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Redefining content strategy and content marketing

Redefining content strategy and content marketing Rebecca Lieb

So content is the new black (and some 270,000 exact-match results for that phrase on Google suggest it's at least a deep, deep indigo). Inevitably, that has meant an escalated level of chatter, talk, and pontificating about content's role in the digital mix.

As more and more marketers consider how content can work for them in the digital mix, a certain degree of confusion is beginning to obfuscate discussions and debates. Two very distinct disciplines, content strategy and content marketing, are beginning to blur. And if they're not blurring, too many people are too carelessly using the terms interchangeably.

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As with many marketing-related terms, it's tough to nail down precise, etched-in-stone definitions for either term. But it's nonetheless clear that content marketing and content strategy are not interchangeable concepts, nor do they refer to the same thing. There is, as we'll soon see, a huge degree of interdependence.

Let's throw some existing definitions out there for considerations, shall we?

Content strategy

  • Content strategy has been described as "the practice of planning for content creation, delivery, and governance" and "a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website development project." And also "achieving business goals by maximizing the impact of content." (Wikipedia)

  • "Using 'words and data to create unambiguous content that supports meaningful, interactive experiences.'" (Rachel Lovinger, "Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data")

  • "Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content... The content strategist must work to define not only which content will be published, but why we're publishing it in the first place. Otherwise, content strategy isn't strategy at all: it's just a glorified production line for content nobody really needs or wants. Content strategy is also -- surprise -- a key deliverable for which the content strategist is responsible. Its development is necessarily preceded by a detailed audit and analysis of existing content." -- Kristina Halvorson

Content marketing

  • "Content marketing is an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumer bases. Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering high-quality, relevant, and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action. Content marketing has benefits in terms of retaining reader attention and improving brand loyalty." (Wikipedia)

  • "Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience -- with the objective of driving profitable customer action." -- Joe Pulizzi

Content strategy is what makes content marketing effective. I like Ahava Leibtag's take on the issue. She says content strategies are about repeatable frameworks, and content marketing is about building relationships. Marketers, she says, don't necessarily create content strategies, but rather implement them.

Evolution, on both sides
Back in the day, content strategy was primarily relegated to the user experience and website development processes. Small wonder. Back in the days of Web 1.0, your own site was pretty much the only thing online you could control or influence, content wise. Content strategy has blown beyond the walled garden and expanded to embrace auditing, analyzing, creating, disseminating, and governing content in a myriad of channels, ranging from more dynamic websites to the entire scope of Web 2.0 options out there in the wild (and often, how those same rules and processes should be applied to offline channels, as well).

Content strategy underpins content marketing. Without examining the competitive landscape, current assets, gaps, resources, the market, and plenty of other aspects, content marketing barely has a leg to stand on. Without a strategy, content marketing turns into one of those classic, eye-rolling imperatives all too familiar to digital marketers: "We need a Facebook page!" or "We ought to be blogging!" or "How come we're not on Twitter?"

The obvious answer, of course, is because we don't have a strategy. Content marketing is all very well and good, but the reason to do it isn't because all the cool kids are doing it. Without a strategic foundation, a structure, an analysis of resources and needs, and a system in place to measure results, all you're doing is Facebooking. Or blogging. Or tweeting.

More of both
Interruption-based marketing will never go away, but it's receding -- quickly. Last week, the Custom Content Council, in conjunction with Roper Affairs, released a study of custom content. It indicates a hockey-stick demand for content on both the consumer and marketers sides of the equation. Some findings:

  • 35 percent of the CMOs surveyed believe custom content marketing is the future of marketing, versus 19 percent when the study was first conducted in 2006.

  • CMOs see increased value in custom content: 87 percent feel it's valuable now, versus 72 percent five years ago.

  • 73 percent of consumers prefer to get company information from a company in the form of a collection of articles over an ad.

  • 69 percent of consumers like that custom content marketing targets their interests.

  • 67 percent think custom content from a company is valuable.

  • 61 percent feel better about a company that delivers custom content and are more likely to buy from them.

If not today, then soon -- very soon -- your marketing spend is going to shift away from advertising and direct response campaigns and into content initiatives that strengthen ties and deepen relationships with customers and prospects.

The best way to prepare is to start developing content marketing initiatives. And the only way to do that is to first do the research and the homework by developing a solid content strategy framework around all these content marketing efforts.

Rebecca Lieb is globally recognized as an expert on digital marketing, advertising, publishing, and media. A consultant, author, and sought-after speaker, she's the former VP of Econsultancy's U.S. operations.

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Rebecca Lieb has published more research on content marketing than anyone else in the field.  As a strategic adviser, her clients range from start-up to non-profits to Fortune 100 brands and regulated industries. She's worked with brands...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Robert Rose

2011, March 29


First of all great post. It's refreshing to see how much traction these two topics have gained in such a short period of time. I look good in deep indigo ;-)

I've always liked Kristina Halvorson's (@Halvorson) definition in her "Content Strategy for the Web”

"content strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.”

I look at what Content Strategists like Rahel Bailie, Scott Abel and Ann Rockley are doing – and a good piece their work focuses on such different parts of the business. In many cases, it has nothing to do with marketing – but everything to do with how content can have positive effect on the business.

To me – this separation feels right because it distinguishes Content Marketing from Content Strategy in the same way that Marketing Strategy is distinguished from Business Strategy or Product Strategy.

And, indeed, as you point out – as marketing budgets shift to content – just as in marketing strategy – your best bet is to *start* from a rock solid content strategy framework.