The Invisible Forces Behind Intelligent Content: A Marketer's Guide


The content we see is a minuscule percentage of the total information available. PHOTO: Greg Rakozy

The universe of digital content is expanding ever quicker. Sparked by a “big bang” of audience, content has clumped into stars and galaxies, clusters and superclusters.

The most powerful forces in this content universe are not the objects we see but rather the mass and energy we don’t see. The intelligence of content depends on those invisible forces.

Our Content Universe

Cosmologists believe that roughly five percent of the mass and energy in the real universe is ordinary matter. Maybe a tenth of that matter is visible.

About 95 percent of the universe consists of dark matter, an unidentified type of matter and dark energy, an unknown form of energy that accelerates the expansion of the universe. Their mystery offers a powerful analogy for the content universe that we are all building.

At any given moment, the internet’s most visible content is a minuscule percentage of the total information available. Visible content reflects conscious decisions about what we consider important and what we believe our audience finds relevant at precise a moment.

“Dark content” is hidden among that visible information. It includes metadata and even the research, drafts and conversations that went into the creative process. We also have “dark technologies,” the tools, marketing platforms, personalization algorithms and other forces that adapt, reconfigure and publish content.

3 Fundamental Problems

For marketers, the content universe has three fundamental problems.

  • First, the volume of information grows at an accelerating pace.
  • Second, some content is brighter and more spectacular than other content.
  • Third, we can’t control where people look and how they view the night sky of the internet.

Everyone can spot the moon; many people can find the Big Dipper and the North Star; fewer people can point out Cassiopeia or Arcturus.

Competing for Visibility

But unlike inanimate celestial objects, marketers consciously compete for visibility. The “Holy Grail” is to send the right information to the right customers in right format at the right time.

Without dark content and dark technology, the Holy Grail can backfire. Consider this analogy of asking someone on a date. Suitor A says, “Hey! I’ve been watching you a lot and based on those observations, I calculated that right now would be the optimal moment to approach you with a corny pickup line and then ask you to your favorite sushi restaurant. Here I go…”

How could anyone respond well to that?

Suitor A calculated the right info, target, format and time, but in doing so killed all the mystery and magic.

The Holy Grail is when you think, “Oh my god…how did he/she know that is my favorite sushi place!” It feels like karma, not content strategy.

The Holy Grail is when we see a video, a blog post or any piece of content and believe the universe is looking out for us. That content is intelligent but rare.

4 Traits of Intelligent Content

The question is, how do you boost content’s IQ? That brings us back to dark content and dark technology, the invisible underpinnings of the content universe. The most intelligent content shares four traits:

  1. Discoverable. Your marketing team members and audience find intelligent content with ease because it’s structurally rich and semantically categorized. Metadata is the key. I recommend working with a digital librarian who can professionally organize content with a metadata schema.
  2. Reusable. Suns die, but the universe reuses all the dust, gas and star-forged materials. Content fades too, but you can take the best parts and reassemble them in novel ways. This saves a lot of time and money.
  3. Reconfigurable. We can reorganize intelligent content by alphabetical order, subject, format, personas and other criteria. This ability helps us choose what is important at a given moment. Based on our audience members and their immediate concerns, we consciously decide what to make visible.
  4. Adaptable. Intelligent content adapts its appearance and substance to the recipient, device, channel, time of day, location, past behaviors and other variables. The experience is fluid. We serve whoever wants our information.

These invisible forces make the Holy Grail possible.

Remember though, your audience shouldn’t see the dark matter and dark technology.

When most people look at the night sky, they can marvel at its beauty without understanding all the mechanics behind it. Leave some mystery in our content universe.

Jake Athey is director of marketing at Widen, where he helps organizations realize their maximum marketing potential by communicating the value of Digital Asset Management (DAM) as part of core brand and marketing channel strategies. An integral member of the content strategy team, he oversees and manages all of the moving parts of content strategy, brand consistency, sales and more.


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