The Holy Grail of Communication

Thanks to the groundwork done by content strategists seeking Intelligent Content, Adaptive Content (personalised content, driven by data and automated to the max) is now within reach. The potential and benefits are enormous.

However, as was recently pointed out, for the most part, communicators have no idea how to design content so it can become adaptive. In this post, I share five tried and tested communication principles to help pave the way. In my follow-up post, I’ll share my Seven Building Blocks of adaptive content design. These should kick off thoughts about how agencies and in-house teams could make their digital content creation processes that much smarter.

[Download Five Communication Principles for Adaptive Content Design as a PDF for your leisurely viewing pleasure]

These are exciting times for digital strategy and communication! Last year, when content strategy married content marketing at the Intelligent Content Conference, Joe Pulizzi and The Rockley Group raised the content bar to a whole new level.

It seems that we have a new Holy Grail within reach: right message, right audience, right format, right time — driven by data, automated to the max.

Standing on the shoulders of early information scientists, content strategists (as opposed to content marketing strategists) have been laying the foundations for more than a decade. Today, they’ve branded this Holy Grail, ‘intelligent content’.

The potential benefits are enormous:

  • Content becomes cheaper to create, manage and deliver
  • Content is faster and easier to create
  • Existing content can be reused in new variations
  • We can ‘create once, publish everywhere
  • Much of the process can be automated

And, when designed ‘intelligently’, we can create adaptive content. Triggered by data, this content automatically adapts according to an audience’s specific needs and context. So they get to enjoy personalised content experiences.

That’s not to be underestimated:

Noz Urbina says that every aspect of intelligent/adaptive strategy and platform has already been figured out. We just need to put the puzzle pieces together. He may be right, but in last month’s Chief Content Officer magazine, Scott Abel pointed out a fly in the ointment:

‘For the most part, marketers [and communicators] have absolutely no idea how to design adaptive content.’

Copyblogger’s Demian Farnworth, amongst others, agrees.

That’s what I start to tackle in this post. Read more …



Hero’s Journey image above excerpted from Action Philosophers! © Ryan Dunlavey and Fred Van Lente.

[DOWNLOAD this post for your leisurely viewing pleasure here]

For most storytellers and communicators structure is an anathema to creativity. Yet all storytelling has inherent structures. Exploring them can unlock new approaches to digital storytelling — and digital content design more in line with the bits and bytes of our digital ecosystem. Here are four innovative models to get you in the mood.

Roland Barthes, master linguist and semiotician once said: “There are countless forms of narrative in the world.” And yet the majority of western storytellers have been ploughing just one narrative model for well over 60 years: Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey from the Hero with a Thousand Faces.

While it has its value, Campbell’s model is not a useful model for digital story design on a structural level. Down below, I offer four alternative narrative structures that we could use to design intelligent stories more fitting to our digital context. Why the big deal about structure?

Structure makes the digital world go round

From data models and information architectures to the taxonomies and ontologies used in content strategy, clearly defined structures allow our stories to be read, understood, delivered, discovered and managed by our digital plumbing.

In fact, structured content is fast becoming a necessity, not a luxury. That’s why content strategists are already exploring intelligent content: Read more …


What we have here is a failure to communicate

As a rule, every business discipline has tried and tested processes and techniques others can understand, learn, and even apply for themselves. These give credence to that discipline. Communication is often seen as an exception to the rule — its success determined by the art of storytelling. In reality, it’s not true. Welcome to GAME — a four step process to improve the quality of your communications — and storylining, the step that comes before storytelling.

[DOWNLOAD this post as a pdf]

You know you have to step up your core communication skills when:

• An incredible 83% of execs say their business strategy isn’t well understood internally (Strategy&, 2014)

85% of marketers fail to connect their content marketing with any business value (BMA/Forrester, 2014) and;

Fewer than 50% of communicators believe all of their work is aligned with strategy and goals (AlignYourOrg, 2014).

With all the hype on storytelling today you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is the ultimate panacea to all business communication ills — and that great business and brand stories are the result of an arcane creative process that only comms-types are privy to.

It’s a nonsense. The truth is, the communications industry is seriously under-performing, and storytelling is not the solution. Read more …


Marshall McLuhan | Steve SeagerAt almost every conference I attend, in almost every conversation I have with innovative digital or communication thinkers, I hear echoes of one of my heroes, Marshall McLuhan.

I’ll be referring to a McLuhanesque concept (media literacy) in an upcoming post on strategic management competencies soon, so I thought I’d share this post with you on the off-chance you aren’t familiar with him.

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase the ‘global village’, and know and understand the meaning of ‘the medium is the message’ (Sure? Nice podcast, that) but the depth and breadth of his work might be surprising.

McLuhan’s thoughts covered not only tactical effects of ‘electronic media’, such as the dominance of the image over text way before it was technically feasible, but also observed that:

‘The medium, or process of our time – electric technology – is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing – you, your family, your neighbourhood, your education, your job, your government, your relation to ‘the others’. And they’re changing dramatically.’

He also summed up my mum’s worries (and probably yours as well) about Facebook when he said: Read more …


Story and business

Despite all the hype on storytelling, articulating why stories are so important in business can still be tough.

It helps to make the distinction between story and communication a little clearer. Down below is a write-up drawn from the introduction of a workshop on story and communication I recently gave …

We can communicate in many different ways. We don’t necessarily need to tell a story to say, ‘You did a fantastic job!’, ‘Wow, I love working with you!’, ‘You’re late for work,’ or ‘Your bonus this month is a gazillion Euros.’

However, when we need to persuade, when we need to move people away from one way of doing things towards another, stories are the way to go.

As HBR pointed out some time ago, persuasion is the centerpiece of business activity. It goes for employees, organisations, brands and consumers. Telling stories rather than purely communicating is the most effective way to ‘persuade’.

Read more …

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While at EuroComm this year I grabbed 5 minutes with one of our most provocative speakers, Christian Bluemelhuber, Professor for Communication at the University of Arts in Berlin.

In the quick interview below I asked him about his presentation on his wonderfully different marketing and communication model for brands.

Although I haven’t yet had a chance to speak further with him, based on what I heard, this sounds to me like an incredibly apposite model for redefining brand marketing and communication as we head towards web 3.0.

Check out the video below, then let’s unpack it a little.

This time the consumer will lead

By privileging the consumer response to our brand media, by experimenting, and at the same time offering stability, Christian believes that Read more …

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10 Essential Content Marketing Questions and Answers

by Steve Seager March 14, 2013

Is content marketing finally coming of age? Despite the backlash, I’d argue it is. From what I’ve seen to date, our backlashers (ahem) are asking the wrong questions – and definitely not focused on making their content great. If you’re serious about your content marketing you need to be able to answer the essential questions management [...]

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The Anatomy of Great Content

by Steve Seager February 11, 2013

Down below is a free PDF download of The Anatomy of Great Content – a content marketing model for both marketers and strategic communicators. It explains what makes for successful social marketing content. It sounds obvious, but there’s two words in content marketing. Over the past couple of years consulting I’ve noticed that marketers tend [...]

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Social Business Design and Shepherd’s Syndrome … What if?

by Steve Seager November 15, 2012

For many businesses, social is seen as just a handy bolt-on to their marketing or PR. Others, however, use social media as an opportunity to learn first-hand about the benefits of social business design. In a nutshell, social business design means bringing corporate and business strategy and operations up to date with digital technologies – and [...]

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IABC Europe & Middle East Leadership Institute 2012: Network, Share & Learn

by Steve Seager October 26, 2012

I’ve just returned from Paris from this year’s IABCEME Leadership Institute – a fabulous event where regional IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) board members meet up to hear from a keynote speaker, network, share experiences and hear the latest marketing and communication best practices. I’m currently director of comms on the European/Middle East region [...]

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