By Arjen van den Akker
Today, organisations face the challenges of increasingly shorter product lifecycles and more agile, interactive, product development processes. Ten years ago, you might have bought a mobile phone that would last you for 4 years. Now, a company launches the latest model just when you’ve figured out all of the features on the version you bought 3 months ago.
Because of this speed of change, marketers need to generate a tremendous amount of content for both pre-sale and post-sale activities. This is needed to ensure that they achieve high levels of customer engagement – and deliver an experience that is both consistent and relevant, at each step of the customer journey.
This means that your content must be engaging, fluent and uniform across your online channels. Your content must possess the correct spelling and grammar, be optimized for SEO – and may need to be translated and localized. Well-written content should primarily persuade and entice your visitors to buy your product or service.
Producing high quality product content to support the post-sale phase is also crucial – if customers can’t fix their issue through online self-service, your brand may well be up for scrutiny across one or more social networks. Thankfully, gone are the days of the 120 page PDF manual. If a user needs to digest this mass of content to figure out how to solve that paper jam on a new printer, you’re not providing them with the customer experience they want or expect.
If, on the other hand, you guide them to a support page where they can enter their printer model, search for ‘paper jam’ and receive a step-by-step solution, supported by images or video, you create brand advocates. This is simply achieved by providing excellent access to a solution for their problem. And the great thing is that you can re-use that very same content to equip more advanced printers with built-in on screen guidance.
These challenges mean that getting content management right is a big headache for many organisations. Luckily, over the last decade standards such as XML based DITA have emerged in the product documentation world to support creating highly componentized product documentation. This standard allows for re-use of granular bits of information that might not change between products. This enables highly automated translation processes and makes it faster, quicker and cheaper to create new documentation released in a multitude of formats (HTML, PDF, print, etc.)
DITA merges the worlds of web content management (WCM) with structured content, fading away the borders between the two and highlighting the benefits of lower costs, customer-self-service and a superior customer experience.
DITA in practice
Integrating DITA managed content and WCM, provides additional benefits too. For example, by leveraging the power of DITA you can allow customers to comment on bite-size topics and optimize your content in a way that PDF manuals do not allow. Analytics on your structured content can also provide invaluable product feedback. If 95% self-service requests are about paper jams, it becomes absolutely clear that you have a severe issue that needs to be tackled by product design.
Also, consumers don’t go to corporate websites to solve problems. Instead they use a search engine or ask their peers on social networks. With DITA in place, it becomes easier to find the exact content they are looking for. DITA’s rich semantic tagging and topic-based nature means that someone can search for ‘clear paper jam’ and find the exact topic they are looking for – without having to search deep within a website or PDF.
And finally, you can give your customers the freedom to find the information they require across channels and devices, since they may perform a task or use your product in a variety of contexts (at home, in the car, while shopping.) DITA separates content from design and formatting and adds the benefit of detailed tagging, putting you in the unique position to deliver a relevant, targeted and contextual experience. After all, isn’t that what your WCM initiative should do?
About the author
Arjen van den Akker is product marketing director at SDL.