What’s the difference between content strategy and content marketing?

By Laura King Edwards, Content Lead, Wray Ward

It’s no secret that the business of content is booming. In fact, 78 percent of CMOs see content as the future of marketing (Demand Metric). But even though most of us now engage in some form of content for marketing purposes, even many industry pros still (incorrectly) use terms like “content marketing” and “content strategy” interchangeably. So, what makes these buzzwords different, what makes them similar, and how do they work together?

Content strategy forms your foundation and frames your structure.

Imagine you’re building a house. You’re eager to get started, but this isn’t the Stone Age, and you can’t just find an empty cave and stock it with furs and firewood and paint stick figures on the walls and call it home. Instead, you need drawings or digital images that serve as your construction plan. You need to pour the home’s foundation and frame its structure before you can pick the furniture to decorate the rooms.

Content strategy determines what content you need and how it will be organized. It’s a set of internal guidelines to help you manage your content as a single asset across your organization. A content strategist can determine the need — maybe you want to educate a trade audience on an important topic, like the best wall sheathing system for moisture management or the benefits of lighting controls — and establish guiding principles to help satisfy that need.

Digital content strategy tools may include the following:

  • Content and search audits
  • Competitive research
  • Site map
  • Workflow charts
  • Other foundational planning devices

In an ideal situation, digital content strategy encompasses all upfront work, beginning with establishing a clear understanding of goals and ways to achieve those goals. This discussion should cover things like target audiences and interests, key messages, functional requirements, conversions and potential user flows. Afterward, your digital team can create a sitemap for a high-level overview of the project, followed by a content outline that provides page-level organization.

Content marketing helps decide everything else — from your cabinetry and flooring to furniture and paint colors.

If content strategy is the blueprint, foundation and framing, content marketing is the drywall, finish work and interior decorating. Content marketers work with stakeholders and subject matter experts to choose the home’s countertops, flooring, furniture, lighting fixtures and paint colors. Collectively, these elements are often considered thought leadership — tactics that can elevate a brand in the eyes of its target audience and ultimately generate downstream revenue without explicitly promoting the brand or its products.

Content marketers do things like:

  • Develop editorial guidelines, voice and tone
  • Brainstorm content topics that benefit audiences
  • Develop editorial calendars
  • Interview subject matter experts
  • Conduct keyword research
  • Write articles, film videos and record podcasts
  • Promote content via email marketing, social media and paid media

Examples of content may include:

  • Blog posts
  • Case studies
  • E-books
  • Image galleries
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • White papers
  • Infographics

Boiled down, content marketing is about plugging content into the model developed during content strategy. It’s the process of using content to move people from point A to point B, from education to conversion. It’s arming audiences with the information they need to make a purchase decision and to choose your brand.  

You need both for your marketing to be successful.

The concept of content is so pervasive that the marketing landscape is littered with a massive amount of poorly organized content that fails to meet user needs. This mess helped create the need for content strategists and content marketing specialists. And together, we’re here to help make sure your content strategy can change and grow without turning into a flimsy house of cards.

Edwards is an award-winning writer and content marketing professional serving clients such as Crescent Communities, Eaton’s Lighting Division and Moen. Prior to joining Wray Ward in 2013, she worked in marketing and public relations for a large, integrated health system. She is co-founder of Taylor’s Tale, a public charity dedicated to the fight against rare diseases. She spoke at TEDxCharlotte in 2017, and her first book will be published in November 2018. Edwards is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a bachelor of arts in English and a minor in creative writing. She is originally from Charlotte.

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