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The Principles of Content Strategy

If your job description mentions digital content, you’re likely to have been hearing about Content Strategy for a couple of years now. If digital content is on your everyday task list, (but likely not in your job description, as happens to most of us) knowing the principles of content strategy will help you become more effective at your job.


So what is Content Strategy?

There has been quite a lot of discussion on the exact definition. According to the “Content Strategy Alliance”, an international organisation grouping content strategists from all over the world, content strategy as "Getting the right content to the right user at the right time through strategic planning of content creation, delivery, and governance." 

But while this definition tackles the task and methodology, it doesn’t really mention its purpose. Why? What’s the need for yet another discipline? 

The widely accepted definition by Kristina Halvorson, whose authority is thanks to her book “Content Strategy for the Web”, does address the “why” question: 

Content Strategy defines how you’re going to use content to meet your business (or project) goals and satisfy your audiences’ needs.

When asked what I do for a living, I sometimes use a simplified version that combines these two visions:

As a content strategist, it’s my job to get the most out of content, in order to help organisations achieve their business goals and make their sites attractive for their target audience.

Kristina Halvorson

Content Strategy defines how you’re going to use content to meet your business (or project) goals and satisfy your audiences’ needs

Ok, we have a definition, but what is it really?

The key is aligning all content stakeholders in an organisation

We know what Content Strategy supposedly is. But how does it translate to day to day life on the shop floor?

The key is aligning all content stakeholders in an organisation. So at the beginning of implementing content strategy in an organisation, we will focus on getting stakeholders around the table: analyse everyone’s content requirements; analyse everyone’s key audience; identify the common denominators in each of these areas.

Once we have identified these requirements, we design a strategy that will allow us to reach our organisation’s objectives, as well as the individual requirements of all stakeholders, without forgetting about the user needs of our audiences. The strategic questions we are asking are: what content are we going to use; through which channel; with what tone and messages; to obtain what goals or satisfy what audience needs?

As we now know what we want, the normal next step is to perform a content audit: what do we currently have; what can be repurposed; what new content should we create?

Finally, Content Strategy is also about monitoring and measuring impact of our actions and feeding the findings back into the planning loop. 

Are Content Strategy & Content Marketing the same thing?

Content Strategy and Content Marketing are related, but they are not the same:

  • Content Strategy => Using content to achieve business goals and fulfill audience needs
  • Content Marketing => using content for marketing purposes.

Obviously, marketing is also at the service of an organisation’s business goals, so Content Strategy and Content Marketing should be aligned. But Content Strategy embraces many more areas than just marketing. It sets the framework for all use of content in an organisation, including user guides, customer service documentation, press releases, social media posts, website content, print materials and much more.

If we may use the analogy, Content Strategy is akin to Brand Strategy. Everyone accepts companies have brands, your vans need to look the same as your headed paper, your website, your recruitment brochure. We're used to considering the visual representation of an organisation in a holistic manner, so it makes sense, if you think about it, that your content should also have the same coherence.

Content Strategy allows all content related work to happen with a unified vision and focus. It aims at content consistency and efficient content creation, leading to cost savings and an improved customer experience. Content marketing on the other hand, tends to aim at capturing customers or users and/or increasing revenue. 

No, although related, Content Strategy and Content Marketing are definitely not the same.