What is Content Strategy?
The problem with common words, and word combinations, is we all assume our definitions and interpretations are universal. This is certainly the case with content strategy.
Since the concept “strategy” is challenging in itself, it’s no wonder content strategy seems to mean so many different things to different people. We’re back to the blind men holding the elephant metaphor.
At the Intelligent Content conference (ICC) this reality was in full display. Until I questioned the elephant on the table, everyone seemed to nod knowingly as the term “content strategy” was bandied about. I appreciated Kristina Halvorson (@halvorson) when she acknowledged she has been giving this topic deep consideration lately. With respect to the rest of us, if Kristina is doing this, we better pay attention.
We do have good foundational guidance in both Kristina Halvorson’s book Content Strategy for the Web, and Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper’s Managing Enterprise Content. Rockley and Cooper use the term “unified content strategy.”
Kristina Halvorson – Content Strategy for the Web
“Content strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content. A strategy is a carefully considered, well-articulated plan of action, achievable and executable. It’s a roadmap that gets us from where we are now to where we want to be.
Until we commit to treating content as a critical asset worthy of strategic planning and meaningful spend, we’ll continue to churn out worthless content in reaction to unmeasured requests.”
Rockley and Cooper – Managing Enterprise Content
“A unified content strategy is a repeatable method of identifying all content requirements up front, creating consistently structured content for reuse, managing that content in a definitive source, and assembling content on demand to meet customer needs.
A unified content strategy can help organizations avoid the content silo trap, reducing the cost of creating, managing, and distributing content, and ensuring that content effectively supports both organizational and customer needs.
A unified content strategy makes it possible to deliver content to any customer, anywhere, and on any device without having to rework the content at every stage.”
Current State of Content Strategists
I attended the Content Strategy Meetup in Cambridge, MA a few months ago. My motivation was to learn what professionals working in this area are doing to help businesses make content — especially customer facing content — more strategic.
I wanted to learn how content strategists help companies, not just projects, make decisions about how to support content constituents, those people in various marketing tactics, sales, training, customer service and the sales channel. I wanted to see how companies assessed use case requirements and what they were doing to manage content operations more efficiently.
What I found from both the Meetup and ICC are professionals working at the tactical level, designing and managing specific content projects. Some people focus on technical publications (tech pubs) and others on websites. To say this is all converging is an understatement.
I think this is very common among content marketers.
I call this “small ‘s’ strategy” because it’s focused primarily on projects, and maybe a little at the functional tactic level such as lead generation, social media, or websites.
Sales and Marketing Information and Content Strategy
I also saw a myopic focus on marketing. Sales and channel sales clients I work with regularly complain their information and content needs are not well understood or served by those responsible for content creation.
This is significant because sales people must develop a high percent of leads — typically 60-80% of sales pipelines. Sales people have also adopted social selling tactics. Both efforts require content, but sales people must scrounge for supporting content.
For the most part sales people don’t have content resources, microsites or landing pages, marketing automation and tracking capabilities, or people to help them execute.
The sales channel have all the requirements of their vendor partner, but typically limited marketing, lead generation and content creation expertise and resources. Yet the channel, for many B2B selling organizations, is a critical part of their go-to-market organic growth strategy.
So organizations need to think more broadly about their marketing and sales information and content strategy.
I believe the core cause of the content challenges companies face, as highlighted in the annual Content Marketing Institute, Marketing Profs survey, is lack of effective information and content strategy. This is confirmed by most content marketing professionals (article links to latest research report)
Content strategy today is primarily applied at the project or tactic level.
The primary objective of this work has been to build better content. This approach misses business, and especially operational, efficiency and cost outcomes. At the root of the afore mentioned content challenges are primarily operational causes. This is where you need remedies.
To optimize business and tactic outcomes, as well as operational efficiency, accountability for information and content strategy must be elevated to higher levels in organizations.
For customer facing content, a short list of strategy work involves assessing and documenting:
- Buyer personas (business problems, preferences, etc,)
- Buying process and associated questions, decisions and information requirements
- Use case requirements in key constituent areas of marketing, sales, training, customer services and the channel
- The competitive content landscape – not just direct product competitors, but anyone publishing content about topics or issues under consideration
- Primary conversation threads, storylines, messages, words and phrases, etc.
Our term for the documentation of this work are Customer, Information and Content Frameworks. This short video explains more about these if you are interested.
This is indeed complex, comprehensive work, especially in large enterprises. This begs the question …
Who Should Perform Information and Content Strategy?
Here’s a simple map of possible levels within an enterprise where this work could or should be done.
Given the number of activities, frequency and people involved to perform this work at different levels, this raises important questions:
- Where does strategy expertise reside in most enterprises?
- Which level has the most holistic view of information, customer and communication requirements for the organization?
- Where do time, resources and budgets permit this kind of work, especially research, to be conducted?
- What level offers the most efficiency to perform this work, because it will apply to multiple functions?
- What are the implications of incomplete, ineffective or un-documented assessments performed by individuals, functions, or third party agencies?
- What level can make optimal trade-off decisions?
I believe this work should not be done at the project, functional tactic, and maybe even functional levels. These levels make localized tradeoffs based upon their priorities, as well as resource and budget constraints. But these are tactical not strategic decisions. The right level is for each organization to decide.
Summary of Findings and Recommendations
1. Current content strategy focuses primarily on content projects, mostly at the tactic level
2. Companies should perform this work at levels that span functions, functional tactics and specific projects
3. Ask: “What is the highest level in the organization where commonality exists to conduct content strategy?
4. A business level, marketing and sales information and content strategy must identify key content constituents and address their use case requirements
5. A more comprehensive marketing and sales information and content strategy framework is required. This should incorporate and extend existing frameworks that support content projects.
Avitage Blog: Content Strategy for the Web
Robert Rose, Content Marketing Institute: How Content Strategy and Content Marketing Are Separate But Connected