Stefan Blondé, Blondé nv

Excelling in one area rather than being all things to all people. 2012 will be a year for agile businesses to focus on their unique niches and position themselves as the definitive source for information, products, and services related to the specific places in the markets where they operate.

Definition of Liquid Content

Liquid content is next generation information, no longer comprised of static information. Instead, content is tailored around each unique user, on the basis of real-time multidimensional profiling. The value of content is measured by how easy it is to use it. Liquidity of content is a concept that captures aspects of immediacy, flexibility, and pliability of content. The more liquid content is, the easier it is to reuse, access, edit and publish. Company-owned and in-company created content is available in a proprietary format that binds the content to a particular viewer, editor, or content owner. To be liquid means that content is freed to better serve customers and prospects in ways and via channels of their choice, fixed or mobile, interactive and live.

Trends in Content Management

With content management representing a real challenge for all organizations and their brand portfolios we see awareness growing that content needs to be managed. Content governance specifies that content created in the enterprise belongs to the enterprise as opposed to the person who created it. That content, as a result, needs to be findable and available. Moreover, that content will need to interact with content generated by users and communities outside the brand. A last highly visible trend shows that vendors are slowly moving away from the idea of building a single fix-it-all enterprise content management system to designing systems that will actually deal with business problems. The role of a service partner and a long-term engaging and quality-driven partnership becomes apparent.

Product Information at Your Fingertips

The internet and mobile channels are fundamentally changing how customers and prospects expect to find and engage with information: content related to a company’s products and services. Marketing organizations have already begun embracing these new media with personalized web experiences, video, and mobile apps. By contrast, technical documentation organizations have been more hesitant in responding to these changing expectations of customers and prospects. In fact, the expectations of customers and prospects have changed so fundamentally, that the notion of the traditional technical publication has altered completely. The technical publication is traditionally a static one-way deliverable that is managed, produced, printed, and shipped as part of a new product introduction or thorough product update. This classical supply chain is no longer relevant for customer experiences today that are increasingly shaped by the internet, mobile channels, as well as social media. Customers, and even prospects, expect to rapidly find just the right information, at the right time, where relevant, even personalized at their fingertips via the web or mobile device. They expect that information to be tailored to their questions, visually presented, and they expect their interaction with that information to be two-way. Organizations that are mindful of these changes in customer expectations are responding strategically, by moving to a notion of product content that is dynamic, interactive, and personalized. Such content can best be described as “liquid.”

Product-related information is critical at most stages of a customer’s journey. Prospects (both business-to-business and business-to-consumer) want information about a product when comparing and buying products. Once a product is purchased, technical documentation is required to learn how to initially use the product. If the customer has difficulty using the product or the product is not working properly, the customer may need technical documentation for support during the post-sales process. To provide an outstanding experience for their customer, a company must provide quick access to relevant, up-to-date technical information in compelling forms. By doing so, companies can increase revenues, improve out-of-box experience, increase self-service, drive down call center calls, and ultimately increase repeat buying and word-of-mouth recommendations.

Business Case Components

Mastering liquid content is realized through structuring content referring to information or content that has been broken down and classified using metadata based on standard or proprietary forms of metadata. However the investment in structuring content is likely to be much greater than the direct costs for a component content publishing system, including the software licenses and the hardware infrastructure needed in IT to support the new software. Yet, total cost of ownership (TCO) must also include indirect costs for retraining workers to write stand-alone topics using new editing tools as well as change management costs. To make the business case for structuring content, we must align the many advantages of structured content with specific needs in a business or organization. Structured content has many distinct advantages like modularity, single-sourcing, content reuse, multiple delivery formats and channels, and it facilitates translation dramatically. The new DITA structured content standard also adds benefits like topic-based authoring, conditional processing, task-orientation, component publishing, information typing, minimalism, inheritance, specialization, and simplified XML. Structured content also has some significant indirect costs that should figure in ROI calculations. Writers have to adapt their writing style and you may need specialized copy to attend to a number of content needs. What follows are a number of identifiable tangible and intangible benefits of structured content:

Modularity: think of your content creation as an assembly -ine operation. Large content structures are built from modular components. Personalization of content, for example, requires a modular design. The payoff is that individual modules are easy to maintain.

Single-source: when you have one source for each piece of content, owners are able to change it in one place and have the change propagate everywhere. A product name or feature change becomes much more manageable. Business-critical marketing messages are standardized everywhere. Some call single source a “single source of truth” because brands are assured that their customers are not getting mixed messages that can confuse them, reduce sales, and increase the need for technical support. The ROI on single-source publishing appears to be an intangible when planning a new system; the ability to make rapid changes in critical content has obvious marketing and sales advantages.

Reuse: the cost savings associated with reuse of content increases greatly when content goes through a workflow with distinct review and approval stages. Content that is reused generally can avoid all or most of the extra steps in the workflow that involve accuracy of content. The need for design approval of the in-context appearance of the reused content will remain. Partial reuse is when much of the content remains the same in a product life cycle change. In these days of shorter and shorter product release cycles, partial reuse can save not only money but also the time needed for production of the revised materials.

Multiple output formats and delivery channels: assessing the value of multiple formats should be straightforward and is increasingly easy since content print no longer takes center stage. But for average businesses with a web presence and a good deal of print content, structured standards like DITA will be a plus and provide the benefit of preparing online materials by reusing existing content and easily adapting content for mobile delivery.

Translation: the biggest return on investment from structured reusable content comes from translation savings, especially important for global brands competing in today’s global marketplace. With a translation management system, companies can develop a much more sophisticated estimate of costs and cost savings. For more accurate estimates of the fraction of content that can be reused, a translation management system includes a tool to calculate simple repetition of words. These words may only need to be translated once yet create a cost-effective translation memory for customers or even an entire market segment or industry.

Serving the Liquid Customer: Leverage content to deliver service

But in the end, the business case comes down to the consumer. Fluid consumers today use non-linear decision making when purchasing and using products. Users purchase a product or service by assessing multiple channels such as web, company web site, mobile, store, call center, or social media information. Access is usually monitored by call centers or company websites., Sharing is done through the company web site and social media.

But how can you use content to better serve your customers/improve your productivity? A few facts:

  • User-generated content: users are creating their own documentation whether you want them to or not.
  • Video documentation: user expectations are changing with regard to “how to” instruction video formats. Interaction and sharing are winning over the static one-to-many broadcast model that has been in use for many years.
  • Social networks and network effects: users share with one another in uncensored online communities.
  • Findability: web 2.0 makes finding relevant content easy; enhanced findability combined with personalized recommendations improves relevance.

Brave brands might embrace limiting publications to digital formats and producing publications for individual product configurations. But more importantly, web and social channels now enable organizations to investigate and measure how users consume and apply content so that the content and the channels provided can be continuously improved. When releasing documentation, writers must ensure that content matches specific user experiences or knowledge profiles and is tailored to individual region/language needs

Critical Success Factors for Liquid Content Development

  • Quick & easy access: content needs to be assembled on the fly, with improved search capabilities.
  • Targeted & tailored: content must respond to user profiles.
  • Up to date: updates should be easy and instant, because consumers want a self-service model.
  • Visually engaging: company-generated videos and User Generated Content go hand in hand.
  • Two-way interaction: customer feed-back helps to improve information and feed into product development teams.
  • Communities sharing knowledge: authorized and communal knowledge should be blended.
  • Enterprise-wide consistency: a “single source of truth” content model should be applied.
  • Easy collaboration: knowledge sharing and collaboration makes for more capable users and improves customer relationship management.
  • Revenue opportunities: a customer question always represents an upsell opportunity, blurring the boundary between pre- and post sales engagement.