Saturday, June 3, 2017

Creating a Unified Experience - Meet the Content Fabric!

Recently I have had reason to look closely at how content flows, user experience and the e-Commerce market are related, and I noticed some things that I thought were worth pointing out and highlighting in a blog post. These connections were triggered by a post I saw on Content Fabric by Anna Schlegel.

The demands of the digital landscape and the 21st-century digital audience are challenging and some might say unforgiving for a modern global enterprise. Generally, no internet user is searching the web hoping to find a corporate advertisement and hear about how great your products are in standard corporate and marketing-speak product overviews. Most of the time, the random user on the web is not searching for you or for your company. More than likely, they are searching for an answer to a question. If you can provide a useful answer, they may spend more time and look more closely at your website, social presence, and other content. If  you can help them understand, and educate them on the general subject domain, not just your product related subject matter, they may even begin to trust you and your communications, and if you can provide a good customer experience after they buy your product, they may even advocate using your products.

"Retail guys are going to go out of business and ecommerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice," he says. "We're still pre-death of retail, and we're already seeing a huge wave of growth. The best in class are going to get better and better. We view this as a long term opportunity.“                                                                                                                                                                                                              - Marc Andreessen, 2013

The evidence from retail store closings supports the statement above. Companies that provide mediocre retail experiences are certainly endangered.  Source: via CB Insights

According to research from Gartner, more than 90% of organizations don't have a formal content strategy in place to ensure the content they produce is easy to find and access, and consistent across different customer touch points. As a result, the customer journey is riddled with inconsistent experiences and is often frustrating or confusing. Content Marketing Institute reported that 76 percent of B2C organizations use content marketing, but only 38 percent said they do so effectively. And 57 percent of B2C marketers aren't sure what successful content marketing even looks like. 

For an e-commerce site having the right content is a critical necessity since the web site is the store. Good content marketing strategies have 3 clear benefits, 1)They help generate leads, 2) They help educate the customer, and, 3) They help to build relationships. With helpful, quality content, you can enhance the customer experience and this enhanced experience is essential for building strong relationships.

There is a relationship between content strategy, e-commerce and MT, as much of this new content that enhances the customer experience is constantly changing, and there is great value in making it multilingual to enable engagement with a broader global customer base. The e-commerce revolution is much deeper than Amazon, eBay and Alibaba. Even the retail dominance of giants like Procter & Gamble are being challenged  by e-commerce startups as the chart from CB Insights below shows.

This is a long preamble on why content matters and why it must flow, and an introduction to a guest post by Anna Schlegel (Sr. Director, Globalization & Information Engineering, NetApp) who I think produces great content on best practices in content strategy 😊😊😊. For those who think that this requirement is only a B2C issue, should  take a look at the latest "State of the Internet" presentation by Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins, who points out that B2B customers are also increasingly expecting the same kind of buyer journey that is packed with the right kind of  information when needed to educate and enhance the customer experience. What is the digital “buyer journey”? The online self-service movement from product discovery to purchase decision to product delivery to after-sales service. Anna is evidence of this already being a requirement in the B2B world.


The interest in customer experience presents an opportunity for enterprise content strategists. Ultimately, the challenge is in execution – once you raise awareness of the importance of content synchronization, you are expected to deliver on your promises. You must figure out how to deliver information that fits smoothly into the entire customer experience.

 You need a customer experience that does not reproduce your organization’s internal structure. Customers need relevant, usable, and timely information – they don’t care that the video was developed by tech support and the how-to document by tech pubs. When customers search your website, they want all relevant results, not just documents from a specific department. Furthermore, they assume you will use consistent terminology and will provide content in their preferred language. To meet these expectations, you need a unified content strategy.

 At NetApp, the Information Engineering team uses the term Content Fabric to describe this approach. In the Content Fabric, customers get seamless delivery of the right information based on their needs. Multiple departments are involved in creating and delivering content. The processes are complex, but customers only see the end result. The Content Fabric aims to deliver information for each customer at the point of need.

Weaving A Content Fabric 

To deliver a content fabric, you need the following key features:
  • Search across all content sources
  • Content in appropriate format(s)
  • Content in appropriate languages
Each of these requirements expands into significant implementation challenges. To provide search across all content sources, for example, you have to solve the following issues:
  • Provide search across more than a single deliverable (such as a PDF file)
  • Provide search across all deliverables, from one department for one product, from all sources for one product, and from all sources for all products
  • Align product classification schemes, terminology, and content localization across the organization
 Several teams typically share responsibility for content development and delivery. Each group has a different perspective on information, a different tool set, and a different set of expectations from their content creators. But somehow, you have to ensure that their content works in the big picture.

Unifying Content Organizations Is Important

Delivering a seamless Content Fabric means that different organizations must deliver compatible information. There are two main options to achieve this goal:
  • Consolidate the content creators in a single organization
  • Ensure that diverse content creators use the same content standards
Consolidation makes sense for similar roles. For example, most organizations put the entire technical communication function in a single team. Technical support and marketing have important content to contribute, but their functions and priorities differ from those of tech comm. In this case, the sensible approach is to share content infrastructure, including the following:
  • Terminology and Style Guides. All content creators must use agreed-upon terminology to refer to the same thing. Everyone uses the same corporate style guide.
  • Taxonomy. The classification system for content is shared across the organization. For example, the organization defines a set of categories, such as product name, release number, and content type, that labels products and information.
  • Translation. Unified delivery extends across all supported languages.
  • Content Structure. A reference document always has the same structure, no matter who created it. Similarly, knowledge base articles always have the same structure across the organization.
  • Content Formatting. All company content looks related, and all content of a particular type matches.
  • Search. All website content is searchable through a single search interface.
  • Connected Content Development Systems. Move all content creators into a single content development environment, or at a minimum, loosely connect multiple systems to produce a consistent end result.


The Value of the Content Fabric

Why should organizations consider a Content Fabric like NetApp’s? After all, it’s challenging to have consistency in a single department, let alone half a dozen groups across a far-flung organization.
The value of the Content Fabrics is two-fold. First, you improve the customer experience. Instead of repeatedly transferring customers from one group to another, you provide the customer with a consistent, high-quality experience, all in a single location. Second, you improve the overall content development process with less content redundancy and a single set of content development standards. In manufacturing terms, you are reducing waste and improving your quality control.

First Steps Toward Your Own Content Fabric

To begin the move toward your own Content Fabric, start with some basic questions:
  • What information do you need to deliver, and where?
  • How is that information created, and by whom?
  • What standards are needed?
Once you understand the current environment, you can look at improving two major areas:
  • Content Development. Ensure that all content developers have the tools, technologies, and support they need to produce the right information.
  • Content Delivery. Ensure that information is presented to the customer in a unified interface.
With the Content Fabric, your customers will have a seamless experience, no matter how they access information. Start weaving your content together today!

Sr. Director, Globalization and Information Engineering

1 comment:

  1. This is great. I assume that content creators using agreed-upon terminology also applies to translation - a corporate translation glossary. Thank you!