Welcome to the wonderful world of puzzles.
Move the word “content” around to form marketing content, content operations, and content marketing, and you get a picture of how your company uses content.
But the secret to creating a clear picture – a content strategy – is that you’re not solving for one puzzle. It’s three. Still, the best way to solve them is to dump all three boxes of pieces onto the table. Then put them all together piece by piece by piece.
Only then can you see the whole picture of content strategy at your company.
In episode nine of Marketing Makers, CMI’s series for those who make marketing work, I explore what a content strategy is and how you can create an effective one. You can watch the full show here or read on for the highlights and corresponding segments of the show.
What is content strategy?
The term has really caused quite a bit of consternation in the world of business for the last 20 years. So many people have defined it, misdefined it, and conflated it with other activities. One definition went so far (or so general) as to describe content strategy as “the act of creating business goals and then using content as a means of achieving those business goals.”
It’s a little like saying my workout strategy is the act of creating health goals, then using exercise as a means of achieving those health goals. It’s not wrong, but it’s really far from helpful.
Part of the challenge is, of course, the word “content,” which can have a jack-of-all-trades definition. Here’s a helpful way I’ve found to define it in the context of a business’ content strategy: Content is communication.
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What is strategy?
The business must communicate in a coordinated voice that is intelligent, emotional, and occasionally persuasive. Put simply: Enterprise content strategy is coordinated business communication.
Over time, business communication evolves and so does the idea of content strategy. And there has been no shortage of content strategist leaders in the industry who have evolved with it. From Ann Rockley in the 1980s to Kristina Halvorson, who wrote Content Strategy for the Web in 2009, saying content strategy was the “creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.”
Content strategist Scott Abel said content “is your most valuable business asset. [Content strategy] demonstrates how to manage it efficiently and effectively.”
#Content is your most valuable business asset. #ContentStrategy demonstrates how to manage it efficiently and effectively, says @scottabel via @Robert Rose @CMIContent @semrush. #MarketingMakers Click To Tweet
Erin Kissane’s The Elements of Content Strategy quotes another content strategist, Rachel Lovinger, who said, “Content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design.”
One of my favorite views comes from Rahel Bailie: “the planning aspects of managing content throughout its lifecycle, and includes aligning content to business goals, analysis, and modeling, and influences the development, production, presentation, evaluation, measurement, and sunsetting of content, including governance.”
Do we now know what content strategy is?
Yes and no.
What is content?
We’ve got the strategy part down. It’s a well-defined approach to managing content through a lifecycle, including goals, analysis, structure, measurement, etc.
But it’s not just the strategy that evolved. The substance of the way people communicate – the content – has changed.
What is the content we want to have a strategy for?
This is one of the reasons that content strategy descriptions can be so vague. We don’t actually define the content we’re talking about because, in theory, it could be everything the business says. So, let’s look at this in an overly simplified but common application for defining content in a content strategy. Remember, it encompasses three puzzles – marketing content, content marketing, and strategy or operation of content.
There’s no part of the business that communicates more – and needs more coordination – than marketing and sales. You also could include public relations and corporate communications here. Marketing content’s goal is to reach a target audience and communicate the benefits and features of our brand, our product, or our service.
On the other end of the spectrum is content marketing. It is the content that we create, publish, and promote that is valuable in and of itself. It’s valuable to our audiences despite its relationship to our brand, our products, or services. It creates value by educating, inspiring, and entertaining the audience to grow greater affinity. The goal is to engage, build, and monetize an audience by demonstrating our brand’s differentiated value.
Strategy or operation of content
In the middle is the link that connects these two ideas – the strategy or operation of content. It involves planning and actively managing content through its lifecycle – directing, balancing, aligning to business goals, modeling, developing the structures, measuring, and governing the content.
Together, these three puzzles make sure our content strategy – putting together resources, budget, people, technology – works.
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One more view
To use another extremely simplified and surface-level explanation, the marketing content or content marketing practitioner addresses the “whys” of our communication and the content strategist addresses the “hows” the communication will be treated.
Together, they work optimal “whats” and “wheres” of the content itself. The content marketer draws the story and plans the channels that will be used to develop the customer relationship with the brand. The content strategist ensures that story, language, and management processes work consistently and are optimized efficiently across multiple teams, languages, and every publication the brand leverages.
A great content strategy that meticulously plans for not only knows what to say – but how, when, where, and how often to say it is the key to making the content feel human. And that’s the greatest puzzle of all worth solving.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute