Structured Creativity

By Alan J. Porter | STC Senior Member

As pre-sales content and post-sales content begin to overlap, Alan Porter provides the latest insights about our role in that evolution in Convergence Conversations. Learn through this column to build bridges and form synergies with your counterparts in marketing. Contact Alan at to ask a question or propose a topic for him to cover in this column.

When it comes to content design, I believe, as in many other areas, that there is a lot technical communicators can learn from the folks in marketing. Marketing is, after all, about capturing and engaging someone’s attention.

Shouldn’t well-designed technical communication do the same? Our goal is to help people understand and use our products, systems, and services, and to do that effectively we need our audience to be engaged and receptive to what we are communicating. So it’s about time that we understood how to use imagery, color, storytelling, and even calls-to-action that drive the consumers of our content from one activity to another.

Conversely, I see more and more marketing organizations looking at what they can learn from technical communication when it comes to producing modular content and designing the metadata to drive new, personalized customer experiences—especially where the line between pre- and post-sales content is blurring. Many marketing organizations realize that to achieve a personalized, high-quality experience across a growing number of delivery channels, they need to plan the types of content they will need and how it will be designed and engineered to achieve those goals.

The areas of modular content design that are gaining particular traction are:

  • Content Modelling: To represent of types of content, their elements, attributes, and their interdependent relationships.
  • Metadata: To help applications, authors, systems, and robots use and relate the content in a smart way.
  • Mark-Up: To identify the content outside of the content itself, it describes and presents content and can include XML, Markdown, and content transformations.
  • Schema: To provide meaning and relationships to content. Schema often involves published standard vocabularies for describing concepts with standardized terms.
  • Taxonomy: To create maps of related concepts which are applied to content, often as tags. Taxonomy enables and supports features like related content reuse, navigation, search, and personalization.
  • Topology: To develop organizational structures and containers that provide coherence across content management and publishing systems.

But there is a stumbling block: while many marketing teams see the benefits of taking a modular approach to content design at a conceptual level, it is often also accompanied by a refrain of “it will destroy our creativity.”

In fact, the opposite is true, for having a good modular content design framework can enhance creativity. It can help move a marketing organization from creating pixel-perfect one-off assets for every campaign that can’t be reused, to thinking about how they can use that design expertise to deliver compelling experiences at scale to a wider variety of customers.

When the marketing and technical communication teams speak the same language around content design and structure, we all become more empowered to be creative as teams work together within a common plan. Content is designed and developed against common goals and standards. The work is better connected across the enterprise and is aimed at delivering the best customer interactions—no matter how and where those customers are connecting with the content.

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