I enjoyed the Gamification course last year on Coursera, so I decided to take up another course: Content Strategy for Professionals. While it is already what I do (having naturally blossomed from my work on social business strategy, digital strategy, online marketing, and copywriting), I think it’s still worth my time to find out how it was approached in the academe, and if there were any new things I can learn.
In one of the video lectures, Content Strategy was laid out as “…credible, trustworthy, transparent content that enhances the organization’s strategic goals.” This definition generated a lot of questions and discussion in the course forum. The general criticism was that it seemed to imply that content strategy is a characteristic of content rather then the plan or framework that guides content creation and implementation. A lot of students favoured Kristina Halvorson’s definition of content strategy cited below in my own reply to this discussion thread. Others also raised questions to how content strategy was differentiated from content marketing.
What’s in a name: content strategy or content marketing? How about content brand? In essence, I agree with the general criticism but do think that Halvorson’s definition doesn’t contradict the course definition. I find the perspective on content marketing too one-dimensional, and I’d rather move the discussion towards how a good content strategy should aspire for the creation of a great content brand. Below is my detailed response:
After listening again to the lecture, I now realise why this discussion has been raised. Upon first hearing the course definition of content strategy, it does seem to imply that content strategy is a characteristic of a content that helps drives an organisational goals rather than the framework / approach to strategically creating and using such content that advances an organisation’s goals. However, when you take into consideration the whole context, the definition used by the course and that of Kristina Halvorson (author ‘Content Strategy for the Web’) turn complementary rather than conflicting. Halvorson actually cited in her book that content strategy “defines how you’re going to use content to meet your business (or project) goals and satisfy your users’ needs.” This is the core foundation of the course as seen in the curriculum, which makes the issue for me more a matter of clarity rather than conflicting definitions.
What is not convincing for me is the differentiation made between content strategy and content marketing. For me, content strategy is more encompassing than content marketing. Though it can specifically focus on editorial and technical aspects of content, it may also involve company-wide efforts directly tied to business strategies. It involves governance, culture, capability-building, etc., which are not under the responsibility of content marketing but will directly impact any of the latter’s objectives and implementation efforts. However, the way the spectrum was presented with journalism and marketing at the opposing ends assumes a linear or one-dimension approach to content marketing. That if something is more informative rather than issuing out a call-to-action, that does not fall in the realm of content marketing; that it’s more journalism than marketing. In practice, there are more and more overlaps between marketing and journalism (e.g. ‘branded journalism’ as a pillar of content strategy). Content marketing helps address the challenges born out of the content deluge strategically and systematically, bringing content to a business level rather than simply a tactical one. Just like with social media, content marketing is less about producing better content, and more about helping our business become better because of good quality content. Content marketing seeks to harmonise personas (people), their stage in the customer decision journey (e.g. unaware, interested, wants to purchase, etc.), and the kind of content that is relevant and valuable for them. For example, when trying to engage with potential customers who are unaware of the benefits your business or organisation can provide them, a good content marketing approach will make sure that the kind of article you provide them talks more about their problems rather than making a good sales pitch.
Another question that’s actually more interesting for me (and perhaps better treated as a new discussion) is this: are we building a content machine or a content brand? In my opinion, becoming a ‘content brand’ is something that requires a solid content strategy, and something that content marketing needs to evolve into. The pitfall of content marketing is the push for content production: to build a lean and mean content machine in the organisation. The thinking behind content branding is that we have to transcend simply being makers and marketers of content. We need to transform into a brand that is famous and respected for creating content that is remarkable, relevant, and trustworthy. Every single time. Content that our target groups, partners, and even our own workforce will find worthy of bookmarking, saving, sharing, even repurposing for their own content. Every single time. That’s the challenge. Upholding that promise is what will make a company or organisation a great content brand.