By Steven Spencer, CTO, ScreamingMedia

Within the past five years, most enterprise companies around the world have invested significant capital in their Web strategies. To best leverage these investments, more and more of these companies have been developing and building content strategies to complement their overall e-business models.

An enterprise that uses a content strategy and invests in “content capital” will see benefits that encourage growth and resonate in the executive suite. These include:

  • Brand differentiation and competitive advantage.
  • Collaborative commerce and value-chain management.
  • Customer acquisition and retention.
  • Relationship management.
  • Faster time to market and more nimble response to changing market conditions.
  • Knowledge management and empowerment of distributed sales.
  • Marketing and product development teams.
  • New business and strategic alliances.
  • New revenue streams and direct online sales opportunities.

The challenge for an enterprise is to develop practical, effective strategies to fully realize the value of their content. Companies can create a successful content strategy by following the five steps described below. But first, if you’re still not sold on the power of content, I’ll explain its value to your company and the types of content you should consider.

Content as prime asset
Content is a leverageable asset for an enterprise—as valuable as property, manufacturing equipment, skilled labor, strategic marketplace relationships, equity capital, and cash flow. Whether you are an information company creating and distributing intellectual property or a brick-and-mortar enterprise implementing an e-business plan to create new sales channels, supply chains, and customer relationships, the benefits of managing and distributing content are powerful and plentiful.

The volume of potential applications and audiences for this content has created new content needs and options. News stories and feature articles are certainly staples of an enterprise’s content diet, but today, there are many more content types to choose from, including:

  • Stock quotes and data feeds.
  • Charts, graphics, and photos.
  • Company profiles and financial filings.
  • Catalog images and directories.
  • Weather and sports.
  • Maps and directories.
  • Specialty content (crosswords, games, contests, recipes).
  • Yellow and white pages.
  • Entertainment reviews.
  • Local information, such as restaurant reviews, cultural happenings, educational activities, and TV listings.
  • Classified ads and job postings.
  • Streamed audio and video.
  • E-learning.

An enterprise unlocks the value of this content by developing and implementing a content strategy that delivers a high, fast return on investment (ROI). An effective strategy is linked to your business objective, is supported by an effective infrastructure and, above all, reliably delivers the right content to the targeted audience.

Desiring highly targeted, branded, and niched content to further differentiate their offerings from that of their competitors, many enterprises negotiate contracts with third-party content providers. The downside of this option is the significant investment in business development, legal, and technological resources that are necessary to seamlessly integrate content assets into the enterprise’s platforms. The question is how to utilize content to maximize competitive advantage without wasting enterprise resources on content negotiations and platform integration.

ScreamingMedia was created to provide an answer to this question. We believe homegrown solutions are needlessly expensive, require extensive labor, and produce a slow ROI, while an outsourced content infrastructure solution can provide the highest quality and efficiency.

Step 1: Identify your go-to person
The most important aspect of building a content strategy is identifying early on someone within the enterprise to take ownership of the project and to serve as the go-to person, to own the content strategy from design through implementation and quality assurance. This manager should have a clear understanding of the value content can bring to the company’s overall strategy and service offerings, be empowered by top management to drive decision-making across the enterprise without being constrained by traditional organizational silos, and be skilled at managing both business objectives and technological requirements.

Step 2: Perform a knowledge audit
Once this manager is identified, a thorough audit of the company’s existing assets is crucial. This knowledge audit will assess the value, extent, and accessibility of internal content assets, such as customer information and existing content relationships, and will identify areas where acquiring external content would add value.

This knowledge audit generally encompasses three phases:

  1. Cataloging knowledge in published documents, such as research reports, white papers, and sales and marketing reports/materials
  2. Identifying nonpublished knowledge resources, including subject-matter experts, information embedded in database repositories, and so forth
  3. Conducting an inventory of licensed content already provided to the organization by media companies, research firms, market data firms, and consultants, as well as public domain or privately sourced content from government entities, nonprofit organizations, strategic partners, and customers

Step 3: Identify internal and external communities
Next, the content manager needs to understand and assess the needs of both internal and external communities. Internal audiences require content to do their jobs more effectively. The key internal constituencies that can benefit most from content include:

  • Senior management.
  • Sales and marketing.
  • Corporate communications and investor relations.
  • Customer service and technical support.
  • Human resources.
  • Product management.
  • Research and development.
  • Purchasing and supply-chain/inventory control.
  • General employees for internal communications and business strategy.

The essential external audiences include:

  • New customers, including individual consumers, corporate customers, and channel partners.
  • High-yield existing customers who have heavy interaction with your business.
  • Occasional existing customers who are positioned to expand their relationships with your company.
  • Investors, including existing, potential, individual, and institutional investors.
  • Influencers, such as journalists and analysts.
  • Potential customers, investors, or partners.

In assessing needs, it is important to map wants and desires to the assets you already have in place. This will help you determine what additional capabilities, marketing, and content you will need.

Assessing content needs involves deciding whether to license or acquire external content; how to repurpose and repackage existing content to meet new needs or for different audiences; whether to create original content internally or commission it externally; and whether to manage content with internal IT resources, outsource content management, or some combination of the two.

Step 4: Tie audience needs to e-business objectives
Once you have assessed your audiences’ content needs, you must determine how fulfilling these needs will achieve your company’s e-business objectives. These objectives might include:

  • Increased ability to support customer acquisition and relationship management.
  • Message validation to support your corporate and product positioning.
  • Education to provide an informed context for decision making.
  • Brand-building that establishes subject-matter expertise.

Step 5: Identify communication vehicles
Next, you need to determine which communication vehicles are best suited to populate your portals with high-value external and internal content. Enterprises have multiple ways to communicate with stakeholders, both via the Internet and through other electronic and physical forms of interaction. These might include:

  • Public Web sites.
  • In-house intranet.
  • Extranets for employees and strategic partners.
  • E-marketplaces for buyers and sellers of goods and services.
  • An integrated enterprise portal that combines and personalizes Internet, intranet, and extranet assets.
  • Bulletin boards, newsgroups, and user groups.
  • Shared databases, document repositories, and groupware for collaboration.
  • E-mail and other electronic distribution.
  • Print-based newsletters, memos, brochures, and sell sheets.

Moreover, stakeholders access content and interact with each other and the enterprise through a variety of media and technology platforms. Your content strategy must factor in:

  • Desktop/PC access over Ethernet/broadband/wireless pipelines.
  • Dial-up access from mobile workers or customers over 56-K landlines.
  • Wireless and appliance-based access via PDAs, Internet-enabled phones, two-way pagers, televisions, e-books, and Internet radio.

Hybrid communications and platforms become an even greater challenge as the nature of content itself broadens beyond simple text to audio, video, graphics, information-intensive databases, and real-time data streams.

The benefits of content
The end result of these five steps will be a clear and focused understanding of what you want to accomplish in your content strategy, the priorities that must be met, and the overall return on your content investment that your enterprise must achieve to realize the value of content for e-business.

Steven Spencer is the chief technology officer of ScreamingMedia Inc., a NASDAQ listed firm (SCRM) and a leading provider of technology and content solutions.

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