Using XML for marketing materials

Structured content is not just for technical writing anymore. Marketers are beginning to take advantage of new tools that use XML to reign in the explosion of content and communications channels. The upside is that content can be reused and republished easily and quickly. The “downside” is that organization must change their processes — and get more organized.

“Write once, publish many” has been the promise of structured information technologies since long before anybody  heard of content management systems or XML. Organizations have looked to standards such as SGML, DITA, and now XML to manage their content and reduce waste in their publication processes. For years technical publications groups have been wrestling with complex standards and clunky tools in an attempt to implement structured content.

In her article XML and Marketing Materials at The Dynamic Publisher, Ann Rockley, President of The Rockley Group, does a great job making the case for using XML and a unified content strategy to produce and publish marketing materials (emphasis added):

  • Product marketing determines all … the messaging, branding, and core information is identified in the beginning. Common content between the different models is identified for reuse.
  • A master document is written following an agreed upon structure that will guarantee consistency. Content is modularized; each piece of content, such as features and benefits, is written as individual chunks of information, and the chunks are created in a single document, just as they would have been written previously. “Under the covers” the content is saved as individual components.
  • Content is written with best practices Web guidelines in mind. Well written Web-based content makes great paper-based content.
  • Based on business rules, content is automatically pushed out to each of the outputs: brochure, Web, letter, press release, and packaging and automatically formatted for each use.

Writing content using a system such as Rockley describes is actually easier than writing unstructured content. For most organizations, it is the transition fromthe “old way” to a new, structured system that causes the most pain. But by planning the content in advance and writing it in an organized manner, organizations can actually reduce lead time and avoid duplication of effort.

There are a number of areas where return on investment is realized:

  • Being in control of your content means you reduce the cost of time spent manually tracking, fact checking, and reviewing content.
  • Writing once and reusing or adapting common content means that your authors can do more value-added work. Reuse savings often start at 25% and go up from there.
  • You achieve faster time-to-market across multiple channels, increased marketing agility, and more consistent, relevant, and accurate messaging across channels.
  • Content that is written once and used many times only has to be translated once. If you translate into four or more languages, ROI is frequently 60-70% of existing translation costs.
  • You achieve more effective sales enablement through quick adaptation of content for specific sales needs, ensuring that your sales force has all the information they need, when they need it, and in the form they need it in.

The second part of Rockley’s article is coming up and I plan to review that here as well.