In this interview which accompanies my other posts on trends and predictions for 2010, I interview Ian Truscott, Vice-President of Web Content Management at Alterian.
My interview explores trends in content management and practical ideas for improving engagement - I liked Ian's reference to the concept of "Smart content" - much content on corporate sites still doesn't have the context of categories and tags commonly used in blogs.
You can also read Ian's views on trends in engagement through content on the Engaging Times blog where Ian and other Alterian bloggers share their views on emerging trends on content management.
Marketing trends influencing content
Q1. Ian, what do you see as the broader trends in marketing today which affect the needs marketers have for managing content?
[Ian Truscott, Alterian] In the midst of a digital revolution, we are also seeing a revolution in marketing as we wave goodbye to mass push marketing, and welcome in targeted engagement where the individual customer is the focal part of any marketing campaign.
Company websites have become the windows into the business' soul - they represent us, who we are and what we stand for. The benefit is that they can reach thousands of people every day, regardless of location and without the need for physical interaction. The downside to this is that without physical contact you cannot rely on personal connections and so only have a very small window of opportunity to impress the visitor, not just to enter your site but to follow through and make a purchase. You can't afford to simply offer the information on a plate and expect people to come, you need your website to communicate, persuade, educate and, most of all, engage the visitor. This is where marketers and Web Content Management technology needs to deliver.
Creating a simple yet functional website, coupled with the right technology to understand and analyse your visitors is the key to delivering an effective marketing tool. But there are two pillars to this - like any other communication platform you need to know a.) what you're intending to communicate and b.) to whom. Producing engaging content on your site is a cycle - it's about understanding your objectives and audience and then converting that understanding into actionable insights so you can engage on an individual level.
Components of engagement strategy
Q2: What do you think are the key components of a marketing engagement strategy?
[Ian Truscott, Alterian] An organisation's digital engagement or online marketing strategy is about connecting your audience through compelling, relevant, engaging and persuasive content.
That connection is made through traditional offline and online marketing (pay per click, social media and SEO) - but the industry is recognizing that marketers need to leverage the most out of that investment - it isn't just about the number of hits, of being popular, it's about meeting engagement and marketing objectives.
A visitor to your site is your opportunity to persuade, educate or communicate with your audience and unlike any other marketing channel they have given their consent for you to do that and are fully engaged - they came to you.
That's the good news, the bad news is that regardless of the investment you have put into bringing the visitor to your site, that opportunity is brief - as their cursor hovers over the back button ready to take them to the thousands of Google search results that are eager to offer the same information, product or service.
The key is to maintain that initial engagement is to create your site in response to those who visit it - or those you want to visit it - what they need and where they have come from. This requires an understanding of your audience and well understood, fresh, persuasive, relevant content that you can present to them.
This audience insight gives purpose to your site and helps predict future visitor activity - their preferences and the kind of content you need to create in order to connect with them
Creating this content, requires us to think about who our visitor wants to speak to in our organisation - it may not be sales and marketing and it's certainly not the IT geeks that look after the site. Your visitor may want technical specifications from one of your engineers or an example of how another customer used this product.
You may also find that you need to adapt the style and tone of your content, for example, to speak to them in their own informal style, include their thoughts and comments in your future strategy, create a more interactive site or simply make it a lively, creative hub that will stimulate the consumer.
[Editors note: this approach looks at short-term engagement, remember longer-term psychological, emotional and physical are important part of the definition of customer engagement.]
Requirements of engaging content
Q3: How has content changed with the digital revolution?
[Ian Truscott, Alterian] As people have begun to consume content from a variety of sources, through social media, blogs and discussion forums, they have become used to a more informal content style, with two way dialogue, rather than the 'official' one way voice of sales and marketing.
The challenge for organisations is now not only about publishing content that adheres to brand guidelines, corporate governance, licensing and accessibility standards; it is also about providing the relevant content in the appropriate style for your consumer. You need to ensure that the content is understood and that you can link the content with the interest of the visitor.
In addition in this era of social media - organisations need to figure out how to leverage the content assets that their own audience are creating around their products and services and how to reach and encourage these communities. We need to think about our websites as not the exclusive destination for content.
Practical steps for customer engagement
Q4: Please give some tips on what marketers need to put in place for a successful engagement process?
[Ian Truscott, Alterian] Your visitor's experience needs to be relevant to the reason they came to your site and it needs to be immediately engaging, and this requires three things:
As mentioned, the first is an understanding of the audience, using the information that the visitor is telling you - the search terms they have used, what they have clicked on so far - learning from past behaviour on the site and utilizing all of the back office information you have on your audience. Social media sites and the wealth of information now stored online is also hugely valuable and can be tracked and broken down for analysis via a social media monitoring tool.
The second is a library of well understood content. A library that is built by knowledge workers in an organisation, the folks your audience want to connect with and not just sales and marketing.
It must therefore be accessible for business users to contribute and must be easy to use. It must be well understood with metadata tagging and taxonomy structures so that when a visitor comes looking for something you can programmatically find and display the right, relevant content.
Gilbane refers to well understood content as 'smart content':
"When you add meaning to content you make it "smart" enough for computers to do some interesting things. Organizing, searching, processing, and discovery are greatly improved, which also increases the value of the data."
The third is a delivery platform that can dynamically present your audience with personalised messaging across multiple digital channels.
Web content management options
Q5: How do WCM technologies fit into this?
[Ian Truscott, Alterian] The last two points above about content and a multi channel delivery platform are where good Content Management Systems (CMS) or Web Content Management (WCM) systems play a role; democratising the contribution of content to the broader business user, managing and understanding the content asset and dynamically delivering those assets.
Early generation CMS/WCM systems were IT, agency or web specialist tools, an enabling technology liberating them from the mundane of converting copy to HTML, of structuring and organizing content.
Today, in order to web engagement challenge, managing web content is increasingly being seen as no longer the sole domain of the techies, new WCM technologies marketers themselves can now deliver differentiation to their organisation's digital engagement strategy and online services.