The difference between content strategy and content marketing strategy


Cross-Stitch (Embroidery)

Let’s get one thing straight: content strategy and content marketing strategy are not the same, and you most definitely should not confuse the two. Your clients or customers may see your content as a single design – the perfect embroidered cloth captured in the hoop – but you need to know what part of the embroidery is outline, and what part of it is colour and detail. If you don’t know, you’ll have shapeless splashes of colour, or empty shapes devoid of colour and texture. And each one of these things might be OK to look at, but they’ll be a shadow of what they could be, and nothing like what your clients or customers might want or need.

So that’s my metaphor out of the way.

In my last blog I talked about the difference between marketing and communication. Having a handle on this is important because the essence of content strategy is communication (this is why so many of us writers, journos, and communications specialists make their way into content strategy); its focus is an audience. Marketing strategy, on the other hand, adds content strategy to the marketing mix; its focus is, as with all marketing, a market.

A great content marketing strategy begins with a solid content strategy. Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for The Web, describes content strategy as “planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content”. Like most of these invaluable mots justes, her words actually have a depth and magnitude of iceberg proportions. What kinds of things are included in this creation, delivery, governance, and what can she mean by useful and usable content? Let’s take a dive and have a look:

  • Setting goals
  • Developing value propositions
  • Creating a buyer persona or personae
  • Mapping content for each persona
  • Developing web content
  • Developing content assets
  • Publishing
  • Writing
  • Editorial, PR, and social media calendars

… and on and on. Like I said: iceberg proportions. Your content strategy doesn’t have to include all these things, but it does have to be solid. (By the way, I’d venture that if you don’t have the first four items on the list it isn’t solid, and you don’t, in fact, have a strategy at all).

A great content marketing strategy uses a content strategy to drive customer and client actions. Marketers will be familiar with terms such as buyer cycle and buyer journey: a content marketing strategy will apply elements of the content strategy to stages of the cycle or journey. This is where the overlap, synergy, and yes, even magic happen. On the surface, what you’re doing will look like branding, expertise, thought leadership, or engagement, but its goal will be to convert, provide leads, or establish relationships.

You may have noticed that I’ve said “a great content marketing strategy” twice. I have my reasons. There are people who will argue that a content strategy and a content marketing strategy can exist completely independent of each other, and it’s true: a content marketing strategy can just use content – any content. Equally, you’ll get results – any results. A great content marketing strategy needs nothing less than a solid content strategy behind it.

What would you rather have? And what do your clients and customers deserve?

I am currently taking on content strategy clients for May. If you would like a solid content strategy for your own business, please: get in touch.


Photo credit: © professor25 via DepositPhotos

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