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How Content Strategy and Content Marketing Are Separate But Connected

two sides connected-content strategy-content marketing strategyFull mea culpa here: Content Marketing Institute has been remiss in the way that we’ve covered the evolving practice of building and executing on a content strategy.

Sure, we’ve offered up some great thinkers in the space at Content Marketing World. But, here at CMI we haven’t yet (at least, not to the extent that we should) fully embraced the advancement of content strategy, or helped preach the distinction between the skill sets needed for content marketing and those required for content strategy. In fact, we’ve been guilty of using the terms “content marketing strategy” and “content strategy” interchangeably at times (we have resolved to be more clear on this, moving forward). 

One of the things that I often discuss in workshops, and with CMI’s clients, is the distinct need for content strategy within the approach of content marketing. Specifically, I point out how many agencies are doing themselves a disservice by throwing a skilled content marketing planning expert into a content strategy project, and vice versa. Additionally, as enterprise marketing organizations reorganize themselves with strategic management of content as a centralizing force, we see managers start to feel lost because they have a skill set that’s specifically suited to one practice over the other.

In short: Content strategy and content marketing are two very different practices.

Are they related? Absolutely, and there’s usually significant overlap. But, as we all move into our budget and other planning for 2014, it’s well worth outlining where the differences lie, so that we can resource our strategies effectively.

Magic markers and fine pens

When asked to explain the difference between content strategy and content marketing, I usually turn to my stand-by metaphor: Content marketers draw on the wall with magic markers, while content strategists use fine pens.

But this simplification is merely a starting point to describe the distinctions. Content marketing is, after all, a means of marketing. Content marketers draw and develop the larger story that our organization wants to tell, and focus on ways to engage an audience, using content so that it changes or enhances a behavior — something CMI has always stressed in our definition of content marketing:

“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience — with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

So at its heart, content marketing is a marketing strategy — an approach that uses content to deepen our relationship with customers.

Content strategy, on the other hand, delves deeper into (in Kristina Halvorson’s words) the “creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” It seeks (in my words) to manage content as a strategic asset across the entirety of the organization. In fact, on his website, content strategist Scott Abel wonderfully states it as one of his company’s main missions: “Your content is your most valuable business asset. Let us show you how to manage it efficiently and effectively.”

In the very beginning of Erin Kissane’s book, The Elements of Content Strategy (which is really good, by the way), she quotes Rachel Lovinger, who said, “Content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design.”

As a content marketer who’s had his feet in both approaches for the last decade, this really resonates with me. It’s not unlike Ahava Liebtag’s take on the differences. In a wonderful post on the topic, Rebecca Lieb refers to Ahava’s definition of content strategies as being about repeatable frameworks, and content marketing as being about building relationships.

Or, consider Rahel Bailie’s view of content strategy. She believes it includes:

“…the planning aspects of managing content throughout its lifecycle, and includes aligning content to business goals, analysis, and modeling, and influences the development, production, presentation, evaluation, measurement, and sunsetting of content, including governance.”

Onward, content marketing

To use an extremely simplified and surface-level explanation, the content marketer addresses the “whys,” the content strategist addresses the “hows,” and together they work out the “whats” and “wheres.” The content marketer draws the story and plans the channels that will be used to develop the customer relationship with the brand. The content strategist ensures that story, language, and management processes work consistently and efficiently across multiple teams, languages, and every publication the brand leverages. Yes, the two approaches are different, but whether or not they can be implemented and executed by the same person (or team of people) in your organization is another matter.

So, to be clear, we are not trying to offer up CMI as the definitive source for content strategy. In fact, that’s worth repeating: We are NOT trying to offer up CMI as the definitive source for content strategy. We leave it up to the thought leaders named above — and the many others whom I don’t have space to name — to set the stage for discussing and debating excellent frameworks, useful job descriptions, and definitive processes and procedures for content strategy practitioners.

CMI is, of course, here to further the practice of content marketing — and to this point, I offer up my advice:

  • If you are an agency: Whether you are an SEO agency transitioning into content marketing, or a full service agency adding a content marketing practice to your suite of services, please recognize that there is a distinction. I’ve seen too many agencies that are simply throwing the title “Content Strategist” at someone whose responsibilities would be much better served by the title “Content Marketing Strategist.” They are not the same thing — and your business will be better served by respecting their differences and/or offering both categories of service.
  • If you are a brand: If you are putting together teams and processes to create facile management of content as a core marketing strategy — employ both!  Don’t assume that a marketing team that knows how to tell compelling, engaging stories understands all the intricacies of content strategy (they might, but it’s exceedingly rare). And, don’t assume that the content strategist that you’ve got managing the consistency and hierarchy of your technical documentation knows everything about content marketing.
  • If you are a practitioner: Know what you are passionate about, and pursue that practice with all your heart. Most of the best content strategists I know really don’t want to be content marketers — and vice versa. As a content marketer, I couldn’t admire content strategists more. What they do, quite frankly, mystifies me most of the time. On every marketing team I have the pleasure of working with, I adore having a content strategist there who will help make sure we don’t blow the place up.

This story is just beginning…

As I mentioned earlier, look for more content strategy to come from CMI in the days, weeks, and months to come. But look for it to come from the expert perspective of thought leaders in that field. We want to help you understand how content strategy principles apply to — and provide advantages for — content marketers. And, by learning more about this discipline, we can all benefit from getting the right people on projects. Look for new content strategy-specific tracks at our events to come from those experts, as well.

As the marketers who are now empowered to tell stories, our job is to engage customers and make it look effortless. There is a wonderful quote attributed to Mark Caine that says, “Meticulous planning will enable everything a man does to appear spontaneous.

I can tell you that all great, spontaneous, and effortless-looking content marketing strategies are formed and scaled with a smart content strategy at their core.

Transform your content marketing from a subservient service to a strategic, enterprise-wise partnership for greater business success. Download Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program

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