Eleanna Sbokou
Eleanna Sbokou 27 April 2015

Why Your Content Strategy Should Come First

What do we mean by 'Content Strategy' and how is it different to Content Marketing? Rory Natkiel explains.

The article ’Why content strategy should come first’ was written by Rory Natkiel

You might have noticed that the entire marketing world is talking about content.

In a recent survey, 89% of brands said they were using content marketing. However, there remains confusion between content strategy and content marketing. Content strategy is a discipline in itself and, in our experience, an essential activity that’s often forgotten in the early stages of a project.

Content Strategy ≠ Content Marketing
Let’s get things straight – content strategy isn’t the same thing as content marketing.

You might see blog posts that talk about content strategy as being solely a precursor to successful digital content marketing; you might read about ‘content marketing strategy’. Content strategy as a discipline has been practiced for years. It looks at how organisations manage the production of content, both in terms of identifying what content they will produce and how they will produce it. It can, and often does, apply to purely offline content.

Content marketing, on the other hand, is a distribution tactic that can be applied to content once it has been produced, and has truly come of age in the past few years with the seemingly endless array of digital outlets. You can do it strategically, but it’s not the same as content strategy.

Defining Content Strategy
One of the most useful definitions of content strategy I’ve seen is from Rachel Bailie, coauthor of "Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefit". It neatly summarises what we mean when we talk about content strategy at Blonde:

“Content strategy deals with 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. What content strategy is not is the implementation side. The actual content development, management, and delivery is the tactical outcomes of the strategy that need to be carried out for the strategy to be effective.”

So, if you’re one of the 89% you’re probably producing content and using content marketing. If you’ve any sense at all you’ll be doing it strategically. Do you have a content strategy? Perhaps not.

Putting The Cart Before The Horse
A common problem arising from a lack of content strategy comes not in the inbound, content marketing phase but during the development, or redevelopment, of websites.

Everyone gets excited about a new website. In most instances everyone is agreed the old one’s crap and some budget has been secured to build a new one. Or there’s an exciting new product or idea and funding to start from scratch.

In either instance, the inclination of many marketers is to immediately start wire framing and designing – to see the visual representation of what this new thing will look like.

If budget holders can be persuaded, some user research might be carried out, using focus groups or stakeholder workshops to understand what the requirements of the site are and some idea of priority.

But all too often that’s just seen as an input into wireframes, which then leads onto the creation of a set of templates that content has to be stuffed into regardless of their fitness for purpose. The Information Architecture or sitemap isn’t informed by what the content requirements are.

It’s a case of putting the cart before the horse.

Content Strategy Should Come First
It’s important to arrive at your content strategy before you even begin to work out your IA or wireframes. At the very least it should happen in close conjunction with those processes.

You need to understand what your user needs are, how they’re related and what information you therefore need to provide, in order to design an Information Architecture and site design that supports the delivery of the content that meets those needs.

If there is content that’s required to meet internal objectives – establishing your brand, talking about CSR or the latest news - it’s important to decide what format you’d like that to take to inform how the site can be designed to achieve them.

And it’s crucial to define the content production process to manage the delivery of the website on time and to budget. Content production can become a major risk to a project, simply due to the fact that it wasn’t considered early enough in the project.

Getting Started With Your Content Strategy
So where to start? First things first, you need to identify your purpose.

What are you trying to achieve with the website project? What are your brand values, and the stories you need to communicate? Which are the most important to you?

Next you need to understand your customers’ needs. What are they coming to your website to do? Sorry to say this, but it’s probably not to read your latest press release.

If you understand your user needs and their relative demand, you can align them with the organisational objectives to determine what content needs to go onto the site, and in what priority. Then you can get to work on your IA and UX.

Finally, you need to work out who is going to produce it and how. From auditing existing content to briefing copywriters, gaining editorial approval, publishing to ongoing maintenance and identifying KPIs to measure effectiveness, the more defined the plan is the more efficient the process will be.

There are various planning and analysis processes we use at Blonde to achieve this – it’s not a quick job but, done properly, undoubtedly leads to better websites, a more satisfying customer experience and improved chances of achieving objectives. 

An Essential Piece Of Planning
You might have noticed I’ve not mentioned SEO, social media, content marketing, paid media, or any of the other disciplines that you might think about when you hear the word ‘content’. That’s because each one of those is a (vital) means of promoting content to increase your brand’s visibility.

However all of them benefit from a well-defined content strategy – something that should be a fundamental starting point for any web build or digital marketing campaign.

Rory Natkiel, Visibility Director at Blonde. The article ’Why content strategy should come first’ was written by Rory Natkiel and originally published on Follow Rory on Twitter

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