confessions of a content strategist jenny magicImagine you are on a website buying clothing for your son, and the website immediately takes you to the section for his size and age. Or, what if you are presented with an online ad for pet food, and the headline matches your pet’s breed and age?
That’s the promise of personalized content, and it’s something Jenny Magic and I talked about when I interviewed her for this month’s Confessions of a Content Strategist. Jenny introduced me to a new role, “the content engineer”, Headless Drupal and what she thinks is working and not working in our industry. Her goal is to challenge content and technology teams to work together more effectively: to determine how quickly they can bring their mutual talents to bear on the problems we are all having delivering effective content.

Ahava Leibtag:
“So when you and I met, we both seemed to overlap in the worlds that are content marketing and content strategy. And I’m curious about that, because there seem to be so few people who have one foot in both of those worlds. How do you define the roles of a content marketer and a content strategist?”
Jenny Magic:Content strategists define the process and content marketers work within that process.The changing demands on the entire marketing system mean that those processes have to change really quickly. And the demands are quickly shifting to the technology, which is evolving so rapidly. Becoming a marketing technology expert or content engineer isn’t necessarily part of the content strategist’s skill set—understanding relational databases, structured content, how automation tools will integrate, choosing the right CMS, technical implementation, etc. But, without a smart person making those decisions, too many times content folks get backed into a platform without a lot of good choices. Because the CMSs are getting more expensive it’s too costly a mistake for companies to make. That’s why content engineers are so vital to the future of content.”

AL:
How did you get started in the business of content?
JM: “I kind of accidentally stumbled into it.  First, I was a marketing director at a tech start-up that didn’t even have a name yet; I got to name the company, the products, and build the website. That really got me started thinking about users and meeting their needs. From there, I had the chance to oversee a number of website redesigns from the client side of things. In the process of managing those projects, I kept chafing at how late in the process content was discussed, including goals.

I had a chance to move out to San Diego, and I ended up starting a freelance content business, Better Way to Say It. I just started knocking on doors of website design firms, asking them ‘how many jobs could you launch tomorrow if you had the content?’ This was in 2008 when websites still usually designed in Photoshop, filled with Lorem Ipsum filler text. They were wasting so much time waiting for clients to write content, and when they did finally get it, it broke design.  I had seen that a number of times from the inside and was then trying to solve the content problem for websites. I didn’t see myself as a content strategist. I didn’t even know what that was. Then in the spring of 2009, I met Joe Pulizzi and Kristina Halvorson, and I realized, ‘This thing is called content strategy, what I’m doing.’ It was time to pick my head up from website content and think about the work I was doing from the bigger picture.”


AL
: Let’s talk about this concept of content engineers, because it sounds super exciting, and just the kind of role we need.

JM: Well, we’re trying to bridge the gap between technologists and marketers. The need for interaction and integration only grows stronger, and it’s important for developers to understand that the content team is not trying to ruin your project and they do value your process and they would like to integrate in your process. Content experts can be helpful in what used to be development tasks like microcopy and error messages. Content teams are trying to learn from and even implement Agile methodologies into the content process. It’s also about going to content folks and reiterating that technology is not an afterthought—technology is critical in getting content in front of the right user at the right time. So there needs to be that person who functions as that translator of sorts between the content marketers and the technologists—who gets both.”


AL: So what are the major challenges for someone in this role? Besides being able to talk to two sets of people who really are left-brained and right-brained?

JM: “From the content side we have a big change management problem as it relates to what the technology is capable of—if you personalize content for the audience you have ridiculously higher conversation rates. We know that putting the right content in front of folks and being specific is really important. But that means having the will to write four different product descriptions. (Think of the pet food example—you have to write a headline that would include the ability to personalize for each breed and age of the pet.)

It doesn’t just mean being well-rounded in your messaging strategy—it means being able to actually write all those headlines. When we show people what’s possible with personalized content, they look at the statistics and get excited about it and sign off on it but when it does come down to actually trying to do it—it’s really difficult. I feel like a personal trainer and I have to encourage them if they want to look good in their swimsuit they need to do one more sit up—but actually getting them to write the content that will make the conversions happen is so difficult. So it’s not only about communicating, it’s also about actually making the work happen.”


AL:
Where do you see the successes possible for someone in this role? Where is it working?
JM: “The technology has come a long way. Headless Drupal is an example: To deliver structured content and you need to break everything into finite chunks. So some smart developers are using the modular architecture of (open-source CMS platform) Drupal as the back end of your content independent of the user-facing structure of your website. Detaching the content model and organization of content from the presentation layer is really exciting and everyone is playing with new ways of getting personalized content in front of people—how do we reuse different pieces of existing tools to get to a new result?

I want to have personalized content where Visitor A who has lingered on my resources page has a different call to action than Visitor B—that’s not just a content problem, it’s a technology problem. The current solutions are not necessarily pretty, when people realize how much more both their content and their technology can do—but it’s inspiring for people to see what’s coming down the pipeline.”


AL: Predict what you see happening in the marketplace next.
JM: “I see a big consolidation in the marketplace around personalized content—you might solve it at the marketing automation layer or the CMS layer. We are seeing some integration and some solutions, but it’s a confusing time to be purchasing marketing technology because it might be the next big thing or bought by someone big and shelved. What is exciting is that what’s possible now is dramatically different than a year ago. But there are still not a lot of brave souls ready to invest and develop their content willpower to fill their systems with structured, personalized relevant content. But the technology is still developing and eventually it will happen.”

What do you think? Are you playing the role of content engineer without even realizing it? And what do you think is next for marketing automation and CMS technology? And do you think we need another content professional role who can translate for the engineers and marketers? Let us know in the comments.

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