Confab 2011 Interview: Rahel Bailie on Why Good Content is Good Business
In the run-up to Confab 2011, the CMS Myth asked a few questions of Rahel Bailie, founder of Intentional Design, whose talk on Tuesday, May 10, at 2 is “Good Products Deserve Good Content.” The interview is below.
You say that “harnessing the potential of product lifecycle content is good business. Can you explain?
Doing business has two aspects: the business activities that make money, the ROI, and the business activities that save money, the IRR. In this case, I’m talking about the IRR (internal rate of return). Always creating new content, good content, is time- and cost-prohibitive. But if you’re creating good content, and then leveraging that as much as possible, you’re using the full potential of those business assets. And that is good business. To amplify that statement even more, leveraging your content assets on the “other side” of the organization, where you can use the content to generate revenue is even better business.
What types of organizations and what types of content does this commonly apply to?
The principle applies to any organization that (a) needs to support customers through the customer lifecycle, and (b) does that with some form of content. Sales-side staff will think of traditional sales and marketing material as valuable content tools to make the sale, but what about when customers use post-sales material to make a sales decision? It happens all the time, and this is where they get disappointed. It’s like looking at the shiny red car in the showroom, but then changing your mind after you look under the hood. So any organization that has user assistance material – user manuals, help topics, training material, a knowledge center, and so on – is on the list.
How can an organization self-assess their current state and success? What should they be looking for?
If you’re an organization that has shiny marketing material and terrible “performance” (user assistance) material, there’s your sign. How you do this is through a content strategy process. A current-state assessment of content is done through an inventory and audit. It’s then benchmarked against business objectives, content standards, and other future-state criteria to determine the size of the gap. The criteria are situational; each organization has a slightly different take on what they need for their content to be “successful” but overall, it’s about the content supporting the organization’s business objectives.
What are the small (or big) steps a company to do to improve their current situation?
My suggestion is to triage. First, figure out your content lifecycle. Then, walk through the content to figure out what is high-value – and that does NOT mean marketing vs techcomm vs customer support – and improve that content within the framework of that lifecycle. Rinse, lather, repeat until you have all the high-value content covered. And then figure out what to do about the rest of the content. My guess is you’ll want to sort through it and either toss what now seems painfully inadequate and then bring what remains into line with the rest of the content.
Any concrete anecdotes that show how companies have better harnessed product lifecycle content, and the results?
In the same way that you only notice design when something doesn’t work, content that works isn’t noticed. It’s only the bad content that makes you cringe. So look at the organizations where you simply do what you went there to do, without noticing the content. Chances are they are doing it right. One group that comes to mind is eBay. They have tons of things that you need to in order to become a vendor, and to help users understand how to use the system efficiently. They’ve got a content strategy in place, and work diligently to improve the content that really matters to their users.
Rahel Anne Bailie. Integrator of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase ROI of product lifecycle content. Aficionado of content structure and standards. Founder of Intentional Design (www.intentionaldesign.ca), Fellow of STC (www.stc.org).