When you visit a website or use an app you’re consuming content. You’re having an experience (good or bad) with a company and brand. You’re on some point of a customer journey, whether that’s being a prospective, current or loyal customer.
You will have a need and the organisation should meet that need with content. It could be that you:
- Want information about a product or service
- Have a specific task to complete
- Are seeking advice
- Need an answer to a question
- Are looking to be informed or entertained
Whether or not an organisation meets those needs will largely be influenced by the content they’ve published and you have found or interacted with. This is where content strategy plays a key role.
What is Content Strategy?
To address what content strategy is, let’s start with what it isn’t. These are some common skills and disciplines that content strategy often gets conflated with.
Content strategy isn’t:
- An editorial calendar
- A plan
- A list of tactics
- Any and all marketing activity
Those things have an important place in an organisation’s content ecosystem but they also leap to the doing. A few years ago lots of search results around content strategy would surface articles that were focused on companies publishing enormous amounts of content. It became a scary norm for organisation’s to focus on quantity and not quality. There was a lot of noise being generated and a clear lack of strategy.
In her article, New Thinking: Brain Traffic’s Content Strategy Quad, Kristina Halvorson defines content strategy as:
“Guiding the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.”
It’s one sentence but represents a lot of work and also difficult conversations, organisational transformation and changing the culture of a workplace too.
Having a content strategy will help to define who is responsible for content, what the workflow will be to deliver content from idea through to publishing, measurement and maintenance.
A content strategy will be a north star for an organisation and ensure they are publishing the right content in the right place at the right time for their audiences.
In the example content strategy from Content Design London, they include a section on substance which lists all of the content formats that an organisation has, plus what success is and what the review cycle is.
There isn’t a one size fits all template for a content strategy - what’s needed will be guided by organisational goals and audience needs. Creating content for both of those is the sweet spot.
Content as an Asset
When content is achieving a business goal, meeting a user need (or ideally both) it is an asset. A thinking tool to help you find the ideal place of meeting business objectives and user tasks is the core model.
When content isn’t an asset for a business it means content isn’t:
There could also be inconsistencies, style issues and a lack of standards for content too. Content can be detrimental to a business because it is intrinsically linked to brand perception and therefore trust, loyalty and advocacy.
What Happens When There’s no Strategy?
Not having a content strategy means there will be a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities involved with content, and unclear or no workflow and processes. There are also no guardrails when it comes to publishing rights and no standardisation across silos, departments and a decentralised organisation.
Content must be an asset but it isn’t always given the resources needed. Content strategy as a ‘thing’ can be hard to sell into an organisation because it isn’t very tangible. Stakeholders like deliverables, which often gets precedent over outcomes. Content strategy is a long term process that will fundamentally change how a business operates. Conversations about content are really conversations about organisational insecurities, challenges, conflicts and culture. A content strategy won’t be able to fix everything, and certainly not quickly, but it is the start of putting content at the centre of a product or service.
Content Disciplines, Job Titles, and Roles
Content strategy isn’t the only part of the puzzle. There are so many different job titles for content roles and also titles for different expertise and disciplines of content as an industry. There is content design, content marketing, content operations and content engineering. There’s also UX writing and niches carved within the wider titles such as product content strategy.
Depending on your source of information, these disciplines can be one and the same, entirely different, or different but with some overlap.
In his article, the maturing content discipline, John Collins brilliantly articulates his thoughts on what these different roles are and how they may fit together. Some global organisations have changed entire team names from content strategists to content designers, for example. But content strategy is still needed. An organisation must know what they’re saying, who to, how, where, when etc.
It all comes back to strategy. Your (content) strategy will define what you need to do to meet the required objectives.
Is a Content Strategy All I Need?
No. It’s a brilliant starting point and a necessary one but a content strategy will introduce a myriad of other tools, processes and needs that are about long term success. Some of the elements you may also need include:
- Content style guide
- Voice and tone guidance
- Content principles
- Content inventory
- Editorial calendar/planner
- Editorial themes
There may also be a separate content marketing strategy and a social media strategy that are components of the overall content strategy.
The details and nuances of your content strategy will be informed by your business goals and audience needs. But regardless of the scope and specifics, a content strategy will guide an organisation long term in planning, creating, publishing and governing their content. It will ensure any and all content published serves a purpose with an audience in mind. A content strategy can help prioritise content and manage conflicting agendas. It will take a lot of work to understand the mechanics of an organisation and the people they serve but what’s uncovered will directly impact the content strategy that’s created and implemented.
Learn More About Content Strategy
Now we’ve covered “what is content strategy?” why not expand your knowledge and dive into content marketing, what acceptance criteria is, and how to work within a content team:
- How to Prioritise Website Content for Your Next ProjectRobert Mills30 Jun 2021
- Why You Need a Content Team to Successfully Deliver ContentRobert Mills21 Mar 2018
- How to Run an Effective Website Project RetrospectiveRobert Mills26 Oct 2017
- Four Challenges of Content-First Web DesignRobert Mills29 Jun 2016
- How to Play Content Strategy “Top Trumps”Robert Mills08 Oct 2015