The Emerging Role of the Content Engineer for Customer Experience Management and Content Marketing

By Cruce Saunders, Founder of [A], author of Content Engineering for a Multi-Channel World .

The era of customer experience management (CEM) is well upon us. The customer is calling the shots and technical communicators are scrambling to deliver the goods across an expanding buffet of audiences, devices and channels.

Executive teams realize that positioning involves many channels of storytelling and the means to deliver the organization’s story and promise to customers, and to involve customers as players in the organization’s story.

The CEM vision has to be tied together and made operational. The vision cannot remain disconnected from the technical reality of your projects. It all must be aligned.

Missing any part of the continuum introduces unsustainable project risk for CEM initiatives, and many technical communicators are considering what new practices to adopt, such as content engineering, to allow for successful cross-channel, and eventually personalized, publishing.

It’s hard to know what to ignore. Customer experience matters. App stores and native mobile apps matter. Search engine results matter. Social matters. On-site search matters. Offline experience matters. New devices and channels make the landscape more complex each quarter. To reach diverse channels that content consumers use, every content asset must adapt. Whether text, video, images, tabular data, or audio, content and metadata, it all must meet consumers on the consumers’ terms.

Content engineering aligns the right team members to implement a solution that connects content to strategy, creative strategy, and visual design to platform technology.

Think of a content strategist (CS) as the CEO of content, and think of a content engineer (CE) as the CTO of content. Each contributes a different perspective and through workflow and governance they help define the “people” and relationships to support content through the entire content lifecycle.

Content strategy is about what content gets to which customers, at which touch points. Content engineering is about how content gets to customers.

Many technical communicators are already actively engaged in the CE role yet may not identify with the title. CEs work closely with content strategists and developers but remain distinct from these functions. These individuals naturally bridge business strategy and content strategy with design and implementation; who work to marry content technology and content management to the total CEM vision — these are the prime candidates for the content engineering role.

The CE translates what is required from the content strategy, and determines in detail how it can be done most effectively. He or she specifies how different audience segments should receive content, how different devices should display content, and how to specify content depending on up-sell or cross-sell potential. The CE develops a detailed content model and taxonomy that provides the framework for these capabilities to be implemented.

The developer will take the content deliverable and taxonomy created by the CE, and use this to implement the functionality in code. Normally, the developer will not have the experience in audiences and marketing-oriented business requirements, or expertise building taxonomies or content structuring, and will rely on the CE to specify these requirements.

The content strategist, information architect, and CE all play starring roles in crafting personalized customer experiences.

CEs add value to CEM projects both in terms of direct responsibilities and deliverables, as well as adding value by collaborating and helping facilitate deliverables from other members of the CEM project team. It certainly takes a village to architect nimble customer experiences.

Building a Content Engineering Practice Starting with Existing Staff

Great CEs are multiplex thinkers, capable of pattern recognition among multiple strata, and multiple dimensions. These individuals naturally connect to the content strategy at a visionary level and map that strategy to all the enabling technologies. Above all, insightful and comfortable communicating between disciplines, they are able to use their cross-functional abilities to see relationships and build information structures others might find daunting.

To find the natural born CE’s for your CEM teams look for those who have at least some background as generalist web developers and who additionally exhibit the following characteristics:

· They might not be deep coders, but they understand and can work with CSS, JavaScript, HTML, and responsive frameworks such as Bootstrap.

· They might not be deep content strategists, but understand the content strategy role and functions with some level of intimacy.

· They might not be expert user experience designers, but they understand information architecture, user heuristics, prototyping tools and approaches.

· They might not be deep search engine optimization (SEO) specialists but they understand how content, schemas, metadata, PageRank and content relationships influence content placement, structure and ranking within search engine results pages (SERPs).

· They might not be software engineers, but they understand the web and software development lifecycle (SDLC), the software and hardware stack that delivers web applications, and core application architecture concepts.

· They might not be native iOS or Android mobile application developers, but they understand how apps consume content APIs and send user generated content back to the CEM platform.

· They might not be database administrators (DBA), but they understand the basics of data modeling, database design, entity relationships, and the value of data structure and normalization.

· They might not be expert digital marketers, but they understand sales funnels, marketing automation, a/b testing, conversion optimization, and the importance of capturing and guiding user attention.

· They might not be project managers, but they understand project rhythms, structures, collaboration approaches, and they work well as facilitators and communicators.

Of course the CE must be trained on content modeling, metadata structures, markup, schema, and taxonomy. These elements form the foundation of how content relationships are defined and communicated.

Integrating the Content Engineering Practice

It takes simple changes to existing standard workflows to integrate content engineering. So, adding in content engineering simply adds a role, minor process additions and some deliverables to existing process. Moving from static wireframes to interactive prototypes (using Axure or other interactive prototyping tools) is indispensable for CEM. The prototypes are a meeting place for Content Strategy, IA/UX, Content Engineering, Design, and Development to meet and collaborate.

Adding content engineering need not disrupt years of careful process development and optimization; it augments and enhances existing process. However skipping content engineering effectively removes the scaffolding for every implementation stage within an effective CEM initiative.

Some examples:

· Without a content model, UX designers and the CMS developers both guess at what content elements will be reused, how and when, often resulting in broken, inconsistent content types.

· Content authors get stuck into working with static chunks, taxing the authoring process and locking content up into unwieldy containers.

· Without a taxonomy and metadata model, the CMS configuration offers no related content organization outside a hierarchical set of content folders, essentially trapping content to an isolated location.

· Without identification, and incorporation of schemas and content standards into the implementation, content cannot syndicate across the Internet or be consumed and presented richly by important search engines.

For advanced content marketing, content engineering is not nice-to-have or optional. For effective customer experience management, it’s essential.

Building Content Engineering Change within Your Organization

One of the challenges for developing a content engineering program comes in defining the CE’s role in comparison to the market’s evolving definitions. [A] holds that the role of the content engineer is key to success for any complex content-centric project involving content production and software system development.

Once the organization is ready for content engineering, it must build a practice and center of excellence around content engineering skills, disciplines and process. Most organizations will find that building a content engineering discipline best starts at home. Find the raw aptitude internally. Train the skills. Augment from the outside. And grow a CE, or multiple. Then start to document and build the practice around those newly minted.

To find a CE internally, consider staff aptitudes and interests, and introduce the concepts, seeing what resonates. Key candidates will recognize the role immediately, and gravitate to learning more and practicing in the space. You might find your CE in a business analyst (BA) or marketing analyst, or an experienced web developer that carries strategic and technical perspectives.

Build towards talents able to unravel the complexity of your disparate content technologies and strategies. The CE should become a pivotal component of your CEM process; working with internal marketing, agency creative and strategy, and platform and implementation partners.

Personalization and a strong customer experience strategy built on adaptive content and responsive design is possible. With help from a CE, the implementation team can bridge the integration gap between content strategy, content management system planning and platforms, and CEM technologies and initiatives.

Content engineers and content strategists are often senior members of the CEM team, but ultimately both should be integrated into the development workflow.

Teams where the strategists develop solutions working with business stakeholders exclusively, and then simply issue them to the development teams, are less likely to succeed. Integrating CSs and CEs into the development cycle improves project success.

Content engineering fits well into either an agile or waterfall development lifecycle. Because of the tight alignment between strategy, and application development, integrating everyone into a single workflow ensures communication and integration of disciplines.

For more traditional waterfall cycles, content engineering can be considered a phase following content strategy, and then running concurrent to development.

In general, for agile teams, a Scrum methodology seems to work well. CE’s get integrated into daily team standups; they also work against a backlog, and tackle work in sprints. They can see their inputs mapped to outputs, and influence ad-hoc decision-making on the part of development teams.

It’s important for organizations contemplating developing a content engineering practice to understand that content engineering adds significant time and cost up front, but saves even more time and cost on the backend.

Whichever methodology is chosen, just know that content engineering is iterative and collaborative, and best played as a team sport.

Cost-Justifying Content Engineering

Content engineering is a critically vital piece to the CEM puzzle that no one knows they need until it’s missing at the end — when it’s too late.

If content is electrical power, content engineering provides the wiring. When constructing a building, would you add beautiful lighting fixtures, powerful appliances, and power outlets but no electrical wiring to connect them? No transformers to move current from one state to another? Inconceivable, and yet the number one complaint we hear from agencies, integrators, and in-house marketing departments is that executive decision makers do not understand content engineering and are not willing to pay for it.

Let there be light.

Here are a few of the reasons that executives must embrace investments in content engineering:

1. Far more efficient development cycles and developer time investment

Without content engineering, we are asking software engineers to spend time on configuration and strategy rather than developing software. This makes reduces efficiency, and lengthens development cycles while reducing quality in CEM projects.

2. Efficiency of CEM license cost investment, more value for the money

CEM software is expensive. Implementing it poorly is even more expensive. Leaving valuable marketing functionality underutilized carries opportunity costs. By investing in content engineering, the return on investment (ROI) for CEM accelerates, while effectiveness improves.

3. Insurance policy for CEM long-term

Even If utilization of all potential CEM strategies is a far-off dream compared to the current level of maturity in the marketing department, having a well-engineered content platform in place ensures CEM is possible. Without that strong platform, CEM will always be a far-off dream.

4. Improved sales lifecycle, sales performance, sales metrics, and sales channels Content engineering influences sales directly by connecting buyers with the related content and products most interesting to them. It also enables segmentation of content types and creation of detailed reports showing content engagement and its relationship to sales. Of course, content engineering also facilitates multi-channel publishing which expands selling channels.

5. Improved customer satisfaction Content personalization significantly improves the customer’s experience with the enterprise, by making their interactions more relevant and rewarding. It’s only through intelligent content engineering that true content personalization is possible.

6. Marketing and IT peacemaking: happier developers, happier marketers Without content engineering, content strategists and marketers find themselves frustrated with vision left unrealized. IT teams feel frustrated with what they see ill-defined requirements from marketing. Content engineering remediates some of those issues, and helps create a better, more effective working environment for customer value delivery.

7. Competitive market advantage Content engineering makes organizations smarter. It improves the value of content assets across the enterprise, and connects those assets with customers intelligently. Smarter organizations with more nimble content assets will be better prepared to compete for market position and customer mindshare.

Challenge and Call to Action

You can introduce the concepts and start collecting perspectives from marketing, IT, C-suite executives, and partners, all of which can feed into a feasibility review.

Consider:

· How can you streamline your CEM projects with a content engineering function?

· What can you do to introduce and highlight the value of the content engineer in your organization?

· Who among your existing team would be appropriate to cross train as a content engineer?

· What would need to change in your current process to include content engineering?

· What problems will content engineering avoid in projects? And what benefits will it bring to your environment, and how can you communicate those advantages?

CEM desperately needs content engineering. Marketers can learn a lot from Tech Comms. Technical communicators are well-positioned to take up the content engineering charge inside their organizations. Seek to highlight the valuable role of the content engineer and lead the discussion on content engineering in your organization. Together, we will make the content engineering role and process a mainstream norm.

Content engineering should have a place in your organization. It just takes some simple actionable steps, a bit of advocacy, training, and some trial and error.

The long-term rewards to building a content engineering competence in your organization will far outweigh the costs.

The best time to start is now. Start by building a content engineering practice internally at your organization. Content engineering isn’t easy, but it can become simple — once you get started.

Edited from an original article published in the Society for Technical Communication (STC) “Intercom” magazine: “The Power Issue: Gaining Organizational Influence as a Technical Communicator” with the title “The Emerging Role of the Content Engineer. Is it a Fit for You?”

About Cruce Saunders and [A]

Cruce Saunders is the founder and principal consultant at Simple [A]. Cruce and his team lead content engineering engagements in close partnership with agencies and institutional clients. [A] offers content engineering training and practice development services, as well as free materials to help you get started.

[A] operates with distributed offices in the US and Latin America, and delivers content engineering, CMS implementation, infrastructure, and personalization for complex digital properties. [A] trains the content engineering function into organizations, and enables cross-functional project operations.

Cruce has directed upwards of 300 large digital development projects since 1999, including large government, healthcare, education, association, non-profit, and enterprise institutions.

For more information about content engineering, request a free copy of Content Engineering for a Multi-Channel World on simplea.com or follow Cruce at @mrcruce and follow [A] at @simpleateam on Twitter.