6 things people really mean when they say ‘content strategy’

When Kristina Halvorson popularised the idea of content strategy in 2008, it had the feel of a movement – even a cult. Now it’s a phrase that trips lightly off the tongue of every digital marketer. But is everyone talking the same language?

 6 things people really mean when they say ‘content strategy’

During the course of its adoption by the digital marketing industry over the last 8 years, the term ‘content strategy’ (1.32million Google results and counting) has come to mean different things to different people.

It’s to be expected that thinking through an organisation’s shift to a content-led approach to marketing and communications will throw up different interpretations of what this involves. And because the things ‘content strategy’ tries to describe can be both complex and variable, it doesn’t make much sense to hold out for some perfect definition of the term.

What does matter, though, is that everyone in your team has an agreed sense of what ‘content strategy’ means for you. So, which of these definitions works best for you?

1. Content strategy as digital transformation

Content strategy writ large can be a driver for change across a whole organisation, spearheading the creative disruption of its business model and workflow as well as the customer experience. It’s about recognising the importance of content to marketing and even to the brand as a whole, involving every aspect and function of the organisation.

Digital transformation tends to be a top-down process. It can take a year or 18 months to put in place – and stakeholder engagement and management must be a key part of the strategy if it is to succeed.

2. Content strategy as publishing framework

Content strategy can also mean defining a business case and a suggested approach for an organisation that’s in the process of becoming (more of) a content provider.

In this sense, it’s about sketching out a publishing framework, mapping it back to the organisation’s goals and audiences, and then communicating this persuasively to senior management.

It’s about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ of content strategy. Its elements typically include user personas, a messaging framework and team structures.

Once a content framework is clearly understood by its stakeholders, then editors can start to prioritise and plan content more effectively.

A definition of strategy I heard recently that I really like is: “A reason to say no to things”. Without some idea of why you’re doing what you want to do, and how you might make it happen, loads of content gets wasted, loads of ideas never see the light of day, nothing really gets followed through, it’s hard to know if you’re getting any better or worse.

Dan Brotzel, content director, Sticky Content

3. Content strategy as implementation support

Once an organisation has its content strategy framework signed off, it starts to implement it across its various departments and territories.

Often, at this point, as strategy starts to be translated into execution, the realisation sinks in that digital content is not consistently created or delivered across all channels. Content templates and execution guidelines need to be created and shared to support content workflows and processes.

4. Content strategy as content migration strategy

When an organisation wants to review its digital presence ahead of a brand refresh or website revamp, then content strategy changes again.

It becomes about creating an inventory of existing content, defining criteria to measure content effectiveness, auditing content against the criteria and deciding what to keep, what to delete and what to edit. It’s also about identifying where there are content gaps.

5. Content strategy as content marketing planning

This is about the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’ or the ‘how’ of content strategy. Operating as a content provider is about regularly brainstorming ideas, planning them out in an editorial calendar, and defining and measuring effectiveness.

6. Content strategy as content analysis and optimisation

Sometimes an organisation already has a content strategy and what they need is for it to be applied to a specific channel – such as social media – or individual content item.

They might need a review of a critical user journey (like a sign-up process) with some recommendations for improvements. Or they might want a fresh approach to their information architecture and navigation. Often this work will involve iterative refinements informed by insights from testing.