel that your goals are not realistic. Getting people to start thinking about breaking down silos is easyconvincing them to take action can be an uphill battle.
  • Change resistance. Be prepared for negative comments like, “We don’t have time for all this change with our deadlines,” “We’d never make up for the learning curve,” or “Why fix what’s been working for years?” Even if the people in one group can see the value in collaborating with others, they worry about what that means for their day-to-day work experience.
  • An extremely long process. It may be years before you see your efforts lead to any change in your company at all, much less achieve your end goal of no more silos. Future employees of your company may see more changes and fewer silos than you do.

Sometimes the best way to work toward breaking down silos is finding small ways to improve the relationships between departments. Introducing these compromises will likely be much more effective than suggesting drastic changes:

  • Encourage collaboration. Try having a weekly meeting with representatives from each content department so that they can each be aware of what the others are doing. Even if the silo structure is still in place, these meetings will keep the groups from working in isolation.
  • Manage your silos better. Remember that silos are important to your company from a management point of view, even if they hurt the business in other ways. If eliminating silos is not an option, suggest adding a new management positionsomeone who oversees all content and the coordination between departments.
  • Educate your colleagues. Talk about the benefits of working without silos. You can eliminate the risk of two separate groups producing duplicated or contradictory content, which will increase consistency and allow for reuse. More importantly, your content will have a unified look, feel, and message that improves customer experience and strengthens your brand.

Change can be slow, but it can also start small. Simply getting your colleagues into a collaborative mindset can be a great first step toward a future without silos. If you approach the problem of silos with reality in mind, you will achieve better results.

Going global: the demand for intelligent content

March 10, 2015 by

Companies experience their greatest growing pains when expanding business to global markets. It’s an exciting time but can also be a rude awakening as differing local requirements emerge for both product and content.

On the content side, keeping all of these requirements in check can be a daunting task. Proper planning and execution is critical for meeting these requirements and delivery dates, and for keeping your sanity.

Translation is a small part of the picture

The first thing most people think about when going global is translation. There are core languages of each country to consider, and then there are market niche languages (Russian in Italy, for example). There are right to left (RTL) languages to consider as well, and every language has an impact on layout, whether by direction or by length of the translation.

While planning for and managing the translation effort is a formidable (and expensive) task, in the grand scheme of things it is probably the easiest part of the globalization effort to execute.

Customization is key

wall of sorted Lego bricks

Keeping everything organized and labeled makes for easy assembly. (source: Flickr/firepile)

If your company is selling a physical product, it will likely have varying features based on where it is being sold. The documentation for the product will need to accommodate these variances. If you’re authoring with traditional desktop publishing tools (Word, FrameMaker, InDesign, etc.), you can handle much of this with conditions, but it will take considerable effort to tag it all accordingly.

Your company may sell to another global company with its own configuration requirements, which also may vary based on location. Suddenly you have a new set of conditions to manage, which may conflict with conditions you already have in place.

What if your company has more than one customer with this demand? Or many? Suddenly the idea of using conditions to manage all of the differences doesn’t look very efficient, and maintaining multiple custom documentation sets is extremely labor intensive.

The biggest culture shock when entering a foreign market, and one that can easily catch you off guard, is being met with different legal requirements. Imagine a sale or delivery being stalled because not all of your content has been translated into required languages, or your cautions and warnings do not meet local regulations. What if your marketing material is rejected from the market because it makes illegal claims? The United States has fairly relaxed requirements compared to other countries, and what is appropriate or forgivable in the US can be completely inappropriate if not illegal in other countries.

Intelligent content can help

Traditional authoring workflows simply can’t scale to meet global content demands without requiring additional labor, time, and cost to deliver. Intelligent content – semantically rich XML-based content – can better meet those demands. Some key benefits include:

  • Small reusable topics and content “chunks”: Content can be written once and reused as often as needed. This eliminates the need to rewrite the same information multiple times, saving on authoring and updating time. And because the content is authored only once, it only needs to be translated once per target language.
  • Separation of form and content: When you write in XML, you focus on the content itself and not how it will look in print, online, in mobile devices, and so on. The visual formatting is applied when you publish, usually automatically by a transformation process using stylesheets. Different languages can have their own unique transformations applied.
  • Custom tags and definitions for specific countries, regions, or customers: Rather than rely solely on conditional text to handle all of your unique content requirements, much of the customization can be handled by metadata and through special processing of certain elements (XML tags). Content identified through these means can be swapped in place of standard content as needed when publishing.
  • Everything in one place: The move to intelligent content usually involves implementing a component content management system (CCMS). This means that your content is managed in one place and is easily findable by authors, and all country, region, or customer specific information can be tagged, managed, and used by all authors.

There are many other benefits to using intelligent content for global content distribution, and all aspects can be customized for your unique implementation. Employing intelligent content can ease the pain of delivering content globally, accelerate your time to market, and help you keep your production costs in check.

If you would like to learn more, visit the related topics in this post or send us a message. We’re happy to help!

Buyer’s guide to CCMS evaluation and selection (premium)

March 2, 2015 by

“What CCMS should we buy?”

It’s a common question with no easy answer. This article provides a roadmap for CCMS evaluation and selection.

First, a few definitions. A CCMS (component content management system) is different from a CMS (content management system). You need a CCMS to manage chunks of information, such as reusable warnings, topics, or other small bits of information that are then assembled into larger documents. A CMS is for managing the results, like white papers, user manuals, and other documents.

1. Why do you need a CCMS?

assortment of yarns in store

Why do you need a CCMS? // flickr: lollyknit

The very first step in CCMS evaluation is to determine why you need a CCMS. (Sorry, this sounds like a Fight Club reference.) What business problem are you trying to solve? I am amazed at the number of people who think they need a CCMS but cannot articulate why. Some common reasons for CCMS implementation are increases in:

  • Volume of content
  • Translation requirements
  • Velocity of content
  • Versioning

Before you do anything, understand the scope of your problem and whether a CCMS can solve it. What is broken? Is it more broken than last year? Why? Some common examples of problems that a CCMS will not solve are:

  • Content is inaccurate.
  • Writers lack necessary technical expertise.
  • Departments are siloed because of a lack of mutual professional respect.
  • Content creators refuse to follow style guides because their content is special.
  • In short, all of the People Things™.

If you have issues with People Things, you need to address those in addition to (and preferably before) any CCMS initiatives.

2. What is your ROI?

CCMS implementation is expensive. The cost of CCMS software varies, but implementation is expensive no matter what. Assuming you have a problem that a CCMS will address, your next step is to calculate your approximate return on investment. You’re looking for a rough order of magnitude here, and much of this calculation is driven by your scale. If, for example, you have 50 full-time content creators, and you assume a loaded cost of $100,000 per person per year, then a 10 percent improvement in efficiency is equal to around $500,000 in yearly savings.

By contrast, if your annual translation budget is $50,000, you probably won’t find ROI justification in cutting translation costs.

You can build ROI based on:

  • Cost avoidance
  • Increased revenue
  • Time

Cost avoidance is an efficiency argument: “If we buy X, we can do task Y with less effort.”

Increased revenue is an investment argument: “If we buy X, we will get more income from Y.”

Time is usually a time-to-market argument: “If we buy X, we can deliver Y in two months instead of six months.”

Our XML business case calculator lets you estimate your potential ROI from a transition from desktop publishing to XML.

Once you have some sort of idea of the cost improvement (the “return” part of ROI), you can move on to figure out the other side of the equation–how much do you need to invest? Your initial cost estimates will tell you what class of CCMS you should be looking at. For general guidance, refer to our XML workflow costs article.

3. There is no bad CCMS. Only bad fits for you.

The trick to buying the right CCMS is to find the one that meets your requirements. Every system on the market has strengths and weaknesses. There is no single Best CCMS, nor is there a Bad CCMS. What we have is systems that are better in some scenarios than others. Therefore, you need to figure out the following:

  • What are your priorities?
  • Which system best matches your priorities?

Figuring out your own requirements is your job. Once you have some vague idea of what you need and have done preliminary research, consider issuing a formal RFI (request for information) to get better vendor information.

At this point, you should not be issuing an RFP (request for proposal). You don’t know exactly what you want to ask for yet.

4. What features do you need?

Knitting markers in various shapes

Pay attention to features // flickr: trilliumdesign

“What features do you need in a CCMS?”

“Version control.”

Well, duh. Let’s ask a better question: “What features do you need beyond the basics?” Answers in the past few years from different clients have included items such as:

  • “We have no IT support, so the system needs to be SaaS  (software-as-a-service).”
  • “The system must not be SaaS.”
  • “The system must integrate with [SAP | web CMS | others].”
  • “The system must generate output via [this protocol] to [this format].”
  • “The interface must be available in [this language].”
  • “The system must cost less than [this amount].”
  • “The system must align with the branching techniques we use in [this software development tool].”
  • “The system must be installed and running by [some very soon date].”
  • “The system must support [this content model].”

You want to thoroughly understand your exact requirements and constraints so that you can narrow down your choices quickly. Don’t make a list of boring stuff that every CCMS does. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, especially yours.

Instead, do the following:

  • Identify your most unique requirements (regulatory? system architecture? content volume? languages?)
  • Write up detailed use cases for your most critical requirements and use those to evaluate the systems

Your use case scenarios will help you evaluate the candidates and figure out whether they really meet your requirements.

5. Is extensibility important?

How will your CCMS interact with other systems? Which other systems do you need to interact with? If extensibility is important, focus on the systems that provide a good starting point for this type of integration.

6. What is your exit strategy?

Start planning your exit strategy on the way in. If you ever decide you want to take your content and shift it to another system, will you be able to do so? What is your exit strategy?

7. Vendor relationship

Can you communicate successfully with the CCMS vendor? If not, the implementation and integration process is going to be extremely painful.

Don’t play games with your vendors. The CCMS world is extremely small. People move from one software vendor to another constantly. As a result, there is an excellent industry grapevine. Bad behavior, whether by CCMS vendors, by consultants, or by potential CCMS buyers, is not an option–word gets around quickly.

Not too long ago, I asked a colleague about working with a particular prospect, who seemed a bit….difficult. His response? “Run. Run fast. Then hide.”

Test your vendor relationship with a low-budget, low-commitment pilot project.

Additional resources

This brief overview only scratches the surface of what you need to consider. More resources:

How fast food can help your content strategy

February 23, 2015 by

These days, I generally avoid fast food, but it’s hard to pass up good French fries every now and then. Look beyond those yummy fries, and you can learn some valuable lessons that apply to content strategy.

A consistent—yet location-tailored—experience

In 1986, I took a whirlwind tour of Europe with a group of other teenagers. About a week into our trip, our not-so-refined palates were craving some American fast food. In Venice, we were elated to see this canopy:

Wendy restuarant in Venice, Italy

When in Venice, eat as the American teens do. Wendy(‘s) of Venice, 1986.

Even though the ‘s was missing because the English-language possessive makes no sense in Italian, we instantly recognized the lettering. The food was also comfortingly familiar. I was on another continent, but much of the food could have been from the Wendy’s just down the street from my family home in North Carolina.

That said, the menu board was in Italian, and there were some differences in the food that reflected Italian culinary flair. The burgers were also smaller than their American counterparts, perhaps to better match European serving sizes or to reflect supply costs.

Does your company’s content offer a similarly consistent experience that takes regional differences into account? In this global economy, distributing content in one language with little thought about delivery in other locales is usually a losing (and revenue-limiting) proposition. Merely translating words into another language is not enough, either. You also need to consider several issues, including:

  • Are images and colors culturally appropriate?
  • Does your content contain turns of phrase that are region-specific?
  • Can the formatting of your content handle text expansion from translation or a shift from a left-to-right language to a right-to-left language (or vice versa)?

My visit to the Venetian Wendy—without the ‘s, thank you very much—was an early lesson in adapting for different locales. A trip to Venetian fast-food outlets might give you some perspective, too. (Good luck with that expense report. I doubt “Alan Pringle told me to go to Venice” will cut it.)

“Have it your way”

I’ve already dated myself with the previous post about my teenage years, and I’m about to do it again with this ad:

“Have it your way” was a Burger King slogan for 40 years. As long as I can remember, the chain has promoted its ability to accommodate customers’ tweaks to menu items.

I’m no expert on fast-food workflows, but I’ll bet Burger King has done all sorts of studies on how to crank out the food quickly while fulfilling customers’ special requests. The chain has probably instituted specific processes based on those studies. Burger King knows it will lose business if it cannot correctly and quickly prepare customized food items.

Implementing intelligent content can help you deliver customized information to your customers—even more quickly than Burger King can put extra ketchup on your Whopper.

Suppose your company sells multiple models of the same item. Some features are consistent across all models, but other features are specific to particular versions. With intelligent content in place, you could create a web portal or app through which customers specify the model they own, what accessories they have, and so on, to generate instant custom content. It takes a lot of planning and work to set up systems that deliver on-the-fly custom information, but it is possible—and some companies are doing it now.

In addition to customizing the content itself, you also need to consider how information is displayed on phones, tablets, computers, and who knows what devices in the future. If your content doesn’t display well on differently sized screens, you aren’t letting customers have it their way. (I’m as displeased about reading a big PDF on my phone as I am about a restaurant that won’t hold the mayo on a burger. Blech.)

Any other “special sauce” lessons you’ve applied to your content strategy? Leave your thoughts in the comments.