Throughout the years there have been quite a few changes to the tools and standards being used within the TechComm industry. For about 25 years or so, I have been able to witness the growth of some of the most effective methods available to create, manage and publish content. For a long time, content was often viewed as an afterthought to product development when sales heavily relied on a salesperson’s ability to position a product as an asset.
Today, the case is very much the opposite. We are in an age where marketing has leached into every facet of content consumption. So, a growing number of people use product content in place of a traditional salesperson, with the hope that they can take back some control of the buying process. People don’t want to be told what and when to buy, however, they still need the information because the desire to purchase the product is still there.
With this in mind, companies like Adobe have created tools like FrameMaker and Adobe Experience Manager that help make all aspects of content delivery a key component of a company’s overall business strategy. So, why weren’t companies treating content as an asset from the beginning? The answer is the explosion of e-commerce.
During the tech and Internet boom of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, there was only one way to shop online—on a desktop browser. So, by default, the demand for delivery of dynamic content to multiple devices wasn’t quite necessary yet. Throughout the early stages of the growth of online purchasing, it was still not understood that the proper content is key to winning an online sale because retail was still thriving and was considered the number one way to purchase goods. It wasn’t until new devices were created with multiple access points, and rapid growth of online shopping awareness occurred that everyone realized how valuable the product content could be.
The concept that content is key was always kicking around but was never as obvious as in 2014 when the idea came to life after a presentation I gave at The LavaCon Conference. I was in my second year with Acrolinx, an AI-based linguistics software company that focuses on quality content. There was an immediate realization that we are in a transition phase when it comes to content. We are rapidly shying away from traditional purchasing methods and adopting this new ideology, so we need to hold the supporting content in a higher regard than ever before, or the whole ideology fails. This piece of the overall bigger picture is what led me to start The Content Era.
As I grew out the business, I took the necessary steps to incorporate this ideology into what I already knew about TechComm and the direction the tools and standards were going in. What we realized was that we could take the same tools and standards we used in technical product content and apply it to multiple departmental content “silos.” That would include engineering, marketing, R&D, help center, etc. Departments that never used to communicate in the past but now have crossed lines to deliver a more inclusive content experience for the customers that want access to spec sheets, compatibility information, reviews, diagrams and more. The goal was that you could break things into smaller, interchangeable chunks with a structure based off custom templates and are centralized and managed to increase ease of access and publish more rapidly with little to no downtime across all content sources.
We’ve achieved this goal many times, but one of the most notable was one of our telecommunications based customers that manages content across a globally distributed team. We were able to quickly develop the tools and processes required for converting their complex content to XML, with very little manipulation of the source content. We customized the processes and tools based on their unique template and documentation and—leveraging our extensive knowledge of FrameMaker—we were able to offer them the flexibility to avoid prohibitive requirements that took writers away from their primary goals of delivering new content. We then trained them to be self-sufficient enough to apply their own knowledge and concepts to improve their content workflow even more. No matter the source content, we figured out how to keep their content workflow moving forward while simultaneously updating their legacy content.
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Product and support content is the driver behind the success of selling goods online. Without the right content and strategy to guide it, there’s no way to ensure you are answering a customer’s questions pertaining to your products. For the sake of competition and progressing through the transition phase we are in, we must pay careful attention to not just the information itself but the vehicle in which it is delivered, the timing, the flexibility of the publishing architecture, and finally, on what device it is consumed by the customer. The content landscape will continue to change as time goes on, so it is important to have a flexible, adaptable content strategy that includes standards and tools like DITA XML in FrameMaker to stay ahead of the curve.
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