In my interactions with clients through various projects and consulting work, the topic of Content As a Service invariably comes up. As a concept, CaaS is not new – yet I’ve observed that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about its application, enablement, and the technologies that can be employed for its implementation.
First, a short history lesson
Content creation services have existed for many years and have seen many successful implementations. Movie and television content was highly variable until the eighties, when the industry agreed to standardize the inputs. By introducing basic standards in content management, the task of assembling a TV Guide was greatly simplified and much more accurate.
Fast-forward decades into the future, and those same descriptions are used for the entire range of screen-based media on the market today – and will have myriad other applications yet to be discovered. All consumers can count on basic attributes enabling their devices to format the content appropriately, as needed.
So why is content not all “as a service” today?
With the advent of website content came ever-more complex and exciting media to work with. As web tools, browsers, and software matured, creators gained the ability to craft richer – and more specific – experiences. At this point, a structured content schema like the TV Guide was too clunky of a solution, and put little control in the hands of the original creator.
As modern Content Management Systems (CMS/WCM) emerged, What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editors offered fine-tuned controls over layout, format, color and all other aspects of content. Content creation became less templated and more variable so that each experience could be unique. Most user experiences were on a constrained set of devices, browsers, and layouts, so handling these situations was not too burdensome. In addition, the tools continued to make content creation a breeze, so occasionally using polyfills on some browser condition was a small task.
Managing variations: the omni-channel explosion
Technology continued to mature, and so did the channels for content. Suddenly, creators who had been incentivized to make pixel-perfect desktop experiences faced a dilemma – make dozens of layouts to accommodate the most common devices and software, or leave many devices without support at all? In reality, testing content across all channels is simply not feasible.
This dilemma can be described as limitless variety – the most obvious type of variety is screen layout and browser, but these variations are just the beginning. Maybe the message has to be delivered to a call center representative through a terminal, or to a kiosk that only supports plain text. With increased personalization requirements may also come a variety of personas that need supporting. Content will increasingly be written for conversion purposes, where interaction behaviors will create variations of the message. For instance, you have responded to a campaign email, so you’ll receive a different message than the one directed at a user coming from a Google search.
A classic solution to a new problem
All these content creation demands are causing marketing organizations to reevaluate content structuring and delivering standard services. Getting back to the basic principles of content standardization, the first consideration is separating the copy and visual assets from the layout. In addition, metadata is key to annotate elements, so that system consumers can readily identify the purpose. Also, creators have to organize content in small atomic elements. They still need to be semantic and purpose complete, but not monolithic.
Here, we introduce a paradigm shift back towards simplification. Embedded or tightly-coupled styles greatly impair reuse and introduce content “handling” situations for downstream content syndication – which presents a transformation opportunity for the entire marketing organization.
This approach will not work in siloed workplaces – that is, where a web team makes webpages, marketing automation produces emails, and a design team creates graphics for each organization, all against different creative briefs. Instead, copy and graphics are created against a single brief in a scalable, organized fashion. The web orchestration and marketing automation teams orchestrate omni-channel layout templates to deliver the message. While this process requires a great deal of planning, organization, and coordination at the start, it assures that all content meets broad usage requirements and can easily be adapted as delivery needs evolve over time.
Addressing personas for people-based marketing
Now that content is ubiquitous across channels, atomic for purpose, and annotated with metadata, the marketing organization is well-prepared to embark on a people-based marketing approach.
An atomic content element now would need a specific variation. The message is the same, and the desired action is likely the same, but the variation needs a more persuasive twist. Maybe images with females work better for a CTA if the visitor is female. Maybe for UK visitors, the government building shown on the header should not be the Lincoln Memorial. Maybe the discount value is different in California than in New York. These variations can – and should – be managed in the CaaS architecture. The consuming system just sends the conditions, and CaaS responds accordingly. When new conditions are added, new variations can be created, while legacy variations are unaffected.
Coming up next: your CaaS roadmap
Now you know the history and concepts behind Content as a Service. In CaaS 102, I’ll assemble these concepts into a workable roadmap, and define the proper technology enablement to be successful.