Content strategy explained

Defining Content Strategy

Content strategy explained

Content strategy is the art and science of using text, images and video to create a business outcome. Content strategy blends copywriting, digital branding and user-centred design into one big melting pot to cook up a tasty user experience with a business result.

In an age where customers are bombarded by content every time they open their email or browse Instagram, businesses and brands need a cohesive content strategy to make sure their storytelling has enough impact and influence to cut through the clutter.

Content strategy unites the many fragments of business communication – brochures, web copy, social media updates, sales decks, media releases, publicity, emails and advertising – into one cohesive plan to ensure that no matter what context or environment your potential customer is in, your business message remains crystal clear.

Content strategy sits between a business's brand vision and what the customer cares about
Content Strategy sits firmly between a business’s brand vision and what the customer cares about.

Given that everyone in a business now creates content – whether it’s an email to a customer or an update on their LinkedIn profile – a documented content strategy allows everyone (regardless of their job title or experience) to communicate clearly and effectively.

I know content strategy can sound a little like jargon – one of those weasel words people bring out to try to sell you something – but it’s not. Content strategy has four Cs:

  • Content: the storytelling that builds brand and reputation
  • Communication: the conduit for information exchange, usually with a clear messaging framework  
  • Community: the connections built between people responding to the content and communication
  • Construction: the processes of creating, approving and ‘governing’ content creation and life cycle.

Content strategy unites the planning, creation, publication and retirement of content that can get messy and overwhelming as businesses and brands evolve over time. It also makes sure the words, images, videos that your business produces attract your ideal customers and clients with the right message at the right time.

Content strategy has to have a clear goal at the top, which should be articulated before content audits or content creation begins.

When content strategy is well-planned, it is based on two key things: business and audience needs.

Content Strategy triangle
How a well-triangulated content strategy works: informed by audience and business needs.

Content strategy should be a key part of the modern digital marketing mix which also:

  • Articulates key themes and messages a business should communicate to best maximise its audience of potential customers
  • Defines the audience clearly, understand the ideal customer and know best current thinking to harness audience intent to deliver a business outcome
  • Makes sure the storytelling accurately reflects the business’s purpose and values
  • Plans the customer and audience journey from awareness through to purchase, offering content to support, explain and engage audiences through each stage of the journey
  • Recommends the best creative and channels to convert that audience from casual browser through to committed customer and advocate
  • Deals with the messy complicated things like SEO – which is making sure the search engines can help surface your content to your ideal customer  – and social media planning
  • Creates Copy Guidelines and Strategy Documents to explain how to consistently use content, without relying on someone else to ‘hit publish’ for you
  • Helps make sure content is accessible to all people, by being perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. You can read more about the importance of accessibility here.

Staffing and resourcing content strategy

It’s hard for businesses to publish content, agree what’s right and apply the best resources at the right time to create and engage an audience around content. In my experiences, most businesses appoint an internal staff member – maybe someone with copywriting or marketing co-ordinator experience – or engage a freelancer to help them with content strategy and publishing. What type of content and channels is your organisation truly capable of publishing (without making people quit or throw tantrums)?  It’s no use asking the receptionist to look after social media and blog posts if he has no experience with copy, image selection or social media moderation. You’re always better to invest the right skills to get the results a business truly needs.

This content strategy consideration framework helps you see the importance of high level goals informing the complex processes and channels of an effective content publishing schedule.

Learning more about content strategy

Different businesses naturally have different content strategy needs – some will focus more on the big picture things like information architecture and UX (which become super demanding for large sites) while others focus more on creating content to generate leads or customers.

There’s plenty of interesting podcasts and books to read on the topic … but none of them make for gripping reading (unless you love reading dry business how-to books for fun).

My favourite book about content strategy is actually a non-strategy book called Don’t Make Me Think, which is more about web usability and how people read. This is the essence of great content strategy, where you let the limitations of the screen or channel dictate how you communicate the message. But that’s just me …