Explaining what content strategy is, is something of a thorny problem.
Let's kick off with some definitions, Monica Bussolati has put together a great resource of content strategy definitions, some of which I've included below:
A content strategy flips the tables on traditional, linear marketing by defining the process and then securing the right resources for producing a consistent stream of content mapped to buyer needs across all phases of the buying cycle ~ Michael Brenner, SAP
You'll notice each of these definitions have words and phrases in common - 'planning' features front and centre in Kristina's and Margot's definitions, and Michael's is in a similar vein, talking about 'defining the process'.
All of these definitions are heavily-weighted towards planning and process - in each they take centre stage. This makes me a little uncomfortable.
I'm in no way suggesting that these definitions are incorrect. Planning and processes are of course imperative. But planning and processes concern delivery. Planning, developing, and managing are things you do after you’ve determined your strategy.
To my mind the issue with these definitions is that the strategy which underpins the content you'll create is secondary to the planning and processes.
Our Content Strategy Definition
In response, my partner in crime Adria Saracino and I have concocted the following definition:
I'm in no way rejecting the planning or processes that will come after, but I think that it's this high-level vision, tied to a specific objective that is the core component of a strategy. You need that piece of the puzzle before you can begin to think about creation, management and delivery.
Why is all this so important?
Content creation without strategy often leads to disparate content with no core themes or purpose. This is confusing to your target audience and can negatively impact your brand’s credibility.
Additionally, a lack of strategy can lead to generic content, and generic content simply doesn't cut it any more. Generic content is unlikely to rank organically. Generic content doesn't get shared. Generic content doesn't engage people and is therefore unlikely to deliver against your wider marketing objectives.
If you skip the strategy and head straight to delivery you're in danger of creating content which could either confuse or alienate your audience, or fail to reach them at all.
For the sake of clarity, Kristina, Margot and Michael do all talk about the need for useful, usable, appropriate content (and Michael talks specifically about mapping this to buyer needs). I'm not suggesting they reject the premise that this is important.
How do you go about determining a content strategy?
To develop a content strategy you need to start with research. The research required can be broken into three pillars:
- company research
- customer research
- competitor research
During the company research phase, you need to uncover your brand’s values and core strengths. Some questions you want to answer are: what is your company best at and what does it stand for? Besides making money, why are you in business?
You'll also want to audit the content you already have. Is it delivering versus your objectives?
During the customer research phase, your goal it to understand the wants, needs, and purchasing journey of your customers.
You'll also want to understand more about how, where and when they consume content.
Competitor research comes in two flavours - commercial competitors and content competitors.
You need to understand your commercial competitors’ brand values, unique selling proposition, and how they are communicating them to their customers.
You'll also need to understand your content competitors. These might be different from your commercial competitors. For example, imagine you're a sports betting company. If you're going to be creating content related to the sports events you're offering betting markets on; then you're competing not just with other betting companies, but everyone else who creates content about these events. So that means you'll be looking at major news outlets, sports news outlets, fan sites etc. Your content doesn't just need to stand out from your commercial competitors, but these content competitors too.
Find a place to play
With these research components in hand, you need to identify the gap where you’ll position your brand.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What do your customers say they want and need? Is your content delivering?
- Are your competitors (both commercial and content) already giving this to them?
- If not, is this an opportunity for your brand to shine? And does seizing it match what your brand stands for?
- Always ask: "will doing this deliver against my business objective?"
You'll doubtlessly have noticed that our definition of content strategy talks about a singular business objective (as opposed to objectives plural):
A content strategy is the high-level vision that guides future content development to deliver against a specific business objective.
We debated this at length internally, and didn't arrive at this final definition lightly.
I believe it's entirely conceivable that a brand will employ a variety of strategies depending on their objectives. I've said before that content should be goal-driven - what you create depends on what you want to achieve.
For example - if a brand's objective is to 'increase linking root domains to improve search visibility' the strategy we'll devise will look very different to a strategy with the objective of 'increasing conversion rate from x to y'.
Ultimately, I believe that the purpose of a content strategy is to:
- ensure your content is consistently aligned with your brand message and values
- ensure your content enhances your credibility
- ensure your content helps you stand out from the competition
- ensure your content delivers against your objectives
And so, dear reader, over to you. Do you have a definition of content strategy you'd like to share? Or thoughts on this post? I'd love to hear them.
Image credits: Nomadic Lass