What Is Content Strategy? Connecting the Dots Between Disciplines

How you define content strategy for your organization depends a lot on what you’re trying to accomplish. Let’s take a look.

What Is Content Strategy? Connecting the Dots Between Disciplines

“Everyone talks about content strategy differently at my company. How do I fix that?”

Listen, I feel your pain. Back in 2009, we were all just getting some traction talking about content strategy as an integrated approach to planning, creating, and managing content. Then content marketing hit us with a two-by-four, and suddenly “content strategy” meant “editorial calendar.” Ouch.

Rather than going round and round about The One Right Way To Talk About Content Strategy, let’s cover the basics so you can pick the right words to describe content strategy for your organization.

What does content strategy accomplish?

First and foremost, content strategy connects your organization’s content efforts with business goals and user needs. Everything you do related to content should map back to those requirements.

Second—and here’s the power of the thing—content strategy creates a set of integrated choices between four separate-but-related areas of activity. These are not subdisciplines of content strategy by any means; rather, they are business and/or design functions that all have an impact on your content product. Content strategy works to connect the dots between them.

  1. User experience design: Who are your end users? What are their content needs and preferences? How can you make content useful and usable to them, wherever and however they need it?
  2. Editorial strategy: What is your content’s point of view? What are the topics you need to address? Where and when will you deliver the content?
  3. Content engineering: How does your content need to be structured in order for users to find it? What models need to be in place for the CMS to deliver the content, wherever and however users and the business need it?
  4. Content workflow and governance: How does content move throughout your organization? What are the policies, standards, and guidelines that monitor its quality and performance?

So, technically speaking, you can invoke the phrase “content strategy” in conversation when discussing any of these areas of activities, and you won’t be wrong.

This is good news and bad news. It’s good news because it means you’re talking about content as a business asset that requires strategic consideration at every point along its lifecycle. It’s bad news because it means anyone can wave the content strategy flag without understanding (or caring) that whatever they call “content strategy” inevitably is interdependent upon a number of other factors, which—if ignored—can ultimately muck things up for your end user or business.

So how do we fix this? You can get alignment on terminology—it just takes work.

What is content strategy?

If you want to establish a shared understanding of “content strategy,” start macro and go micro.

Here are some “macro” definitions you can choose from—they’re all very similar, but one may resonate in your company culture more than another.

  • Content strategy guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.
  • Content strategy means getting the right content, to the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
  • Content strategy is an integrated set of user-centered, goal-driven choices about content throughout its lifecycle.

Any of these definitions are correct. They’re just different ways of setting the stage for content as a product of integrated, strategic choices (vs. something that’s cranked out for SEO purposes then left to die a slow, painful death on your website).

What does content strategy mean to my organization? 

Once you get people on board with that larger understanding of content strategy, you’ll be able to have conversations about “micro” content strategy—or, the work we do at more of a project or product level. Now you can talk about content audits, or page tables, or UI copywriting, or content governance, and that macro content strategy framework should give your conversation larger context: that everything is connected, and that content requires ongoing collaboration between (seemingly) disparate business functions.

What’s important, ultimately, is helping people understand that content decisions never happen in a vacuum.

A shared definition of content strategy is important because it helps lay the foundation for ongoing collaboration, which means better content and happier customers. And that’s worth a hug. Bring it in.

Want to know more about our framework for content strategy? Read New Thinking: Brain Traffic’s Content Strategy Quad.

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Kristina Halvorson is widely recognized as one of the most important voices in content strategy and UX. She is the owner of Brain Traffic, a content strategy consultancy; the author of Content Strategy for the Web; the host of The Content Strategy Podcast; and the founder of the popular Confab and Button conferences. Kristina speaks worldwide about the importance of content strategy, educating and inspiring audiences across every industry. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her two fantastic teens.

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