Content Strategy 101

There’s a lot of content strategy happening of late, which is a good thing. Problem is the phrase means different things to different people. So it becomes challenging to settle on a definitive explanation as much of what’s bandied about is often misunderstood, misinformed, misappropriated or just a mish-mash of Internet memes and slogans.

The need for such a strategy has arguably come about due to the proliferation of so many digital publishing channels. Think ‘mobile first’ (whether that be desktop, tablet or mobile), Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, eBay, apps (iOS, Android, Windows), videos (YouTube,Vimeo), microsites, SlideShare, clouds, eBooks, white papers, infographics etc; the  list goes on.

For a very clever summary  of  the variety of forms and actions a ‘content strategy’ might entail,  Elle Geraghty’s suggests the best way for her to answer the question (What the freakin’ hell is this strategy thing?), is to understand a little about the person who is asking and try to tailor the answer accordingly.

This ‘content’ context is complex

Somewhere in there is most likely a website acting as the ‘publishing hub’ churning out content in a plethora of formats across multiple platforms (web, tablet, mobile, apps etc.)

Which platform/format combinations do you focus on? What ones are irrelevant, or maybe worthy of consideration later? Who even decides this? Then, who’ll craft and publish the most relevant content for each channel? What governance framework is in place to analyse and maintain content? And more importantly, how can a business realistically support and manage the marketing of content 24/7?

It’s voluminous, all this creating and curating. And the more that’s published means there’s more to be monitored and managed. The iceberg grows. So for obvious reasons, most organisations need more than the fragmented tactical focus oft referred to as content marketing.

The journey to clarity

Charting a realistic and sustainable path through all these options and opportunities given your resources, business objectives and budget is arguably what a content strategy can help clarify.

In simple terms, a content strategy AIRS not only your digital marketing ambitions, but also your entire enterprise publishing vision, by:

  •  Assessing an organisation’s current ‘content’ state and acknowledging its ideal future state
  • Identifying where the gaps and opportunities are
  • Recommending a roadmap that fulfils both business and brand goals
  • Setting an operational framework for content execution and curation.

The combined output of these four elements then forms the core components of a content strategy document. The fifth and final compulsory component is an editorial style guide (ESG).

While some organisations might wrap oversight of an editorial calendar and team structure into a content strategy, which is fine, they are by no means mandatory.

An effective ESG would normally include as default:

  • A digital writing style/manual, complete with tone of voice instruction and examples
  • Glossary of words
  • SEO rules and metadata instructions
  • Workflow sign-off permissions.

The undeniable impact of a respected and oft referred to ESG helps ensure better:

  • Editorial quality
  • Messaging consistency
  • Governance protocols.

But where does content marketing fit into this?

It is more tactical; looking at all the content across a company that can build relationships with customers, and then executing compelling initiatives to reach, engage and convert, all while aligning with any presiding business/brand goals.

But the two (content strategy and content marketing) – while being very distinct and separate pieces of work – obviously overlap.

Robert Rose, Chief Strategist at the CM Institute in the US explains the difference, and the crossover:

Content marketing addresses the ‘why’ (as in, why would the customer be interested in this?), while content strategy addresses the ‘how,’ and together they work out the ‘what’ and ‘where.’

But the strategist must also ask ‘why’ of the marketer when needed, in order to better understand the requirements in a deeper, more thorough way, especially if technology and its capacity is part of the query. Doing so becomes the catalyst for delivering on the ‘how’.

That said, what’s then the benefit of a content strategy?

It helps ensure your content tells a coherent and compelling story, whatever the channel, across the entire organisation; from technical specs to social tweets, and everything in between.

It also champions the importance of editorial integrity to support the dictum that content is not only the enduring currency between a brand and its customers, but a valuable business asset too.

Three additional benefits usually accompany a well documented, promoted and understood content strategy. These include:

  • Cultivating an authentic awareness of (and ongoing appetite for) what quality content looks and feels like
  • Unearthing previously unknown sources of expertise and insight to feed the content machine
  • Embedding a more efficient and respectful publishing/content maintenance culture.

Where to from here?

Good question. Firstly, where is your organisation at? Chances are (depending on size),  marketing, social and product teams may likely have individually articulated content ‘programs’ in play loosely aligned to the launch, promotion and support of various campaigns and products.

What’s likely missing however, is a more holistic view (and designated role/s) overseeing the development and enterprise-wide implementation of the strategy outlined above.

Until such an appetite and organisational need arises, ‘content champions’ might take initial steps bringing together like-minded people from as many teams as possible to endorse the cause; to start, unify and maintain such conversations. Call it a ‘content council’.

Empowering the proposition

Then, should the wherewithal emerge to go down the ‘content strategy’ path, perhaps with resources dedicated to a ‘Chief Content Officer’ (or similar editorial-type role), the proposition can be empowered in three sequential steps:

  • BEFORE DEVELOPMENT – Investigate, germinate and collaborate.
  • DURING DEVELOPMENT – Analyse, synthesise and prioritise.
  • AFTER IMPLEMENTING – Agitate, conciliate and remediate. Repeat regularly.