Ardath Albee on Scalable Strategies for Relevant Digital Content

IC_Ardath_Hill-01by Carmen Hill (@carmenhill)

“I get calls from marketers saying, We bought into the idea of content marketing. We’ve created great content. People read it. But it’s not moving the needle.’” So writes Ardath Albee, B2B marketing strategist extraordinaire, in her new book, Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies That Drive Results. 

As she says in her introduction, marketers today must implement highly personalized and integrated programs in channels and manners they haven’t ever used before.

“The complexity of digital strategies needed to create customer experiences should not be overlooked,” Ardath says in the book. “One of the reasons why campaigns are so hard to give up is because their very structure creates a box that makes these components manageable.”

I recently spoke with Ardath about the challenge of creating relevant digital experiences and ways that intelligent content strategies might help marketers “move the needle” with content that is more scalable, discoverable, personalized, and consistent. This post is a summary of our conversation.

You can catch Ardath’s talk, “Putting Content in Context for Your Company,” March 25, 2015, at the Intelligent Content Conference (ICC). REGISTER today and save.

Intelligent content is “structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.” What does that definition mean to you?

Ardath: Mostly I think of intelligent content as the technical writing and after-purchase content, the support content and instruction manuals, and that type of thing. But it’s interesting to apply it to marketing content. For me, intelligent content is content that’s relevant to your target audience, content that they can find and that helps build the story.

I think I look at it from a different lens than the traditional content strategy people. I take a more personalized, customer-focused approach that’s less tactical and technically oriented. I care less about the wireframes for your website than the words that go on it.

How does intelligent content fit into content marketing strategy?

Ardath: The biggest problem I see is that it’s hard to scale content marketing, especially when you get into personas and precise storytelling and those kinds of things. It’s very resource-intensive. Where I see intelligent content really making an impact on content marketing is in reusability and repurposing – and actually knowing what content you have. I definitely believe we have to tag things and help them be discoverable, not only by buyers and customers but also internally.

Content is expensive if you do it well. It costs a lot of money, and just publishing more doesn’t make your program any better.

For a lot of projects I work on, we use stuff once, and then we’re on to the next project. We need a way to create great content and then rearrange it and repurpose it for different uses by different personas. That’s how modular content comes to the table.

How does a modular approach provide flexibility and opportunities for scale?

Ardath: Modular content enables scale because it’s reusable, and we don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. Some of your content needs to be personalized, but some of it applies to everybody. So you can mix and match. And that way you have the ability to reuse pieces of content to build other content.

For example, you have an article with an introduction that’s very persona-driven, a middle part explaining how the topic unfolds – that could be the same for everyone – and then a conclusion that’s persona-driven. That middle part could be reused with different introductions and different spins in a variety of ways, and it doesn’t have to be rewritten. It creates that repeatability and consistency that anchors that idea.

How can intelligent content help the entire company tell a more consistent brand story?

Ardath: Intelligent content isn’t just about the tactical details. It can support the bigger, strategic story. You need to tell a connected, relevant story across your organization. You have to think of it in relation to the big ideas that your company is trying to cement in the marketplace and create as anchors in people’s minds.

It’s hard, very hard. It takes a lot of planning and thinking about how you’re going to use the content differently. What are the possibilities? Is it a big enough idea that it can be reused – and reused well?

Content breaches the boundaries of marketing and crosses over into multiple parts of the organization. We need to position our messaging across the company as it relates to all the departments so it’s consistent. And I think intelligent content leads you in that direction by virtue of the way it’s organized and purposeful.

How did you choose the focus of your ICC talk, “Put Content in Context for Your Company”?

Ardath: It’s really this idea of crossing departmental boundaries with the messaging, pulling content from every corner of the company, and helping everyone be on the same page with the story that’s being told.

The faster everything moves, the more we really need to understand what’s appropriate in the moment, given our buyers and customers. If you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of requests or tweets or inquiries every day, you have to know how to respond. How do you participate in all these channels in a way that is relevant consistently?

I would argue that companies aren’t doing the work to understand their customers. They think they do, but they don’t. A lot of the work is still driven by gut and intuition. Marketing has to take the lead in helping the company understand their customers and how to communicate with them across all departments.

You say “digital relevance is about context, plain and simple.” What do you mean by that? Does it go beyond mapping content to campaigns or channels or buying stages?

Ardath: Here’s one of the problems I have with mapping content to buying stages: How do you know how to build progression across stages? We need to get a lot more precise. If we build our content in a way that tells us something about the person engaging with our content, then we can start to know – or predict – what will appeal to them next.

Marketing automation vendors have done a disservice by saying, “Just automate everything.” You can’t take the human touch out of it. You can make it more efficient, and you can have stuff loaded and ready to go. But you’re still making your best guess.

If you’re not going to refine it and tweak it and make sure it’s connecting – and learn from how people engage with it – then I think marketing automation can cause a lot of problems. Plus, most people are using this automation as a glorified email blaster. Few are integrating triggers into their nurture program. Part of the problem I see is this lack of orchestration or progression.

What motivated you to write your new book, Digital Relevance – and why now?

Ardath: Frustration with marketers who don’t understand their audience, don’t have a strategy, and don’t know what it takes to be relevant today. Marketers didn’t get their plates cleared when content marketing came along. It was an add-on, an addition to everything else they were already doing – and we never trained them how to do it.

Marketers don’t understand how to build story across the continuum of the buying process. My book is really driven by the need to know who you’re talking to and what they care about and to create alignment in your messaging that creates movement. I have clients who are doing some of it, but none who are doing the whole thing.

Like many of the practices I discuss in my book, I think intelligent content is aspirational. I see where things could be so much better, but intelligent content is a cruise ship. You can’t turn it on a dime.


For those of us at the helm, the voyage toward digital relevance can seem long and arduous. After all, content doesn’t get intelligent on its own. As Ardath points out, intelligent content takes a lot of thinking and planning on the part of smart humans. Fortunately, we’re not alone in this wheelhouse. Join other strategists and thought leaders who can help you navigate the journey at the Intelligent Content Conference in March.

Intelligent Content Conference 2015

Catch Ardath’s talk, “Putting Content in Context for Your Company,” March 25, 2015, at the Intelligent Content Conference.

REGISTER for the conference today. Use discount code ICC100 to save $100.

Here are two other things you can do right now:

Title image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski, Content Marketing Institute

About Ardath Albee

AlbeeArdath12-150x150 (2)Ardath Albee (@ardath421) is a B2B Marketing Strategist and CEO of her firm Marketing Interactions, Inc. She helps companies with complex sales turn prospects into buyers with digital marketing strategies and content platforms that show them what’s possible, why to embrace change, and how to gain value that drives business.

The author of Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies That Drive Results and eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, Ardath has been voted one of the 50 Most Influential People in Sales and Lead Management for the past three years and was selected as a 2014 Woman to Watch in B2B Marketing by FierceCMO. Among her clients are Teradata, PROS, Deluxe, Transunion, BMC Software, Steelwedge, Riverbed Technology, CoreMedia, and Sykes.

About the interviewer

carmen hill_revCarmen Hill (@carmenhill), Director of Marketing at ISITE Design, is a longtime B2B marketer and content strategist who is happily ensconced at the intersection of content marketing and content strategy – and excited to see intelligent content joining the party. Prior to joining ISITE, Carmen built an award-winning content practice at Babcock & Jenkins, crafting award-winning content and campaigns for clients such as Adobe, Google, and Xerox.

Title image courtesy of Joseph Kalinowski, Content Marketing Institute