What is Content?

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What is content? Before you dismiss this question out of hand, please consider my main points.

Most people think of content in two primary ways: type (or category, such as documents, presentations, case studies, product sheets), or format. Ask about this in your next planing meeting. 

You see this regularly in graphics that suggest how to align content to buying stages. Consider the universally recommended prescription to define requirements for each stage of the buying process. The graphic below from SiriusDecisions is a common framework.

Content Aligned to Buying Process

The problem is, definitions based on formats doesn’t in any way inform creators about how to produce the assets. Users are often unclear why and when they would use it.

This weak model leaves everyone thinking, “we’ve defined our requirement” (as type, category or format) but in fact, haven’t defined anything truly useful.

We’ve found it more useful to think about three elements that align with how your constituents think:

Audiences are looking for information, in a particular format (or channel), for a particular experience (learning, enjoyment, how to, etc.) 

Creators and users think about the contentS (information), the package (format), and the specific purpose. 

This is the job content must perform for them, as well as the information and experience to create for the audience. 

ContentS inform the “what to say,” as well as the “how to say it”.

Unfortunately, purpose is seldom explicitly defined or well-considered before projects begin. An indicator of this are the many revisions required. Thinking that should precede projects, evolves as assets or elements are presented for review.  

We believe weak definition is a primary reason assets under-perform, or are criticized by user constituents, like the sales or channel organization. 


Common Definitions of Words Are Essential

Perhaps more importantly, it makes diagnostic and planning conversations confusing and fosters misalignment between communicators.

For example, a colleague and sales messaging expert Michael Canon writing about marketing content in an excellent article, 9 Strategies to Increase Marketing Effectiveness: Enabling Greater Competitive Differentiation and Faster Revenue Growth, said this:

“What you see is that it’s often not the content that’s the problem but rather the messaging in the content.”

What does he mean? What is the difference between content and messaging? Why would we ever separate the two?

This happens all the time. (I’m not disagreeing with his main points, just this important distinction.)

We experience this when clients tell us, “we want to create an ‘X'” — a webinar, video, presentation, whitepaper, etc.

When we respond, “what do you want to say, what do you want to achieve?” they often answer, “that’s what we need to figure out.” They usually have the topic identified, but there is little if any requirement document, and certainly not an outline of key points they want to make.

Another example is when sales says, “we need video, or case studies, or testimonials,” (thinking “better content”). A typical marketing response is, “right, we know how to make those, we’ll get right on it.” And when they deliver, they hear, “this sucks!” There’s no common understanding to work from.

Lack of a clear documented purpose for each asset is a primary cause of poor or misaligned content. One of the best quality criteria is: does it support the defined use case purpose? 



It’s important when you develop your content strategy, or plan and prepare for each project, to define three major quality criteria:

Purpose — support specific use case requirements, the job it must do

Questions — that buyers have or should have

Relevance — issues, key points, stories and language that resonate with each primary target audience

This 60 second video explains in greater detail:

This simple but important shift that will improve the quality of your assets, as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of your content operations. And this is the path to better asset performance and business outcomes.

So it turns out there’s a lot of important nuance to this.  Content is information that is packaged to deliver an experience.. This separates the contentS from packaging or type, but align both to the primary purpose for creating in the first place.

Please remember the admonition of David Ogilvy

What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy
is the content of your advertising, not its form.”


Related Information

(Content as …) Situation-specific information, on purpose, by design

The Design Point is Different for Marketing and Sales Content 


Resolving the number one unconsidered cause of low B2B sales and marketing performance, and revenue growth …
… the inability to deliver effective knowledge, conversations, and situation-specific information (content), in context, at scale
Contact: jburns@avitage.com           Phone: 508-397-7059           Copyright © 2021 Avitage Consulting LLC. All rights reserved.