Content strategy: What it is and why you need it

It speaks to both day-to-day detail and the big picture


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I once worked in a corporate marketing department that regularly received, from different company leaders, the same request: “Can this go on our home page?” 

Most of the time, our department would respond with an eager “Yes!” and our production wheels would start turning immediately. I’d start writing. Designers would start designing. The digital team would start digitizing….

Shortly thereafter, our home page would bear some pithy new copy (I like to think) and a cool new icon, or maybe a new product image, or new video player, or new teaser for a blog post. Yes, there it would be: new home page content, buried and barely noticeable amidst a complex mass of content that had been accumulating ever since our last website redesign.

Every once in a while, a few of us would stand back and look and think and agree that our site had become too busy – too full of messages unrelated to our key business goals. We’d agree that our high-priority messages had long since been obscured by low-priority messages. We’d recall to one another the Web metrics that unambiguously identified the top content interests of our users. And we’d note how the new content we were regularly, haphazardly adding didn’t overlap much with users’ interests.

Who hasn’t visited complex, confusing websites and then immediately clicked back to search results to look for some other, better source of info?

Given the culture and traditions of this company, however, these big-picture conversations were inconsequential. They did nothing to slow the steady flow of questionable content onto our site. We just kept executing – kept doing what we’d been doing. And our site kept growing, sprawling, as if with a will of its own.

We had no lack of bright, hardworking, talented people in that department. So why did we continue to build that big, baggy, unruly monster of a website? Because we had no content strategy.

What is it?

Content isn’t just copy, and it isn’t just the stuff on your company website.

Yes, it includes the words, images, video, and multimedia on your website. But it also includes your company blogs, Facebook posts, press releases, email communications and the words and images in your brochures, sales collateral, white papers and so on.

Content strategy is the planning behind the creation, delivery and maintenance of all that content. Content strategy gurus Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach tell us that content strategy’s simple, big-picture goal is to distribute content that supports primary business objectives and meets users’ needs.

Content strategy speaks to both day-to-day detail and the big picture. It considers not just the isolated effect of a single content decision, but also the overarching effects of, say, 20 such content decisions made over 20 months. It builds in mechanisms for keeping all your content approachable, relevant, engaging, and in service of your key business objectives, over the long term.

Problems solved

There’s a ton of content out there, and much of it poorly done in one or more ways. And we all spend a lot of time wading through it and filtering most of it out, before we stop somewhere and become engaged with information that interests us.

Who hasn’t visited complex, confusing websites and then immediately clicked back to search results to look for some other, better source of info?

Content strategy helps to eliminate random and unreasoned content decisions and chaotic communications efforts. It helps to clarify responsibilities, and helps you avoid communications investments (of time, money, resources) that don’t pay off. 

Here’s another problem that content strategy can resolve: low staff morale. Executing random, unreasoned or just plain bad content decisions can be frustrating, unrewarding work. Calling on your people to reason, plan and strategize (and not just execute) is a great way to get them not just doing better work, but also feeling good about the work they’re doing.

The content conversation is relatively new, and we marketing and communications folks did well for eons without it.

So why the need for content strategy now? Because of the Web, social and mobile.

There’s a bigger-than-ever sea of information threatening to drown out your key messages. And a greater-than-ever danger of your drowning out your own key messages with content floods of your own making.

We’re no longer rowing skiffs across a pond. We’re skippering huge cargo ships across the ocean. And you just can’t do that – and do it well – without a sound content strategy. nhbr

Dan DiPiro is a senior writer and strategist with 43,000 Feet. He can be reached through 43000Feet.com.

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