What’s the difference between content strategy and content marketing strategy? Sounds like a bad joke (or a Monty Python sketch) doesn’t it? And frankly it is, in normal life, but not in content land. It’s a topic that can get the content-focused world all steamed up, confused and tetchy.
I’ve struggled with the need for this distinction. From where I sit it can sometimes seem a bit like navel gazing and petty content handbags. But an upcoming conference and chat with fellow Bristol content consultant Tim Tucker has helped to clarify my thinking.
Here’s my take on the difference between content strategy and content marketing strategy, and why in my opinion you only sometimes need to care.
Content marketing and content strategy
Let’s start with some definitions.
Content strategy. Content strategy is the means by which you make your content work for your business. It forces you to make decisions on the big content questions – why, who, what, when, where and how – and focuses your content activities around a clear goal. The definitive definition of content strategy comes from Kristina Halvorson – the “creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” You can think of content strategy as “how to manage content as a strategic asset across the whole organisation” says Robert Rose. Content strategy’s remit is wide.
Content marketing is, quite obviously, a marketing approach – the use of valuable content to build awareness and better relationships with clients and customers. As the official definition from the Content Marketing Institute clearly states: “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.”
Content marketing strategy. If you want to make content that people care about and that works for your business, then there’s a clear need to take a strategic approach. I believe that every businesses would benefit from a road map for how they use content to meet their strategic marketing goals. This is where confusion arises. Content marketers like me sometimes refer to this exercise as content strategy (yes, the focus is marketing but the exercise shares all the hallmarks of our definition of content strategy above) and this causes some content strategy purists to get very grumpy indeed (See: How content strategy got hijacked by content marketing).
The question is, does the distinction really matter? My answer: only sometimes. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean.
An example of when it matters
I’m part of a panel at the London Book Fair’s ‘Publishing for Digital Minds’ conference tomorrow. Our session was originally named ‘Effective Content Strategies’, but in this context I felt the title was misleading.
Talk to many book publishers about content strategy and they’ll immediately focus on how best to monetise the content they own. Their business is content; how should their business models evolve to capitalise on the digital opportunity? But when looking at the case studies we were asked to present it was clear that the conference organiser’s intent was to host a debate on marketing, not on wider business strategy. So the session name has rightly been changed to ‘Effective Content Marketing Strategies’.
In this case there was a need to differentiate between content strategy and content marketing strategy. It would have caused the audience confusion so it was important we made that distinction clear.
And when it matters not so much
A lot of my work as a consultant and trainer is with leadership teams in independent firms, helping them to work out how to use valuable content to market their businesses, so they win more of the customers they really want.
In this context, I feel it’s perfectly valid to use the term ‘content strategy’ to refer to the decision making and road mapping process I help people think through. The work we do together has a clear marketing focus and intent and it doesn’t matter to the client which term we use. The strategic process we go through makes them think hard and wide.
Here are the 10 steps we follow to help them use content to deliver their marketing goals:
- Step 1 – Get clear on your goals
- Step 2 – Know your business
- Step 3 – Know your customers
- Step 4 – Find the story behind the content
- Step 5 – Your content sweet spot and vision
- Step 6 – Set your content commitment and plan
- Step 7 – Your chosen web platform and tools
- Step 8 – Organising to make it work
- Step 9 – Measuring for success
- Step 10 – Working out where you are now and plan to make it happen
We have a chapter on this process in the new edition of the Valuable Content Marketing book, and that chapter is called ‘Content Strategy’. I make no bones about that. In smaller firms the strategic content and marketing skills needed to make an impact with great content have to merge.
Should you care?
Content-focused business practice is relatively new and still evolving. It’s not surprising that there is confusion and a few arguments as the industry matures. Should you care about the difference between content strategy and content marketing strategy? Here’s my summary:
- If you’re working in content world or hiring content experts to help you with a project then it’s important to recognise the nuances. There are different disciplines, roles and skills at play here, depending on the project’s intent.
- On large web projects and in industries like publishing the distinction between content strategy and content marketing strategy must be clear.
- If a project’s intention is clearly on marketing, particularly in smaller firms, then it matters not if the terms ‘content strategy’ and ‘content marketing strategy’ are used interchangeably.
As with all good content, tailor your communication around this topic to the needs of your audience. Ditch any needless content handbags I say and just make sure you’re clear.
That’s my starter for ten but do help my thinking here. Content strategy vs. content marketing strategy – important distinction or navel gazing nonentity? I’d really welcome your view.