Proving the Value of Multichannel Publishing

May 13, 2014

May 2014 Issue

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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

As a thought leader in the content industry, I'm provided with many opportunities to wax poetic on the virtues of starting a content project with a strategy. From conferences, to webinars, to columns in magazines such as this one, I've spent the past decade evangelizing the methods, standards, and tools required to help organizations efficiently and effectively deliver the right content to the right audience, anywhere, anytime, on any device.

That last part-the right content to the right audience, anywhere, anytime, on any device-seems to be something all organizations claim to be their goal. After all, who wants to deliver the wrong content to the wrong audience? And yet, few organizations have spent the time needed to plan out an efficient and effective content production process that will allow them to accomplish their goals quickly and without unnecessary expense. Why is that?

Part of the problem is that humans-as creative and thoughtful as we sometimes can be-are prone to be averse to change. Many of us do not like change. We avoid it, discourage it, and run from it.

But change doesn't happen without instigation. Great leaders know this. They don't just manage business as usual. They plot the course for the future. They disrupt the status quo. They look for ways to drive their businesses toward success. They create hyperefficient, hypereffective organizations that run like factories. They see what I see: Old school content production methods are inefficient, wasteful, error-prone, and one of the biggest opportunities for improvement.

Creating lasting change often starts with providing an aha moment; according to Webster's, this is "a sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension." One of the best ways to foster an aha moment is to provide a fitting example. That's why Rahel Anne Bailie and I asked 50 content strategy experts to help us create a content marketing project that would illustrate the benefits of understanding advanced information management principles, approaches, standards, and technologies.

We dubbed our example The Language of Content Strategy, a multichannel publishing pilot project that serves as a real-world illustration of what's possible when you rethink the way we create, manage, and deliver content. Our pilot serves as an example of how to create a print book, an ebook, a companion web book, printed learning aids (in this case, terminology flash cards), and other outputs from a single source of content without significant human intervention.

While this project is super slick-we push content from a XML-based wiki to print, to EPUB, to HTML, and to Adobe's InDesign, automatically-it's important to note that we didn't invent anything new. In fact, we used existing techniques, content standards, and publishing technologies to accomplish our goal.

We started with a strategy. Our aim was to create an example that we could use as a case study-something that would clearly illustrate the value of creating content once and pushing it to multiple outputs. We wanted a project that would excite content marketers, inform content strategists, and leverage the years of knowledge shared by content engineers. And we wanted to do it as inexpensively as possible.

For instance, in our pilot we used a low cost, web-based authoring tool that included some content management and publishing features. We paid small stipends to an editor, an indexer, and a graphic designer in exchange for their special skills. Everyone else donated their time and content in exchange for being included in the book and its byproduct deliverables.

Is this the right approach for your organization? Probably not. If you work for a company with resources-people, a budget, and technology-and if you have a lot more content than our book of 52 terms, 52 definitions, and 52 essay from 52 experts, you'll likely need more robust technology. But if you look to our pilot as proof of what's possible, you'll see that it's no longer correct to say, "No one is really doing this." We are-and you can too.

I'll be sharing our story-"Content Marketing Meets Intelligent Content Engineering: The Making of The Language of Content Strategy"-including at Content Marketing World this fall in Cleveland. And I expect you'll see several case studies written about our approach in magazines such as this one. Stay tuned.