A recent headline in my local newspaper (yes, I said “newspaper”) is that all students in the entire school district will have iPads by next year. The story goes on to say that by the following year, all the district high schools will switch to a digital curriculum.
I know it’s not the newest topic; my older kids have had school-issued iPads for a couple years now. What’s different is the complete curriculum will be going digital. Now, if that doesn’t get your attention and get you thinking about communicating and engaging with your future customer base, what will?
Companies across many industries are rightfully rethinking the ways in which they engage and communicate with their customers and prospects. The always-connected world we live in is increasingly demanding it. According to recent estimates, 90 percent of all U.S. adults have a cell phone, and 58 percent of those are smartphones. Yet many, if not most, of the high-volume communications produced by organizations today are still paper-based. As firms try to make the transition from paper to digital communication and engagement, they are faced with a number of key questions:
- How should I start converting my printed documents to digital?
- What format should I use?
- What platforms should I target?
- I’ve got thousands of documents; how will I ever get this done?
- I’ve got thousands of documents; how much is this going to cost?
I won’t try to answer all these questions here, and surely there are many more. What I will do is submit that there are two fundamentals you’ve got to get right in order to even begin the journey from paper to digital:
- Commit to a digital-first approach to content creation
- Recognize that your content model or content architecture is more important than ever
Committing to digital-first means rethinking how you design, define, write, and manage your content. This truly requires a fundamental shift toward building from the content out. So which set of content do you start with?
- Your paper-/PDF-based content? Probably not; it’s all designed and built around a page-based paradigm.
- Your web content? Maybe a better choice, but how well will that work on mobile devices?
Really going digital-first means beginning with the smallest devices, modalities, and concepts, and building up from there. The design experts call this “progressive enhancement,” and it seems to be gaining momentum, compared to its opposite paradigm, “graceful degradation,” which employs a strategy of methodically stripping down content and capabilities from larger target screens to fit on smaller screens.
This is where Fundamental #2, above (i.e. content architecture) comes into play. In order to design from the content out and progressively enhance the information and the experience, you must have a thorough of understanding of your content. This is known as your content model, your content architecture, or possibly – but heaven forbid! – your taxonomy.
These content models are only going to get more important, while simultaneously becoming more complex. Many firms have only a superficial understanding of their content, their content types, and what the purpose of each content piece is. If they do have a decent understanding, it’s usually at the document or page level for printed and web content. As you break it down into smaller fragments so they can be assembled differently for multi-channel delivery and experiences, you’ll need to add further attribution to the content to include content type and purpose, among others.
So the next generation of customers will soon do everything digitally via various devices (not exactly news). In order to make sure that you are the provider of choice for those customers, regardless of your product, you’d better start now by adopting a digital-first mentality that is based on a well-formed content model that can support your desired experience and that can also adapt to ever-changing usage patterns.