The terms content strategy and content marketing are often used interchangeably, but the relationship between the two is more like that of a whole to a part. To understand the difference between these intertwined concepts, we begin by dissecting the terms at their most basic.

Definitions lead to Clarity

  • Content: Excolo.com defines content as the set of data used to deliver a particular message. In terms of a website, we can expand this to include: text, images, video, graphics, etc. Content, then, is anything we offer to our audience.

  • Creation: the act of making, inventing, or producing.
  • Strategy: a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result.
  • Marketing: the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.

Removing the word “content” from each of these terms creates a clear distinction. The strategy can be seen as a container for both creation and marketing; it is the basis from which every action will be derived. The Content Strategy Toolkit stresses the importance of preparation; several chapters are devoted to the initial groundwork needed for a comprehensive strategy. Both content creation and content marketing rely on a similar foundation in the form of a content strategy.

Intentional Creation demands a Strategy

The relationship between content creation and strategy is described in Kristina Halvorson’s definition of content strategy:

Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.

Strategy defines the content life cycle, beginning with creation. In our daily lives, we create an immeasurable quantity of content between photographs, social status updates, and even conversations. This facade of proficiency with media has lead to content confusion as depicted in this comic from moz.com:

Header comic - Chapter 2

What sets professional content apart from casual blogging is an informed plan. Creating for the sake of volume can only serve to increase the likelihood that your content will be ignored. In an interview with Tendo.com, Marie Hattar (CMO of Ixia) said this about “bad” content:

Bad content erodes your brand image. If people read something from your company and find it irrelevant, they are less likely to read anything you produce in the future. Customers might forgive you one bad experience, but not two. They will tune you out, because so much other content is vying for their attention.

The quote above captures the necessity of intentional creation, a process described in Erin Kissane’s Checklist for Content Work. Though the list is 7 years old (an eternity in digital media) its tenets hold true:

  • Tailor the content to both the target user/audience and the entity being represented
  •  Understand the content’s purpose (engagement, education, entertainment, sales, etc.)
  • Content must be clear (organized and easy to use) and consistent (in voice and presentation)
  • Most importantly, content must be supported: 

Factual content must be updated when new information appears and culled once it’s no longer useful; user-generated content must be nurtured and weeded; time-sensitive content […] must be planted on schedule and cut back once its blooming period ends.

Erin Kissane, A Checklist for Content Work

The final point is where the creation process gives way to the strategy again. Once the content exists, its presentation, distribution, and maintenance is directed by the workflow set in place by the strategy.

Marketing is both a part of and apart from Strategy

The term Content Marketing causes confusion because it is often extended to append the word strategy. Because marketing has a goal (to result in a transfer of goods) strategy is inherently a part of this endeavor. However, the actions taken for marketing must follow the standards created within the greater content strategy.  The Content Marketing Institute states:

“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.”

Robert Rose, How Content Strategy and Content Marketing are Separate but Connected

There is significant overlap between the two, but the difference lies in their purpose. A strategy serves as a framework for the entire content life cycle, of which marketing forms a large portion.

Contentini’s list of a content strategist’s duties is broken up into three major categories: pre-production, production, and post-production. Marketing would fall under the sub-category, content delivery. However, within it, marketing would include a similarly deep “duty tree,” consisting of the same three categories and many similar sub-categories such as: research, user analysis, etc.

Effective marketing requires the support of quality content created under the influence of a well-researched content strategy. These three concepts fulfill different parts of the whole, to articulate an organization or individual’s unique value proposition to the world.

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