iMedia Connection

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 marketing

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:

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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