By Colleen Jones published February 6, 2014

Has Content Marketing Hijacked Content Strategy?

red strategy-word cloud Creating content isn’t content strategy.”

That’s a simple statement I tweeted nearly two weeks ago. As a rush of retweets, favorites, and comments flowed in response, I was delighted so many people agreed with that distinction.

Then, some responses shifted to a blame game, best represented by this tweet: tweet

The link goes to the blog post, How Content Strategy Got Hijacked by Content Marketing, which contends that content marketing confuses content creation with content strategy and, consequently, dilutes the definition of content strategy.

I couldn’t disagree more. I’m enthusiastic about the possibilities for content strategy and content marketing, as Robert Rose recently suggested. I see the main distinction between the two fields of practice as purpose. Content strategy is essential for a wide range of purposes — media products, technical support, customer service, sales, and marketing, to name a few. Content marketing focuses on strategy and implementation for — you guessed it — marketing. (I explain more about the distinction in one of my own recent posts.)

Since I first talked about the distinction between these two fields of practice, I’ve advised clients for purposes that span marketing, technical support, and media product development. During that time, I’ve drawn on both content strategy and content marketing knowledge and practices. I see opportunity for both fields of practice to inform each other as we move into 2014.

What content marketing and content strategy can learn from each other

What does content strategy have to offer content marketing? A lot. One opportunity I see, especially for mid-sized and large companies, is to help content marketing scale. Content strategy draws some inspiration from product management practices. That means many content strategists view content as a product (or as an important part of a product), with a long-term vision and plan. They use techniques to guide prioritizing what’s important to do when. If you’re scaling your content marketing across different brands, market segments, geographic regions, and more, then long-term thinking and thoughtful prioritization will serve you well. Otherwise, you risk investing a lot of time, effort, and resources without getting much in return.

What does content marketing have to offer content strategy? I could talk for a day or two about the possibilities. But, one opportunity that intrigues me is becoming more proficient at content engineering and evaluation. At times, content strategists act as if the only technology affecting content is a CMS (content management system). Many are blissfully — and in my opinion mistakenly — unaware of CRM (customer relationship management) and related technologies.

Let’s consider the key difference between CMS and CRM:

CMS, of course, handles content and its related data, while CRM handles people and their related data. Both jobs are critical, so it’s no surprise these technologies are merging to offer people the right content at the right time. As a simple example, HubSpot offers a CMS and integrates with CRM technologies such as SalesForce. What does this mean for content strategists? They can learn more about their customers/users/audiences and use that knowledge to create logic that surfaces the right content at the right time.

This new, more nuanced knowledge about the people using a business’ content is especially useful as media properties move beyond reaching a mass audience and strive to engage specific groups of people over a life cycle. You know That site reaches a huge mass audience. At the same time, WebMD has started offering mobile apps that more deeply engage specific groups for an extended time. WebMD’s The Pregnancy App, for example, has various tools and information that can engage women in different ways throughout the course of their pregnancy.

kick counter on smartphoneMy point? Content strategists need a working knowledge of CRM technologies to understand how to define nuanced logic that surfaces the right content for specific people over a life cycle. Content marketing can help.

Again, I’m only scratching the surface, but I think you get a sense of the possibilities for content marketing and content strategy to benefit each other.

Down with condescension, up with collaboration

Seeing the opportunities to learn from each other is one thing. Making the most of those opportunities is another. I’m concerned we’ll miss these opportunities because the tone of our dialogue can be perceived, at times, as a bit condescending. Perhaps tone is what concerns me most about discussing content strategy as something content marketing has “hijacked” — as if content marketing has no right to contribute to its definition or nothing worthwhile to add. That doesn’t exactly encourage collaboration, which is so important to success.

For me, the bottom line is that in just the past few years, both fields of practice have accomplished more than I can possibly recount here. Both fields of practice have refined their knowledge into very useful expertise. Both fields of practice are evolving. Both communities deserve respect.

We’re at a crossroads where I believe content marketing and content strategy can achieve much more by working together than apart. We talk about the danger of content silos with our clients in one breath and, in another breath, insist that our fields of practice stay in silos. Let’s walk the talk, break down our own silos, and make 2014 the year of content and collaboration.

For more insight on scaling your content marketing efforts, join Colleen Jones as she takes the stage at Content Marketing World Sydney, March 31 – April 2, 2014.  

Cover image via Bigstock 

Author: Colleen Jones

Colleen is the author of Clout (New Riders) and the principal of Content Science, a boutique consulting firm in Atlanta, GA. As a pioneer of user experience and content strategy, Colleen has guided or supported strategic initiatives for a wide range of organizations including Equifax, InterContinental Hotels Group, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Cingular Wireless (now AT&T). Her upcoming eBook, "Does Your Content Work?" will be released in 2014. Follow her on Twitter at @leenjones.

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  • Arjun_Basu

    It’s like I always say: content without strategy is just stuff.

  • Dan Collins

    Interesting article. I really liked the “What content marketing and content strategy can learn from each other” section. I would consider Content Strategy what you need for your Content Marketing IMO. It seems like we are starting to split hairs on the terminology, the real thing it comes down to is Content Quality.

    • leenjones

      Thanks, Dan. I agree–it’s hard for me to imagine doing content marketing without content strategy. And, yet, CMI finds in their research that many B2C and B2B content marketers do not have a documented content strategy. Lots of opportunity there.

      • Paul Creola

        To be fair they probably do have a content strategy – they just don’t call it that, in the same way that there are a lot more people doing content strategy than there are people with the job title Content Strategist.

        Every company that does content marketing will no doubt have editorial calendars, message architecture documents, a style guide, objectives, measurements and all the other things every marketer – using content or not – uses. Together these form a content strategy even if it’s not written in a document titled “Content Strategy”. I always tell clients they already have a content strategy – they just need to make it better.

    • Ord

      I agree with this. Content marketing is part of a content strategy but who cares what it’s called – clients certainly don’t. What matters is quality strategic content is now being valued. Even though social media and web people like to think these mediums invented content both have been around for eons – going back to advertorials, magalogues, custom magazines, sponsored events and the rest.

  • Jeremy Swinfen Green

    I think what you are saying is that there is content strategy (which is wider than content marketing) and content marketing strategy (which is part of content marketing). A nice, and valuable, distinction which emphasises that content does not just have to be used for marketing.

    • leenjones

      Well said, Jeremy. I’m not a fan of overdefining, but I find the distinction useful.

  • Robert Rose

    Colleen – this is just a wonderful post…. And not just cuz you mention me 😉

    I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from Content Strategists – who help me be a better marketer – and allow me to focus on how I can best affect a business communications strategy through marketing….

    Your “collaboration” message is so spot on…. The simple fact is… The practice of content strategy could use a little content marketing – to help make the story a little more resonant. And content marketing could definitely use content strategy to help make the story more effective, consistent and more holistically strategic.

    Rock on!

    • leenjones

      Rock on, Robert! And thanks for spearheading this conversation.

  • Jake Truemper

    This conversation parallels much of what has been happening in the UX community. For one, frustration over misuse of the title. Whitney Hess had a popular article that brought that to the forefront: “You’re not a User Experience Designer if…”

    Then you also have the “competition” between UX research and Marketing Research.

    I think those are two separate issues, and you rightly called out the positive nature of the second situation. For UX it’s been a great opportunity to start making qualitative and quantitative measures work together in concert. It’s a collaboration that allows teams to think together to strategize, create, and promote a product in harmony, because without any one of those steps you aren’t going to have success.

    I believe the same is true for Content Strategy, as you clearly do as well. If you aren’t strategizing, creating, and promoting with the same shared vision then you’re neglecting an essential part of your customer experience.

    Collaboration is the key from the bottom up. Opening seats at the table for both groups is the key from the top down. The latter is where I think most of the frustration really lies. If your organization prioritizes one over another in any strong fashion then process problems happen that break down your customer experience.

    • leenjones

      Jake, I could not agree more with you. I draw heavily on user experience practices and follow that community, as well, so I see the parallel you mention.

      I especially love your point here:
      Collaboration is the key from the bottom up. Opening seats at the table for both groups is the key from the top down.


      I also agree that organizations tend to prioritize one over another, to their loss. A few years ago, I had 2 clients who represented opposite extremes. One client was very marketing focused, although trying to apply some product management to their marketing (to their credit). The other client was very product focused. Their business was to design and develop products, and they treated their website as a product, too. Marketing had little presence.

      That experience allowed me to see some consequences of emphasizing one over the other. For example, the marketing-focused organization had a tough time with long term planning, repeatable processes, and generally getting out of campaign thinking. The created a microsite for every little promotional need and had a mess of a content ecosystem.

      Meanwhile, the product-focused organization had little agility to reach user / customer segments in timely ways and lacked very basic search engine optimization. The website was a product catalog with little room for storytelling, sharing expertise, or other useful capabilities.

      So, not giving all the right people a seat at the table really can create serious gaps. I’ve seen them!

  • Daniel Cuttridge

    There’s been a lot of problems in the industry because of the lack of understanding between these two distinctions… Not to mention the fact that business owners are confused between the two, when we get someone come along to us as a consultant or professional and they ask for content marketing, we give them a quote and also explain to them the benefits of content strategy what’s going to prevent them from saying ‘What’s the difference’ if we don’t as an industry on the whole, realize the difference.

    So I think this is a great article and a topic that has been on my own mind a lot recently.

    Thanks for sharing, it’s clear that you are great at what you do as I do tend to look down on people that don’t quite know the difference, shows me they’re either not learning or they’re just not suited for this!

    • leenjones

      Daniel, excellent points. I like the way you use content marketing as a wedge to talk about content strategy and vice versa.

      Your kudos mean a lot because you clearly are good at what you do, as well. Here’s to a fantastic year for content!

  • Carlos Abler

    One of the many challenges here ties back to the use of the term “strategy”, and that fact that there are a plurality of strategies that benefit from precise definition and alignment. Once that is accomplished, the false dichotomy between content marketing and strategy get neutered by default in the practical application. Often there is a lack of distinction clear interrelationship between;

    1. High level enterprise strategies
    2. More granular division/business level strategies
    3. Broadly defined content strategies that are maybe more communication alignment based in nature. E.g., how the many departmental communication silos leverage enterprise level strategies that align things like voice and purpose, or at least work to make it seem like the organizational tentacles are linked to the same octopus.
    4. Million mile in the air content strategies like the kind Joe points out in his talks; “Helping young girls feel better about their bodies”
    5. Closer to the ground content strategies that may sub-segment, and have more precise factors. Can be several of this tying level 4; e.g., “Helping [sub-segment of] young African American girls among our subscribers feel better about their bodies by [increasing/decreasing specific risk factor behavior], in [timeframe] targeting [goal]”
    6. The tactics that stem from the prior 2 strategy levels, that sometimes people refer to as strategies but IMO are just tactics at this point. Although…
    7. The term “Publication Channel Network” strategy and the like may be applicable to what we might mostly consider a tactic. When P&R talk about focusing on a channel to win at, this is the kind of strategic thinking. E.g., “Our network channel strategy for the next two years is to focus on maturing our blog channel, leveraging [3 primary] social channels as drivers to the blog as our point of departure into CRM and transactional engagements. I think the term “Publication Channel Network Strategy” or something like that makes sense. Note in this example that strategy is heavily scoped by these modifying terms.

    Note that:
    – There are upstream and downstream relationships between these strategic domains. – They all can tie back to a corporate strategy at the highest level.
    – There is a lot of opportunity for ambiguity between these very distinct domains.

    IMO if an organization does not have good definitions for these domains and how they tie together, there can be a lot of procedural and governance chaos, that are the more consequential correlate of the false dichotomy driving lots of rhetoric around this topic. In my organization, I try to work from a precise definition of both content strategy and content marketing, that focuses primarily on the relationship between items 4-6 above.

    • leenjones

      Interesting points, Carlos. We talk a lot about defining these terms as fields of practice, but what about defining these terms for a specific organization? I agree with you that several different strategies come together at different levels for an enterprise, with upstream and downstream relationships. So, it’s worth taking the time and effort to define the terms and the strategies specifically. Otherwise, you can have process and communication chaos. Thanks for sharing your useful example.

      I also could not agree more with you that these strategies should tie back to “corporate strategy at the highest level.” The more precisely that strategy is defined and clearly that strategy is communicated internally, the easier it is to make that tie.

      • Carlos Abler

        Thanks for the reply and also for the discussion overall. Regarding the distinction between defining terms for a field of practice versus an organization, I think there is quite a challenge for the field of practice to discuss these topics in abstraction from a specific application context; e.g., an organizational application, a campaign application, etc. In other words the application context (such as in and organization) is what grounds the more abstract discussion comprised of only principles and methodologies.

        I think there is a misalignment of mind-set in many of these kinds of discussions and what we can really expect them to produce. For example I think that a productive outcome of discussion that is composed of a swirl of abstract roles, philosophies, practices (etc.), is that we get better at developing the patterns of factors and inputs that are the total horizon of elements. An implicit pattern library if you will, that only really gets grounded when we apply it to actually DO something beyond talk, tweet and have panel discussions. These Manichean dualisms between hyper-abstract entity — “Will Content Marketing HULK-SMASH Content Strategy?” — are the bubbles on the surface of the swirl of discourse not grounded in an application case.

        That’s why I mentioned that these false dichotomies get resolved in application in the organizational definition which is as much practical application as definition per se. There is a vital “in order to” that clarifies any abstraction. Will one Hulk Smash the other in order to what? Difficult to answer because it’s not real. There either are the constituents of either present on a given application, or there are not. Regardless of how it’s sliced and diced across role and players, and so forth.

        Some of the swirl traces back to what the competencies of individuals are who identify with role categories, and what particular tugs of war for project control exist in their experience and environments. In other words, it’s based in humans and their limits and has little to do with what we are discussing on the surface. For example business strategy, interaction design, user experience, information architecture, aesthetic design, the design of communication, (and other atmosphere elements), application layer requirements, content strategy, creative direction; these are all vital constituents in a given web product that may be variously sliced up by different role definitions (UX, IA, etc.), variously sliced up across human players. In my case since I’ve done (at times) many or all of these on the same project, what role am I? What conference do I go to of people who do “many of the above”. Do I make up a new label or just print a comma delimited list on my business card? Ultimately it makes little difference in application. At root, you can’t produce a good web product without of the DESIGN INTERVENTIONS that are implicit in those various words. And that is ultimately what matters. Not “who did it”, “what do we call that person”, and NOT once we start calling that person something, how do we perpetuate our map of the world that is based on what we call people and how that maps to HR procedure.

        I don’t mean to underestimate the ugly reality of having to have tidy role names and job descriptions in order to justify and administrate these various roles in organizations, and to create a (maybe) intelligible story for outsiders to use in order to hire us. That’s all inevitable. But that doesn’t mean we need to transform these labels into Manichean dualisms engaged in an imaginary combat, whose only outcomes are support for various types of protectionism and fodder for blog non-tent, and all-too-rarely, really good articles like the one you wrote.

  • DavidGermano

    Hi Colleen, really insightful article – I enjoyed reading it. I’ll echo a lot of the points you make. I think this will continue to be the hot topic of 2014 and beyond as more marketers get serious with their content. Personally, I have very little energy for delineating Content Strategy and Content Marketing because it hinders us from the bigger picture. These two fields are much more closely connected than they are distinct. I think the exercise of envisioning content as product is most appropriate here. Content Strategist are like R&D, economizing and optimizing product and process, while Content Marketers bring the branding and positioning discipline. Collectively, along with other disciplines, they ensure scaled and sustained success with content. Let’s keep driving these conversations around the “and” not the “or”.

    • leenjones

      Agreed! Very well said.

  • Melissa Breker

    Hi Colleen,

    Thanks for your post!

    Collaboration between content strategy and content marketing is key as we move forward.

    As you point out, sharing ideas across both fields will ultimately create new tools and ways to discuss and connect content with clients and their customers. Cross-pollination of ideas? Yes please!

    Whether you are creating content that resonates, or developing a workflow to improve content distribution, successful projects bring together the right skills to deliver content that works.

    We may come from different approaches, but fundamentally we share similar communication, project management and analytical skills. We just apply them to different kinds of problems.

    In the end, we want the same thing.
    We want to solve content problems and deliver results.

    With this in mind, I’m excited to see where collaboration will take us.

    • leenjones

      Cheers, Melissa! Nicely put.

  • ronellsmith


    Leave it to you to highlight how we all do better work by pulling together rather than mindlessly haranguing the other side. I certainly have been guilty of casting aspersions at content marketers/marketing, looking down at them with a pinky-in-the-air sneer.

    When we focus on better serving the needs of our clients, recognizing and realizing the value we all bring is essential.

    Thanks for injecting some sanity into the discussion.


  • Barbara Mckinney

    Content strategy underpins content marketing. Without examining the competitive landscape, current assets, gaps, resources, the market, and plenty of other aspects, content marketing barely has a leg to stand on.

  • Niki Torres

    Thanks for raising this up Colleen. Sometimes I get confused between the two and I like how you are opening up the dialogue for more collaboration instead of condescension.

  • Steve Faber

    Strategy is goal definition and planning. Now it’s easy to see why the strategy part of the equation gets lost so often. People don’t plan!
    For maximum results, marketing and content needs planning, just like any other business activity, otherwise you’re simply throwing everything against the wall, and hoping something sticks.

  • Anthony Reardon

    Wow Colleen, you have really impressed me, and that is not a compliment I offer lightly nor often.

    I am a big advocate of Consilience (See Edward O Wilson’s book). I also talk a lot about semantic confusion, and you hit the nail on the head with your article.

    These are the kinds of insights I believe provide for decisive competitive advantage. Your clients must be absolutely delighted.

    Best, Anthony