What Vs. How – Content Strategy Vs. Content Marketing


People often interchangeably use the terms Content Strategy and Content Marketing. Some people even merge the two together and call it content marketing strategy.  So what’s the difference and why does it matter? Simply put, content strategy (the WHAT) should always define the goals and the content marketing tactics (the HOW) are used to achieve those goals. Depending on the size and structure of a company, content strategy should always support the overall sales and marketing strategy and/or be aligned with the overall business strategy.

One analogy that helps people understand this important difference involves a bridge. Visualize that strategy is a bridge that is built to get from one side of a business or organizational “chasm” to the other side. The bridge needs pillars (goals) to support getting from Point A across the bridge to Point B. The deck (mapped with tactics) is used to cross the bridge.

See if this scenario WITHOUT a “bridge” sounds familiar…the content marketing group/person is busy executing action plans, creating content calendars, writing, posting, updating, etc. Everyone knows how industrious marketing people are with all their energy and vast skill sets! So many tools and ideas…so little time.

And then it happens. Quarterly reports are due. Dashboards are updated. The marketing group/person worked diligently to meet deadlines and produce the numbers. The number of updates, posts and likes.  The number of blogs written and products promoted. The ads, e-books and infographics were so creative. Their efforts are impressive!

Now, here’s where life as a content marketer gets real fuzzy and frustrating, real fast. The company owner or sales and marketing executive looks at the “impressive” numbers and asks, “How many leads did you get? What are the sales conversions?”

Unfortunately, this is a typical conversation and it’s fraught with disappointment for both sides. It’s a waste of time to even create an editorial calendar (a tactic) without knowing WHY a certain industry topic, service or product should be included or excluded in content marketing tactics.

The “bridge” approach fully aligns the content strategy with the overall strategic goals. Because content marketing tactics are focused on strategic goals, the results can be measured by agreed upon KPIs. Once the strategic sales and marketing plan or business plan are known and understood, the foundational work for the content strategy begins.

Look at and monitor key competitor websites and social channels to get a solid understanding of their content strategy (or if they have one). Review industry press releases and editorial calendars from trade specific media and publications.

Begin talking with key people within the organization such as a sales director, a product manager, customer service reps and technical support reps. Anyone who directly interacts with customers should be able to provide insights about upcoming industry trade and association events; product/service upgrades, releases and launches; and the most commonly heard questions and answers from existing customers and prospects. Cross-functional research and one-on-one interviews with people responsible for other business areas is mission critical to verify that content marketing opportunities are timely, relevant, relational and engaging.

Additionally, interviewing and listening to key customers is a great way to gain perspective that can be shared in content marketing when findings are strategically aligned. After the internal and external collaborations are complete, the next important step is gain consensus with the top level decision makers on the strategic business goals that marketing can positively impact with an aligned content strategy.

Learning the business and/or sales and marketing strategic goals and completing the discovery to gain insights allows the content strategy (WHAT goals to achieve) to be aligned before content marketing activities begin (HOW to achieve the goals).  All of the sales and marketing results will be more meaningful with a content strategy that truly supports the bigger goals.

Theresa R. Harris is a content strategist and digital marketer at Aepiphanni with 20+ years in the digital marketing space. Her experience has evolved along with explosive marketing technology growth, but she maintains a practical business sense on what to explore and leverage to benefit clients as we help them CREATE | DESIGN | BUILD extraordinary businesses. Her focus on content strategy allows her to improve digital marketing results by identifying gaps. Theresa has helped over 100 small and medium sized business strategically align sales and marketing messages along the communication continuum which have been delivered in a wide variety of content marketing approaches.

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