What is ‘Content Strategy’ – Theory vs. Practice

by , Copywriter, Distil

Content Strategy is largely undefined, messy and a challenge. It can be a minefield of tools, poor practices and data-packed theories.

To me, Content Strategy is a framework for understanding meaning.

As a copywriter, I’d like to believe I bat for both teams. Part-Content Strategist and part-content creator, my challenge lies in analysing what’s important and creating content to reflect this.

It’s always come as a surprise to me that so many content strategists don’t champion or advocate the actual production of quality content themselves. Often the matter of the actual content generation is left in the hands of clients or mystical ‘others’.

To be fair, a misunderstanding and lack of education as to what Content Strategy is has left many strategists in this field working with unrealistic budgets and timeframes, the result of a lack of support or awareness from clients or even members of their own creative teams.

There’s a lot of theory and established norms centred around Content Strategy. Some have aged well and others not so much. Definitions change, industry roles overlap and the nature of content itself alters, but I want to pair the theory with the practice and see if some of these more traditional thinkings can be utilised, redefined and actively practiced in a new context.

Lets start with the big one – What is Content Strategy?

Content is everywhere and is everything. Images, words, videos, anything that has the ability to project a meaning and influence understanding.

Content Strategy gets all this in order. Don’t be fooled by the shortness of this definition.
This discipline is rooted in pretty much every interactive field out there, from design and development, to marketing and management. It’s complex and time consuming.

Kristina Halvorson defines Content Strategy as “planning for the creation. delivery, and governance of useful,usable content.” (2008). This outlines the production of content as a journey, from its initial concept to the user’s utilisation, the strategy is imperative to its effectiveness to impact and urge interaction.

When I think of Content Strategy several words come to me – Meaning, accuracy, meaning, relevance, meaning, usable, meaning and sharable. As a writer I play creator, analyser, curator and governor. I know content is important and I know how to make it perform the best way for the user and the business goals.

Anyone can write great content but they need to study and outline their objectives and then undertake them appropriately and with relevance. I start understanding the importance of my content by establishing what I need it to do, then how I’m going to do that. The latter is the beginning of forming a Content Strategy. It’s a means of planning, developing and managing all the content you need.

Commit to Content

As I mentioned before, the production of quality content is often dumped on someone else’s doorstep. There’s no doubting that user-generated content really does trump all others, but that’s a goal for later on down the line, at the beginning and throughout the content generation process, great content needs to be the responsibility of all.

Building your own Content Strategy can empower you to perhaps take on some of the load and challenge yourself, rather than outsourcing to unsuitable writers or unoccupied team members.
Content gets abused, diluted and fragmented. By increasing your content footprint, you can be proud to have contributed to the wealth of quality copy out there, rather than acting as mediator to the noise.

Be empowered by your Strategy

Forming your Content Strategy is key. If you don’t have one you will waste your time and sacrifice your results.

I love planning. It took me awhile, it was a slow burning romance, but now I revel in setting my goals and planning how to get there. I see my objectives more effectively and with less fear when I break it down into common sense chunks, no jargon.

Plan – Ask questions and set goals.
Analyse – Audit, research and utilize.
Develop – Establish key themes, collect and structure content & create an Editorial Calendar.
Manage – Assess what worked and maintain the content.

I won’t go into these steps in too much detail as hopefully through comparing Theory and new attitudes to Practice you will be able to effectively custom-create your own, personal Content Strategy that works for you and your objectives.

Want vs. Settle

Be aggressive and promote content as an invaluable asset. Much of this comes from committing to producing high quality content as opposed to filler.

The content you want vs. the content you’ll settle for is the difference between its success and failure. Don’t lose sight of what you want, exercise some authority in your creation and governance of its production.

If you’re aiming to generate ‘some’ content for ‘a’ site then don’t bother with a Content Strategy, you can’t extract meaning if there isn’t any potential for interaction.

Do – Know what you need and don’t settle. It will be at your own peril.

User needs vs. Business requirements

This is a balance that defines my job, the job of a designer or a content strategist, anyone who has to consider the purpose of it (objectives) and its impact on the user (experience).

In short, you have to fulfill both parties’ expectations and meet business objectives.

This ‘battle’ doesn’t have to drum up ideals of creative vs. function, let’s not get dramatic. Both can live happily in unison and inspire the other.

Establish good practice and do your homework. Experiences are redefining meaning and so influencing business goals, see this as an opportunity to impact a business in a long-term capacity.

Do – Educate your clients and be an authority. An open-minded one.

Strategy vs. Storytelling

The idea of pitting these two up against each other is like Function taking on Emotion. However, they are one in the same if used well.

Both are designed to influence a result.

Stories simplify the complex, add context and link the purpose of a function to the person performing the action. Both involve all of my previous ‘common sense’ chunks like planning and development, only one has the ability to personalise and resonate.
Invaluable in branding and handy in terms of Content Strategy understanding, a story can communicate a more user-friendly goal through engagement with various narratives. With each new story arc or functional character comes a new connection and understanding.

Do – Incorporate a story motif into team Content Strategy briefs, it’s a flawless way to illustrate insight.

Audience vs. Community

One is passive, the other is active. Know which one you are going after.

Does your content urge interaction? Does it meet their basic needs and more? A user-penned story is priceless, their content is the holy grail so present them with platforms that encourage this experience.

This can be the reward of exacting research, user experience design and persuasive copy. A community that Shares, is the makings of success and the result of trust.

Do – See your content beyond the confines of your site. Is it sharable and by what means?

Individual vs. Team

Train for succession. Educate every member of your team. Designer, developer, creative director, everyone. They all work in content, they need to understand how strategy-worthy it is.

Content Strategy is the sum of all these industries.

Encourage a freefall of content creation and then demonstrate how it fits into sitemaps and wireframes. Quality content generation is the aim but you need to get people generating it first before they can perfect it.

Do – Hold a Content Workshop. Invest time in reinstating the fun and creativity behind content, then it can be applied to strategy effectively.

Writer vs. Designer

Best friends or worst enemies? I’m sure you’ve heard each prioritising their input, or relying on the other’s work to produce theirs, but it doesn’t have to be a creative headbutt.

More than a battle of wills, it can be a struggle of clear messaging vs. visual design. In my opinion, a project manager should take responsibility of this balance. Mediator and viewer of the big picture, they can aid the two forces to see what their mutual aim is – effectiveness. Both are professional communicators and utilise their trade tools to spark interest and follow through with a direction or engagement. Collaboration combines the best of both talents and can even redefine the objective at hand.

Good design should outline the functionality of the experience, good writing should feed the emotion, together the perfect user experience is crafted.

Do – Agree that the content is the priority. The site is the medium to project it, good content is often accessed beyond the site.

Immortal vs. Everchanging

Feed your content. Copy has a lifecycle, it isn’t immortal. Well constructed content can be re-used or built on so be committed to maintaining your content’s relevance and impact.

Editorial calendars outline responsibilities and audits can measure the initial effectiveness of content. This is the great thing about content’s fluid state, you can continually connect and engage more succinctly than ever, as often as you please.

Do – Take ample time to study your content’s performance. Employ the right tools and use them religiously.

Tools vs. More tools

When it comes to redefining traditions, some things don’t need to change. The effective creation and utilisation of established tools and tricks is what gifts your content long life and impact.

If a good craftsman is only as good as his/her tools, then a good content creator is as good as their reimagining of them.

Invest time and practice in perfecting audits, gap analysis techniques, SEO, anything that enriches meaning or experience. Don’t be a revolutionary here, be an expert.

There’s a huge range of resources out there to guide you through the process of analysing, creating and maintaining your content. Here’s a few from GatherContent’s community;

Do – Ask others. Reach out to other content creators and be open to doing the same. A better community of knowledge and resources has a knock on effect. Be a contributor.

And lastly, Talk vs. Creation.

This one’s quite simple – get out there and do it.

This is a guest post by Nic Evans. Nic is a freelance copywriter based in Glasgow; she believes that no matter what the medium, brief or platform, using the perfect words in the best possible way can create a story, a natural communication between people, their ideas and the rest of the world. You can learn more about Nic over on her [beautiful] website, and you can also follow her on Twitter.

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About the Author

Copywriter, Distil

Nic is a freelance copywriter based in Glasgow; she believes that no matter what the medium, brief or platform, using the perfect words in the best possible way can create a story, a natural communication between people, their ideas and the rest of the world. You can learn more about Nic over on her [beautiful] website, and you can also follow her on Twitter.

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