Connecting the XML and web CMS mindsets
Good news: The technical problem of integrating marketing and technical content has been solved.
Bad news: The hard work is just starting.
The design-focused marcom perspective and the structure-focused techcomm perspective need to co-exist and co-create.
For online content, technical content and marketing content have typically used two different publishing stacks. Marketing content uses a web CMS of some sort. The emphasis is on creating the best possible experience for the site visitors, so that the visitor will buy the product or at least think kindly of the organization.
Technical content has a different publishing stack, which is normally built for efficiency. It emphasizes consistency, structure, scalability, and automated channel delivery.
But today, we have the ability to push technical content into the marketing delivery channels, such as the web CMS. Both Adobe and SDL let you integrate their web CMSs and their XML CMSs, and there are other possibilities. So now, the web CMS/marketing professionals are designing for technical content delivery. And there is friction at this interface.
Here’s some of what I’m seeing as a result.
Marketing operations are not accustomed to the sheer volume of content that is generated by the technical content group. The marketing group is accustomed to reviewing pages and making exceptions to address formatting issues (“this chunk of text is longer than expected, so let’s tweak the design for this page”). This approach is impossible when you are updating thousands or tens of thousands of pages every month. The exceptions either fall by the wayside or need to be baked into the content authoring process.
It’s still common practice to have hard-coded formatting (“make this red” or “indent 5 pixels”) embedded in web pages. Again, for high volumes of content, you need an alternative. We usually recommend identifying formatting requirements with meaningful tags, such as “important” instead of “red” or “quotation” instead of “indent more.” Templates and frameworks are helpful when you’re managing hundreds of pages. For content operations with throughput requirements of thousands or tens of thousands of pages per year, they are necessary.
To enable meaningful personalization, we need labels. The classic example is beginner, intermediate, and advanced flags for the target audience. Based on these flags and user profiles, a website could deliver different chunks of information to different people. To enable personalization at scale, the content must be authored with metadata: the target audience, the software version, export restrictions, and so on. The delivery platform can then combine the metadata with user profiles to determine what information to deliver to which user.
Techcomm groups are accustomed to basic single-sourcing—usually with a requirement to deliver print/PDF and also web/HTML content. The workflows are often print-driven. Print deliverables predate the web and are required for some regulated products, so web delivery is a bit of an afterthought. Scriptorium is still doing significant work with organizations that are moving content to the web for the first time. Marketing groups tend to emphasize web content delivery and treat print as an afterthought. Bringing those perspectives into alignment is challenging even before we start thinking about other delivery channels—social media, email, embedded help, chatbots, voice, and so on.
Based on our experience in the past few years, we’ve identified some basic best practices that apply to all of the content groups:
- Omnichannel content efforts require new design perspectives.
- Templates and frameworks are necessary to deliver content at scale.
- Languages are not just another delivery channel. Your localization strategy needs to address content authoring, terminology, and culture and regulatory differences.
If you are looking for help in integrating marketing and technical content operations, Scriptorium can help. Contact us today to find out more.