In a recent Marketing Profs post, some interesting information came to light. Namely, how important content is to the purchase process. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but instead of taking this fact at face value, let’s take a different look at the role content may play. I argue that content is radically underutilized in virtually every decision process we go through. Why? We need “content” to make good decisions. Without it, we are essentially guessing, irrespective to the topic or decision. While we will never eliminate variables that require us to make some form of an educated guess with respect to a decision or the facts at hand, we can minimize them by having the right content and resources when we need them. You see, it isn’t content that is so important; it is being able to access the right content at the right time. Getting this right is the Holy Grail for social, content and digital engagement, as well as marketing and CRM in general.

All of us in the business world share content with one another. In fact, as we have become more wired and interconnected, many of us are sharing more content with more people than we realize. In a recent CMO Council report, they found that 28 percent of respondents share content with more than 100 colleagues and 59 percent forward content to more than 25 people. If you have a large LinkedIn group or Twitter following, you are likely sharing your point of view and the content you feel is important with a wide swath of people.

However, the issue isn’t you sharing the content you feel is so important; the issue is who receives it and when. You may or may not be interested in what I am sharing today or tomorrow on a given topic, but you may be interested two weeks from now given a new task you have been assigned. How will you find what you need? A Google search perhaps? Maybe. You may get some of what you need, but that may be it—you make do with what you have and go out to find the rest.

Today, many of us have a number of digital pipes that spew forth content 24/7, most of which we rightfully ignore. For example, in my Google reader, I have close to 1,700 blog posts from over 60 RSS feeds I have not read. I have a queue of 20 podcasts I have not listened to with over 350 episodes waiting for me. My hashtag filters in HootSuite catalog tens of thousands of posts and links that scroll past like a NASDAQ ticker every day. Every day I get notifications from 25 groups on LinkedIn for juicy and important new content. The list goes on.

As the web continues to evolve and storage and processing power continue to drop in cost, we will likely see new tools emerge that will move us beyond curated content as we know it today. The social web has allowed us to create reputation scores for people and rank sites and resources. I can even rate a piece of content. But that is my point of view. Today’s tools don’t account for relevancy. You may find a piece of content immensely more valuable than me. Just because I scored it low doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to you or others. Multiple scores help to normalize rankings and better provide an average. However, as you move through a business decision process, finding the right piece of content that is both situational and relevant along with being vetted (which we can do now) is difficult.

For the web and social tools to become truly powerful, they need to move to a personalization state. Apps and tools need to get smarter about what you do (like LinkedIn), but also need to ask what you need (like Siri). Smart, interconnected and mobile systems that understand each of us, our unique styles, what is important to us, what we will need help with (by asking) and even understanding the dynamics of our work or home environments will help us move to getting the right content at the right time and in the right format and even tie us to the right people (using content as the platform for those linkages).

These initiatives are currently (and quietly) under development. Smart systems, smart machinesinterconnected networks and big data will soon provide us with content that is more relevant and powerful than we can imagine. Through this innovation, the digital divide we have known in one form or another since the first computers came online will finally start to fade.

Steve Hershberger

Steve Hershberger