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About Content Strategy

Posted by Najwa Smith on December 11th, 2012 at 12:50 pm

A Rarity: Content Strategists

As one of the newbies in the midst of a growing organization, we’re as scarce as the White Lion (not the 80s band). But you’ve heard of us (or perhaps seen us) or have even worked with us. And it’s cool to see how this discipline, while still young, is blossoming. I always look forward to meeting new people at work or when I’m out and about. The natural list of get-to-know-you questions eventually lands on your nine-to-five purpose in life. I say, “I’m a Content Strategist,” and you say, "Content Strategy, cool!”

In reality, if you’re being really real, you may ask, “Who do you work for/with?” or a more honest and simple, “What’s that?”

Depending on timing, body language, and tone of voice, I modify my response. Not because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all response, but because content strategy can be interpreted in many ways and utilized differently in organizations and businesses at large, so I try to make my response relatable to the audience. Go ahead, I dare you to ask 5 random people within your own office how they would describe content strategy, and I guarantee you’ll hear 5 different definitions.

What is content strategy?

I won’t speak for everyone, but I will speak from a digital agency perspective about the creation or reorganization of content for the Web. Content strategy has a dual purpose that speaks to both the tangible and the intangible that, together, can lead to the creation of a memorable customer experience. The tangible aspects of creating a great user interface (UI) is easy, not because the job is easy, but because people are familiar and comfortable with the tactics and concepts involved—revise the navigation, create a new hero, redesign a site, add a few pages, build a microsite, create strong and relatable calls to action, infuse more video, make it fun, make it social, create a messaging strategy, stay within the brand, create a new brand identity, more sexy visuals, etc. Ok. It’s a puzzle that needs to be thoughtfully addressed but we’ve done that before. No problem.

The challenges lie within the intangible properties of creating the story. Just like when you were a teenager and you missed your curfew, you created an imaginative story that would address the problem, guide the conversation, identify the solution, measure the response, and evaluate the experience. Content strategy does the same for the Web by defining and weaving content into a compelling story. Content is a puzzle. The way in which we put content together creates a story. That story engages your audience and creates an experience, which fosters an emotional response that can lead to building a relationship that’s not only engaging (transactional) and measurable, but also memorable.

When do you need a content strategy?

You always need a content strategy. Well, I defer, 10% of the time it’s up for grabs, but 90% of the time, your initiatives should be inclusive of a content strategy. If you’re not thinking about the story, where, when and why it’s told, then you’ve only addressed the tactical issues—that’s only half the story, and cliffhangers only work well in the movies.

6 Responses to “About Content Strategy”

  1. Matt Jones says:

    This definition is spot-on. We need more helpful clarifications like this because there are so many assumptions about "content strategy" that can get baked into flawed website redesigns.

  2. I think part of the confusion over what is a content strategy is or should be has to do with the fact that it's completely dependent on your business. Where you are, where you want to go and how you want to get their shape the way you create and execute your content strategy.

    • Najwa Smith says:

      Very true and there is a lot of complexity within these nuances from not only an industry or market vertical but also internal organizational structure and considerations. But, speaking specifically from an Agency perspective, I do think that there are sound best practices, that content strategists can use as a framework to create a strategy that enables the project team to deliver against the ask while also creating a cohesive and compelling experience.

  3. Meagan Dahl says:

    Spot on definition, one of the best I've seen! Any business strategy is bound to be complex, but the convoluted nature of digital makes effective content strategy even more difficult to navigate. My one thought to add is that you can't be afraid of failure, as measuring success in content creation is fluid, organic even. Content strategists should be in the mindset to always be optimizing and changing their game as the environment changes.

    • Najwa Smith says:

      Thanks Meagan, I could not agree more with you point. If we're looking hard enough, there is always a positive to be found within failures. Some of our most important learnings come from our failures and our ability to learn from those findings. The ability to measure, evaluate and refactor is key to the role in order to maintain relevancy in the market and ensure that your message is on brand, on trend and most importantly, meets the needs of your audience.

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