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The quest for content quality , Part 2

Managing the message from a total quality perspective Then in even smaller font: Part 2

By Bob Schmonsees

Part 1 (published in the September issue) of this two-part series discussed the need for more effective business content, and how companies should begin to develop some of their content with the same quality focus they give their products and services. It also reviewed the state of the enterprise content management (ECM) market and how supporting total quality content (TQC) is a natural extension of the current value proposition that could accelerate the industry’s growth rate.

The first installment also suggested a simple way to measure content quality and effectiveness, and introduced a new strategic business practice for marketing and sales organizations called message management. Message management is a systematic way to implement a total quality program throughout the content life cycle, and it could become a “killer app” for ECM, because of the impact it has on a company’s sales results.

Now, Part 2 explores the practice of message management in greater detail and puts some flesh on the strategies, processes and technologies that will make the TQC vision a reality. It also identifies some of the risks the ECM industry faces if it continues to ignore this important issue. The practice of message management will evolve over time as the TQC concept becomes mainstream; the industry embraces the vision; and companies experiment with new ideas, new processes and new technologies.

Message management is to marketing and sales organizations what total quality manufacturing is to the manufacturing sector. It enables companies to improve content effectiveness through a life cycle content management strategy that combines quality processes and best practices that are supported by modern content management technology.

Like TQM, message management impacts both the top and the bottom line. Improving the quality and effectiveness of marketing materials and sales intelligence increases strategic advantage along with short-term revenue. Additionally, the processes that drive content quality can also reduce the cost of content development and maintenance.

Message management focuses on improving the value of the message, the quality of the writing and the impact of the delivery experience. Three building blocks enable this improvement:

  • a set of five strategic principles that drive content quality and effectiveness,;

  • a structured content planning and message development process, and;

  • an implementation process that leverages the five strategic principles. ;

Five strategic principles

1. Adopt a 360-degree view.

Companies should manage all of their marketing and sales content in a coordinated fashion. That includes “public content” for prospects and customers and “private content” for the sales and partner channels. In most companies, those two categories are managed independently in a stovepipe fashion, resulting in significant duplication and inconsistencies.

In addition to the public and private stovepipes, marketing and sales content is typically produced and managed in a reactionary and fragmented manner, not as part of a well thought out plan. A vocal salesperson corners a product manager at an office party, and all of a sudden a new set of collateral for that product (which may not reflect the company’s strategic direction) is being created. Or, a sales executive sees a salesperson mishandle an objection or miss an opportunity to lay a trap for the competition, and the next day a new sales training manual becomes a high priority. That reactionary and spontaneous approach to creating content is expensive, and it increases duplication and inconsistencies.

Taking a 360-degree view means managing public and private content, including content contained in enterprise systems like CRM, in a coordinated and systematic fashion. That can best be accomplished with a modern content management system that integrates with other enterprise software, and provides the workflow to rationally manage volatility.

2. Less is more.

Simplifying the message is the Holy Grail of marketing and sales organizations, and message management promotes simplification through a structured approach to content development combined with a less-is-more philosophy. That goes against today’s bigger-is-better culture, which results in products with more features than we can ever use, super-sized meals, teachers who grade term papers based on their volume and information overload.

Instead, message management puts a premium on textual efficiency and managing content in smaller, more logical chunks for more effective electronic delivery. Let's face it, a lot of people don’t like to read any way, and computer screens make reading and absorbing information even more difficult.

A less-is-more philosophy helps companies simplify their message, and systematically reduce the overall amount of marketing and sales content they produce. Combined with a 360-degree view, it results in fewer documents, Web pages and words, and less duplication and inconsistency.

3. Transfer knowledge . . . don’t just disseminate information.

The more you educate a person, the more you influence their thinking and behavior. To be effective, marketing and sales content needs to engage readers and provide them with a productive learning experience. Marketing and sales organizations must understand that they are in the knowledge transfer business, and that they don’t just disseminate information. They must approach content development and delivery as a critical knowledge transfer function with the objective being how well the reader comprehends and retains the information.

The knowledge transfer perspective is closely aligned to a less-is-more philosophy, and it has profound implications on the way content is created and delivered, and how marketing and sales organizations gather and share sales intelligence.

4. Increase channel value.

Sales channels are expensive, and they are most effective when they are well informed, passionate about their offering and provide tangible value to their prospects and customers. With the disintermediation of much of the face-to-face contact during the sales cycle, companies need to ensure that the channels are one step ahead of the market, saying the right things at the right time, and adding value in the customer’s eyes. That can be accomplished through more effective sharing of sales intelligence and best practices, Web-based sales coaching systems and content customization tools that leverage the channels’ personal interactions and increase their value and professionalism in the eyes of prospects and customers.

5. Continuously improve the content.

Message management is a continuous improvement strategy that reflects the realities of today’s fast-changing marketplaces and a shortened message shelf life. Keeping content current and relevant has a significant impact on overall marketing and sales effectiveness. With a less-is-more philosophy, review cycles, and effective measurement and feedback systems, keeping content up to date and relevant can easily be accomplished.

The content planning & messaging process

The first two steps in a message management initiative are developing a comprehensive content plan that defines an integrated content framework (ICF), and establishing a formal positioning and message development process that generates a central positioning and message knowledgebase (PMKB).

The ICF identifies the various types of public and private content that the company will produce, and how they relate to each other and the sales process. It establishes broad development and update responsibilities, as well as priorities and a strategic direction for each type of content. The ICF should also contain a consistent structure for sharing sales intelligence on the market, competitors, prospect issues, qualifying techniques and other best selling practices.

The PMKB is a central knowledgebase containing the most current positioning, value propositions, and differentiation for the company and each product or service. Managing the messages centrally in a PMKB creates a resource for content developers that improves content quality and consistency, and it also helps everybody in the enterprise deliver the message more consistently.

The PMKB is the heart of the ICF, and it can start out as simply as a document or it can be implemented as an XML database. The database could eventually become the core of an enterprisewide marketing and sales content repository that integrates sales coaching with marketing collateral, dynamically generates personalized content, and provides the sales channels with robust content customization capability.

Message management implementation

Implementing the content plan and leveraging the five strategic principles is facilitated through a three-phase, closed-loop improvement process that is built around the integrated content framework. The simple model shown here also provides the ECM industry with a framework for organizing the technologies and best practices required to make the TQC vision a reality.

Integrated content framework

The centerpiece of a message management implementation is the ICF that was developed during the content planning process. While it is impossible to manage all marketing and sales content in a single physical database, the use of XML to implement the logical architecture of the ICF will enable a 360-degree view for content developers, IT professionals and users alike. XML also allows companies to manage content in smaller more logical chunks for more effective reuse, personalization, security, customization, globalization and measurement.

Almost all ECM vendors are increasing their support of XML, broadening their ability to deal with more complex content models, and enhancing their interfaces to other enterprise applications. In the future, they should all be able to support highly granular XML models to enable the integration of marketing collateral and sales intelligence in a single ICF that more accurately reflects the relationship between a company’s products and services, the customer needs, the competition and best sales practices.

Companies like Ventaso have already developed elaborate marketing and sales content models based on XML, and although most companies don’t need that level of sophistication, they should all begin learning how to leverage smaller chunks of content. A simple way to get started, for example, would be to manage all marketing, sales and customer service FAQs in an XML database with multiple views.

Creating better quality content Message management helps people create more effective marketing and sales content through a structured content development approach that leverages the positioning and message knowledgebase.

Several other techniques improve the content creation process, and more will be developed as message management and the TQC movement evolve. A few that can be implemented today include:

  • Encourage people to create content primarily for electronic distribution. That produces a natural pressure for brevity and reflects the strategic principle that less is more.;

  • Provide collaborative content development tools and templates for subject matter experts. Most ECM vendors provide simple content templates and some are embracing collaborative technologies. In the future, they should develop more robust "knowledge templates” that could leverage the structure of the PMKB.;

  • Use story-telling techniques, especially in capturing and sharing sales intelligence. Case studies and reference stories are some of the most effective marketing and sales content because they have the patina of legitimacy that other collateral lacks. That same sense of legitimacy can be applied to sales success stories and best selling practices. Marketing and sales effectiveness companies like Corporate Visions (corporatevisions.com) have been able to significantly increase sales performance by helping their clients become better storytellers.;

  • Train people in better writing skills. Writing for better knowledge transfer is not an art, and people can learn the skills and techniques to create more effective content. Information Mapping (infomap.com), for example, provides training in a methodology that significantly reduces writing, update and reading time, while it increases comprehension and retention rates.;

Improving the content delivery experience

As Pine and Gilmore conclude in their landmark book “The Experience Economy,” differentiation and value come from providing a more pleasing and memorable customer experience. From a message management perspective, that means creating a more engaging and productive knowledge transfer experience for prospects, customers and salespeople.

The content delivery experience can be enhanced through better Web site design, better taxonomies and site organization, improved searching, automatic categorization and traditional personalization technologies. There is a constantly evolving body of knowledge on those techniques and technologies, and some ECM vendors are aggressively incorporating them into their offerings.

The user experience can also be enhanced with what I call “active content” that:

  • enables more conversational interactions with structured information and;

  • provides users with more “outside-in” functionality.;

A lot of marketing and sales content is organized in a hierarchical fashion. If some of the content, like FAQs and feature lists, for example, were managed as XML objects, it could be delivered in a more interactive and conversational fashion using a hierarchical display metaphor like the folders system in Windows. That will result in a more 3-D Web page that would allow users to drill down while minimizing the loss of context that occurs with scrolling and page jumps.

Another way to make content more active is through outside-in functionality that helps users do various things with the content to leverage the concept that content is an asset. It complements the “inside-out" approach of personalization, where the software presumes it is smarter than the visitor about what content is relevant. Outside-in functionality gives the user more options to repurpose the content and personalize their experience. It also saves them time and effort, and reduces some of the frustrations of browsing the Web.

An example of outside-in functionality is a Web page that has a printer-friendly version, which enhances the user’s experience by making the content more attractive, reducing print time and saving paper. Companies like clickability have developed other outside-in capabilities, and that kind of user-friendly functionality will be commonplace as users demand a richer Web experience, and content is created and delivered in smaller, more logical chunks.

I stumbled upon the need for more outside-in functionality a few years ago when I funded the development of a prototype of a smarter knowledge gathering capability called eNotes, which allowed people to clip and organize small chunks of Web content in a “knowledge cart.” I couldn’t figure out a viable business model for eNotes and concluded that Microsoft and Netscape would eventually build a smarter, cut-and-paste functionality into their browsers. Instead of throwing the code away, however, I created “my-enotes.com” and allowed people to download the prototype for free just to see what would happen. There are now over 25,000 eNotes users, and I get a several e-mails every week from people who love the product.

Another way to leverage outside-in thinking to improve the delivery of content and, at the same time, leverage the sales channels, is to implement robust content customization tools that help salespeople quickly personalize marketing materials and correspondence for their prospects and customers. Providing simple customization functionality for creating better letters and e-mails, improving proposal generation and customizing white papers will leverage the content, reinforce the message and significantly increase the effectiveness of the sales channels.

Evaluate the content

Effective message management requires a systematic measurement and feedback system to continually gather input, update sales intelligence and better understand how prospects, customers and salespeople use the content. Feedback on sales intelligence is especially important, and requires not only discipline and management attention, but also reward and recognition systems that support a knowledge sharing culture.

As the industry begins to support more outside–in customization, the measurement of what users actually do with the content becomes possible. Outside-in actions like printing a page or sending it to a friend are much more telling than page hits, and are a clear indication that the user saw something of value. Clickability provides a suite of metrics on those and other actions, and if Microsoft and Netscape implement smarter cut-and-paste functionality like eNotes in their browsers, it would be interesting to know what content people valued enough to put in their knowledge cart, or which FAQs are being captured by users on a regular basis.


Message management has the potential to become the killer app for content management and to capitalize on the TQC opportunity the ECM industry needs to:

1. Broaden the ECM vision to include all marketing and sales content and all three stages of the content life cycle.

2. Make improving content quality and effectiveness a key part of the value proposition.

3. Create quality-focused user groups and conferences with tracks that focus on TQC.

4. Establish new partnerships with marketing and sales effectiveness companies and marketing agencies that help customers create content.

5. Enhance the current technology through partnerships and new development to:

  • actively support more granular and logical applications of XML so a 360-degree view can become a reality, ;

  • leverage their customer’s best practices with new workflow functionality, ;

  • include better content authoring wizards and knowledge templates that reinforce more effective writing techniques,;

  • support more active content, and offer more outside-in customization functionality, and;

  • provide improved measurement and feedback systems.;

The ECM vendors could miss this market opportunity, however, if one of the CRM powerhouses like Siebel or Oracle Oracle makes message management the next logical step in its marketing and sales effectiveness strategy. They already have access to the CEO and marketing and sales executives; all they need to do to grab the initiative is to acquire a small content management vendor and wrap the concept of TQC into their sales pitch.

However, the ECM vendors are best positioned to exploit the TQC vision from a product and technology perspective, because of their inherent process and workflow orientation and the fact that the need to improve quality and effectiveness extends beyond marketing and sales content. More effective content is good for everybody, and it is now time for industry analysts and customers to start asking the ECM vendors to define their strategy for TQC. The first major vendor that climbs on this bandwagon has the potential to change the game and become the gorilla in the ECM marketplace.

Bob Schmonsees is a former CEO who helps companies improve their marketing and sales effectiveness, e-mail bobs@web2one.com.

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