By Michele Linn published July 21, 2015

3 Worlds Unite: Content Marketing, Content Strategy, and Intelligent Content


At the Content Marketing Institute, we talk a lot about content marketing, content strategy, and intelligent content. And we have a lot (a lot) of internal conversations around how these fit together – and specifically why marketers need to understand each and how we at CMI can best help.

The short answer: What makes your brand exceptional is the entire set of experiences people have related to your organization. The experiences created by your content marketing go only so far.

The longer answer? Keep reading.

The fundamentals of content marketing

Since its inception, CMI has been advancing the practice of content marketing. When done right, content marketing provides useful, entertaining, relevant content that customers want, even crave. (As a side benefit, this kind of marketing is a joy because you’re truly helping.)

Because content marketers are tasked with building an audience – and ultimately, increasing sales – content marketing success often is measured in conversions and leads. The danger is that they may have a hyper-focus on conversions and leads, neglecting content quality and failing to align with content generated elsewhere in the enterprise. The result often is a poor customer experience with the brand’s content as a whole.

Enter, content strategy

As I wrote in my recent post, even the best content marketers usually don’t have their customers’ entire content experience in mind. (And who can blame you, as you have so much else to do?) While it’s easy to understand why your content may be disjointed, though, it hurts the brand. Here’s how Ann Rockley puts it in her book Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy:

When information exists in multiple areas, it often differs based on content, style, tone, and message. Customers don’t know which one is correct, most up to date, or comprehensive. When customers encounter these inconsistencies, they become understandably confused. Sometimes confusion leads to aggravation. Inconsistency damages customer experience.

This is where content strategy comes in.

Content strategists aren’t motivated by “likes” and conversions. They want users to have the best possible experience – and they have processes in place to manage content as a product, which is to say, as a business asset. (Note: Content strategists are not the same as content marketing strategists.)

Marketers don’t need to be experts in all things content strategy. But they do need to understand some of the basic concepts. They also need to connect with strategy-minded people who can help them provide the best possible customer experience with their content and, in turn, engender even more trust in the brand.

What about intelligent content?

Of course, here at CMI, we also talk a lot about intelligent content. We are passionate about this concept for two reasons:

  • Content marketers want to provide the right content for the right person at the right time. Few brands know how to do this well. If you want to create an exceptional experience, you need to figure this out.

At the same time, we have observed through countless conversations that most brands aren’t there … yet. Those brands that are “there” often keep their stories to themselves because they know what a competitive edge their intelligent content approach gives them. So, to meet the current needs of the CMI audience, we are starting by bringing together the worlds of content marketing and content strategy.

We believe that this initial focus serves marketers where they are today, introducing them to things content strategists know, laying the groundwork for the day when content marketing is ready to meet intelligent content.

Three worlds unite

As Noz Urbina and I briefly discussed in some comments on a recent post, only by bringing together the worlds of content marketing and content strategy and intelligent content – oh my! – will marketers be able to best help brands delight customers (and, in turn, benefit the bottom line).

With this goal in mind, we at CMI aim to find and share stories of brands that are bringing together these worlds. We aim to provide practical, approachable advice to help us all provide better content experiences for our customers. You’ll also now see all posts about content strategy and intelligent content on the CMI blog, as we believe these are issues that should be core to what content marketers are considering.

Are you in?

To learn more about content strategy – as it applies to content marketing – sign up for our weekly email newsletter. Not only will you get an exclusive article from our Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose, but you’ll also learn about content strategy, which, I guarantee you, will help you think about your content in a more customer-centric way. 

I would love to hear from you. How do you think marketers need to evolve?

Cover image by Jeff Sheldon, Unsplash, via

Author: Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company's strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio's Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

Other posts by Michele Linn

  • David Butler

    I’m in! I really like and agree with this Michele. When you look at creating the right story for the right audience everyday it takes a team that integrates story intelligence, strategy, structure, promotion, and measurement. This is what I call “operationalizing storytelling” and I believe this is the next step for content marketing. Your point is right on target to integrate the 3 worlds!

    • Michele Linn

      Fantastic, David!

  • Afryrear

    What a great read to start the day. Thanks for writing this, Michele. It’s beyond exciting to see how content marketing is evolving, and very energizing to envision how much bigger its role in “Business” can (and should!) become.

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks, Andrea. I am really enjoying discovering how content marketing is evolving and am very interested our community’s perspective as well. I really appreciate the comment!

  • Vanessa Bright

    I am in! 🙂 This approach also makes the question of metrics more transparent.

    • Michele Linn

      Glad you are in as well! What do you mean by making the metrics more transparent, Vanessa? I am really interested in your opinion.

      • Vanessa Bright

        Michele, in my experience, the confusion between content marketing and content strategy expands to metrics. In some cases, content strategy success is measured in the increase of qualified leads (what does not make sense, as this metric belong to content marketing). My guess, metrics for intelligent content would be related to operational savings and nurturing, rather than pure net new contacts and qualified leads per initiative. Your explanation of the three concepts makes the concepts (and related metrics) more transparent.

        • Michele Linn

          That helps a lot; thanks, Vanessa. You are completely right that content marketers and content strategists are motivated by different metrics and outcomes. Once Melissa Breker and Kathy Hanbury helped me realize this during a conversation at Confab, it was a big ah ha moment for me to see how the worlds interact. Really appreciate your thoughts!

  • I-have-something-to-say

    I’m in 🙂 I know you said companies hold info close to their vests, but I’d love to see a real life example/little case study of how this approach is working!

  • Hilary Marsh

    Great post, Michele. Thanks for the kudos to content strategy! IMO, content strategy is about improving everything an organization produces. Content, after all, is how everything they do gets manifested in the world.

    • Michele Linn

      The more I learn about content strategy, the more I love it and see its potential for content marketing — and content across the organization. So kudos for you for all of your hard work in this area. Great sentiment, Hilary: “Content strategy is about improving everything an organization produces.” I think we could all use that!

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Hilary, Your statement, “Content, after all, is how everything they do gets manifested in the world” (which you’ve been saying for some time), stops me in my tracks every time. It’s a profound way to think about an organization’s content, internal or external.

  • Alan Gerstein

    Timely, informative and on target. Your article is an important and helpful reminder of the value in mentioning all three disciplines when describing any one of them.

  • Rahel Anne Bailie

    This is another good article about how content marketing and content strategy have a symbiotic relationship. (I like the Robert Rose article earlier this year about the differences between CM and CS.) I don’t think these professions should merge – each have distinct characteristics. But you can’t have a one without the other, so it’s important to get these two professions aligned.

    • Michele Linn

      Hi Rahel,
      I couldn’t agree more. Content marketers and content strategists do different things (and most people are quite happy with that), but there is so much we can learn from each other. Our goal is to help content marketers understand how much value content strategists like yourself offer. I appreciate the comment!

  • Iulia

    Hello Michele,

    Really great article. It is so true and it applies what have you wrote regarding the 3 world united. In this way, we can cover and reach the audience at a deep level. By doing so, will you reach your objective. Thank you for the book recommendation.

  • Noz Urbina

    I am, of course, in! : )

    As a content strategist, I’ve been a big supporter of tearing down silos all over the industry for the sake of customer experiences. The deeper interconnection and increased collaboration between content strategists and content marketers – leveraging the power of intelligent content! – can only be good for the market and help drive forward disciplines that have to learn to get used sprinting constantly.

    I look forward to working together more!

    • Michele Linn

      I had no doubt, Noz — and its very much appreciated. I look forward to working together more as well!

  • Cruce Saunders

    I’m in. Completely agree that unified teams are necessary for orchestrating customer experiences. There’s a tightly-coupled continuum between Content Strategy, Content Marketing and Content Engineering. Or, the CEO, Marketing, and IT stakeholders. Initiatives that get siloed in one department, or outsourced to a single vendor, miss the mark and often end up as shelfware. CEM becomes real through building and integrating CS, CM, CE practices into a single workflow.

    Here some other thoughts on the topic:

    • Michele Linn

      Great article, Cruce. I think you’re spot on with your assessment that we all need to work together. It’s not easy, but the payoff with a better customer experience is well worth it.

  • Scott Abel

    One more thing, Ann Rockley, Charles Cooper, and me are releasing our new book aimed at helping content marketers and other communication professionals understand intelligent content. The book is entitled, “Intelligent Content: A Primer” (XML Press) and it will be released at Content Marketing World this September in Cleveland. While this soon-to-be-released book will not address the problems I have stated here in much detail, a subsequent book (to be produced by myself and a few peers in mid-2016) will.

  • Michele Linn

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Scott. We do live in a “big world full of content problems,” but I think the more that content marketers can learn about the disciplines of content strategy and intelligent content, the more prepared they will be to truly be able to delight their audiences. Will it be quick? No. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. But, we need to start somewhere, and I think there is a lot of value marketers can take from other disciplines that have been working on this for years. We can all learn something from each other.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    You can put in a program or work to change the culture. Programs are easy to start because they can be killed and end. Culture change is much harder to implement (or even suggest). And this is all about culture change.