How to bolster content marketing efforts with content strategy planning
Having learned valuable lessons from both camps, my take is along the lines of 'great apart but better together' with Content Strategy in the role of the long term, straight-shooting and grounded partner.
With that in mind, here are some ways that these disciplines could be strengthened by combining forces:
1. Put storytelling first
Content Marketing says 'make it shareable'. Content Strategy says be believable and on brand.
I’ve fallen into the trap of producing titles for clicks and content for eyeballs, but that reverse engineering can take a toll on the outgoing message. Storytelling can be edgy, earnest, informative, eye-opening or a range of other things, but it’s always about connecting human beings. You should always be able to answer the question ‘why this, why now’ without feeling dirty.
On that same point, the temptation to stray from true areas of expertise and interest can be great when the pressure is on to be exciting in a competitive marketplace. One of the primary functions of Content Strategy is to really keep brands focused and strategic with their editorial.
2. Lower the frequency to raise the quality
Content Marketing says publish often. Content Strategy says let’s figure out where the line between sustainable cadence and high quality needs to be.
How often to post? The answer might be less than you think, if that’s what it will take to publish high quality content at a sustainable and maintainable pace. Churning out lots of valuable content might be the ultimate dream, but it's no small feat. Even newspapers and magazines fall shy of being all-interesting, all the time. On the flipside, it’s easy to be trigger happy with content and get that frequency up high, but that comes with the risk of becoming either unrecognizable or ignorable (or both) in the marketplace.
3. Pick your trends and tactics wisely
Content Marketing says do everything you can to market your content, Content Strategy says select some key tactics that you can manage, optimize often, and stick with them long term.
One of the best example I've seen of this recently is Airbnb, who used a particular mix of search, content, and creative tactics over the course of their first few years to chip away at what they viewed as their most pressing obstacle - to getting noticed, one rental property at a time. Their offering was strong enough, and unique enough that they could treat their rental property listings as pieces of content within a family ecosystem, highlight some smart shared tactics that would work across the board, and essentially win at the same strategic game that every content marketer is playing. Without doing anything shady.
4. Scrutinize the ecosystem; owned, earned, and paid
Content Marketing says viral content is king, Content strategy says HOLD UP - it's ALL king, right down to your 404 and your contact page.
A great article or video that is meant to eventually bring traffic back to owned properties needs to be worth the effort. And on site, it’s the details that count. Are pages are up to date? Brand value proposition and product attributes clear? Does your messaging adequately express the who, what, why, when, and where? The content ecosystem is about the path consumers take from that watching that nifty video to buying-in in a bigger way.
5. Look back, and forward, to the archives
Content Marketing says do it now, Content Strategy says don’t forget about it later.
What gets produced today and tomorrow is a hundred times more exciting that what was built last year, but the ability to showcase past content as an organized and valuable gem says a lot about your business too. Having a collection of content that has stood the test of time, is well cared for, regularly visited and updated reflects well on a brand. Conversely, having pages and pages of out of date abandoned content and channels... well, you get the picture.
Content that offers a value exchange has a longer-than-average shelf life, and giving a longer lifespan to any piece of content means giving it a greater chance of surviving and thriving online.
Content Marketing says create and distribute assets as if they were products themselves. Content Strategy says make sure those products are valuable, long-lasting, and part of an ecosystem that's working well together.