Everyone talks about content – but where’s the strategy gone?

Were you lucky enough to pick up some of those bright orange socks at ContentEd 2017? They were from our conference sponsor, Zengenti, whose CMS, Contensis, is designed to power complex websites with huge traffic. We hear from Gabriel Smy, one of their Content Strategists, about why we need to bring the strategy back into content strategy.

Everyone talks about content - but where's the strategy gone?

When I first labelled myself a content strategist hardly anyone knew what it meant, including me.

But over the years the definitions have been debated, books written, conferences held, tools created, and countless content strategy positions advertised.

Content strategy has exploded.

We’re talking about it more than ever. Just look at Twitter – awash with links to articles about #contentstrategy.

And clients now are aware that their content needs attention, requesting content services even if they are not always sure what that means.

Yet there’s a problem.

While there is undoubtedly a lot of noise about content – tactics, methods, and tools – hardly anyone is talking about the strategy part. Content strategy has become a hashtag to stick on any discussion concerning content.

Content. Strategy. The clue is in the name.

What is strategy, anyway?

There are many definitions of strategy but it’s not hard to identify their common ingredients:

  1. A desired future
  2. A time period
  3. A plan of action

The desired future may be an aim or goal or objective. However an organisation defines winning.

The time period for winning is sometimes ‘overall’ or ‘long-term’, although in business it helps if the period is specific. 12 months. 5 years. 20 years.  

Then there’s the plan of action. The agreed and shared way that we’re going to achieve our aims. Some strategic plans are high-level, others more detailed. Military and business definitions of strategy often include the marshalling of resources.

The problem with so much #contentstrategy talk is that it repeats the tactics and methods of the past without engaging with an organisation’s desires for the future.   

Putting the strategy back into content strategy

At a simple level, content strategy is asking how content will make an organisation win. Winning looks different for everyone, but it’s going to take content to get there. Content strategy is the overarching plan to get from where we are now to where we want to be – using content.   

What content will a company need to accomplish its objectives? How will it be created? How will it keep performing as time passes?

I suspect that some people talk of content but not strategy because they are missing the first part of the definition: they have no clear aims. It amazes me that organisations will spend a great deal of time and money on new websites without clear goals for why they are doing so in the first place.

It’s sad to see a website brief containing vanity metrics added as an afterthought because there is no clear strategy by which to judge success.

It’s not a surprise – bureaucracy and corporate multiplicity tend to stifle purpose – but it astounds me still, that someone, somewhere, doesn’t stand up and yell: ‘but why are we doing this in the first place!?’ Or more to the point, why someone with the power to do something about it doesn’t listen when they do.

A content strategy is a detailed plan

Kristina Halvorson picked up on the lack of strategic thinking in Content strategy: more than a bunch of tactics. The Empress of content strategy countered empty phrase-making with this glorious definition:

“[Content strategy is] a well-founded plan, fueled by your business objectives and user goals. An achievable plan, created with your current business reality, content assets, and limited resources in mind. A future plan, for what’s going to happen to your content once you send it off into the world. And, most importantly, a profitable plan, where your measures of success ultimately have impact on your organization’s bottom line.”

While content strategy (abstract noun) is a strategic view of how content will meet an organisation’s long-term goals, a content strategy (concrete noun) is the detailed plan for how that’s going to happen.

It may be a single document. Or a collection. But they are real, weighty things. You can print them out, roll them up and hit executives on the head with them.

They might involve auditing current content, creating new content, publishing ongoing content, governing existing content – but they all concern the nitty-gritty of how content will help an organisation win.

Strategy and detail need to marry and have babies. You don’t want to plan content that doesn’t serve any objectives. Or run a hefty audit on all content when limiting to a more purposeful scope would suffice. Or train teams in writing standards when those people are going to be deployed elsewhere.   

I rejoice with all my heart that content strategy is more talked about than ever. Now it’s time to realise that ‘content’ is the adjective. ‘Strategy’ is the noun. Let’s explore how content serves strategy, and I think we’ll be onto a winner.

Thank you to Zengenti for sponsoring ContentEd 2017’s drinks reception. You can find out more about them and the services they offer on their website

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