Making a Case for Consistency
When designing content for your target audience, the saying “content is king” highlights the importance of creating relevant content. This applies to any content regardless of whether that content informs, instructs, educates, references, persuades us to buy a product, or influences us to positively perceive a specific brand. Designing targeted content is just one aspect of good content design—another aspect is content consistency.
In general, consistent content can enhance readability, minimize ambiguity, and improve brand identity as well as brand recognition. So, if we acknowledge that “content is king,” then we should also acknowledge that “consistency is queen.” But we should apply the concept of consistency differently depending on the purpose, shelf life, and volume of content.
Creativity Versus Consistency
Effective marketing relies on the consistent positioning and messaging of a product or brand. Moreover, marketing content that aims to persuade potential buyers must catch a buyer’s attention through creative content. On the one hand, this content type requires us to use greater creativity in writing style and choice of wording. The goal is to ensure that content remains fresh and personable. On the other hand, greater variation limits the reuse potential and shortens the shelf life of creative content.
As a result, consistency for creative content means achieving consistent messaging and positioning. By maintaining consistent brand recognition we can allow the general content to show greater variation. In fact, we can counter-balance creativity by establishing consistency through themes. Many commercial advertisements on TV demonstrate this approach. The idea is to introduce a specific character or slogan as the centerpiece of the theme. This way, the story being told or the presented situation (context) can change without losing key brand characteristics. That is, the theme becomes the consistent element.
In contrast, informational, instructional, and educational content—in short, technical content—benefits from consistent terminology. In addition, technical content often uses structured content patterns to minimize ambiguity and improve readability. Since understanding information is the primary purpose of this content type, too much variation in wording can be counterproductive. Likewise, we can improve content reuse by using standard terminology consistently and limiting key terms to a single-purpose use. This is one of the core design principles of Simplified English authoring. In addition, technical content routinely involves much larger volume ranges compared to creative (marketing) content. Moreover, larger volumes of content provide better opportunities for content leveraging and repetition.
The concept of consistency becomes even more meaningful when we create reusable content for global audiences. The reasoning is simple: Content consistency in the source language directly affects the ability to achieve consistency across target languages. This has quality, time, and cost implications that we can directly control. Each additional language amplifies the benefits of content consistency and further justifies our efforts.
The Value of Technology
Technology, too, plays an important role in enabling consistency. More specifically, it provides automation that can streamline content management across the stages of the global content life cycle. We can use content management technologies to further amplify the benefits of content consistency and drive scalability through automation. The idea of scalable content closely correlates with the idea of content reuse. Another way of looking at this: Consistency enables content quality and scalability.
However, we should also be mindful that technology is indifferent toward our content. And this is what makes technology a catalyst for good and bad content. As content authors, we are responsible for the initial quality and consistency. Without good content that is designed to be reusable, we quickly undermine the benefits of technology.
This means that we should not look at technology as a silver bullet to fix poor content quality. After all, content does not write itself and remains a human-driven skill that content authors must contribute. Therefore, we should use technology to automate and optimize the management of good content and not bad content. If content is of poor quality, investing in expensive (enterprise) technology can be a waste of money. It could also take a long time before the selected technology becomes a game changer for us.
First Things First
As a rule of thumb, we should improve our content first. We can achieve this through better authoring practices. For example, we can establish content consistency before we make significant technology investments. Ideally, technology should free up time and simplify authoring tasks so we can write better content and make a business case for further technology investments.
I have experienced firsthand that technology pitches and demonstrations can be impressive. Unfortunately, they can paint a rosy picture about the achievable outcome. Sales demos often follow a “happy path” scenario to impress potential buyers. It can be very convincing and enticing to make a quick decision if you are under a lot of pressure. Nevertheless, good content is the fuel that powers the engine of global content management. Moreover, good content realizes the full potential of good technology. Technical content tends to provide better opportunities for consistency. The reasons are the generally longer shelf life and sizable volume compared to creative content.
Good content is both relevant and consistent. It is the foundation for effective content management. This is particularly critical for technical content compared to marketing content. In general, creating good content relies on the writing skills and discipline of the content author. Groups of content authors that create shared content require coordination to ensure content consistency. In addition, enabling assets such as style guides and authoring vocabularies help establish consistent authoring practices.
Likewise, technology can facilitate and automate writing activities across content authors, especially if team members are geographically dispersed and located in different time zones. However, technology deployments should be carefully planned. This ensures that technology investments tackle the right challenges in the right order. It also makes certain that any improvement initiatives deliver the expected results and consider an organization’s unique situation.