Content Strategy: no longer just the preserve of the web professional

Content Strategy

This series of articles explores content strategy and interaction design. Curated by Colleen Jones of Content Science, each article highlights a new voice, a new way of doing content strategy, or applying tried-and-true content principles to new situations.

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Please, please, please could we stop talking about content strategy as if it only applies to the web design professional. The impact of content and user experience go far wider and should be at the heart of everyday marketing practice.

Reading Jonathan Kahn’s brilliant article on A LIST Apart, I couldn’t help being struck by how the debate around content strategy still seems firmly rooted in the realm of web design and development.   Now don’t get me wrong, you’ll find no bigger fan of content strategy as a discipline than me .  As a user experience practitioner I am fascinated by the way content strategy is driving the agenda for how we create and maintain compelling web experiences.

Perhaps it’s the wider perspective working for integrated agency affords, but I can’t help feeling that we are missing a trick. Surely we need to drag content strategy out of shadows and beyond the domain of the aloof web specialist (come on, we know we are!) and position it firmly into the core  of everyday, contemporary marketing practice.

In another article I once wrote I made the argument that content strategy goes beyond the constraints of the web site, to all digital touch points and all digital content. The rise of the social web and democratisation of content creation, calls for a new breed of content strategist, one that is dedicated to monitoring, aggregating, contributing and shaping content about the brand in all its digital guises. I believe we work toward a model for shaping content strategy as a means for understanding which conversations to invest in. This argument is being taken further to suggest that ‘user experience’ needs to extend not only to all media, but the gaps in between, Samantha Starmer starts this debate most eloquently.

In this context we see that content strategy goes beyond just the preserve of the digital specialist. We need  to call on the insight into consumer behaviour brought by the ‘traditional’ planner; the detailed understanding of connection and effect, through data;  the appreciation of consumer mental models and demands through search; and the subtleties of the social specialist to build a framework for interaction.

Perhaps, ironically, could the semantics be to blame for keeping content strategy niche? The strongest illustration being what we actually mean by the term content.  By most definitions a TV ad is content, words are content, YouTube video is content, comments and blog post are content – it’s hardly useful . Perhaps we should be thinking more at differentiating by what content does. Is it branded content that informs and compels? It is search content that attracts and directs? Is it conversational content that drives participation? In this way we can link content to its intended behavioural outcome, rather than its make-up or taxonomy.

So is there a wider view?

I think so. I think we need to see content strategy as being part of a wider content ecosystem.

Content strategy is concerned with the systems and processes for structuring, organising, managing and creating the content. As such it is closest to the traditional user experience professional.

Editorial strategy is then concerned with what to say and to whom. It covers messaging, themes , topics, points of view and how they are expressed. As such it is closest to the writers and search specialists.

Content marketing covers how to drive conversation around content. How to use it to attract attention, engagement and participation. And as such closer is to the traditional communication and   marketing professional.

In conclusion brands and their agencies should no longer dismiss content strategy as something the web guys do. It’s at the very heart of modern marketing practice and should be embraced.

Jeremy Baldwin

Jeremy Baldwin is a company director at Bright Blue Day, a full-service design and marketing agency based in Dorset, UK. He is also a keen creeper, regularly exploring old and abandoned buildings.

12 comments on this article

  1. Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion. I have been banging this drum for a while now, and it’s good to have others recognizing that.

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  3. Ann-Marie Grissino on

    I particularly like “content strategist, one that is dedicated to monitoring, aggregating, contributing and shaping content about the brand in all its digital guises. I believe we work toward a model for shaping content strategy…”

    The concept of a content strategist goes beyond web development and marketing. Content strategy also applies to content that is disseminated to users of products or services and distributed in multiple deliverable outputs. The content can include video, audio, graphics, holograms (from another discussion ;-0), and, of course, text. The strategy includes monitoring, aggregating, contributing, and shaping content for all of this as you said.

    Thought-provoking article.

  4. This is quite interesting, Jeremy. Especially because I have been talking and writing about this topic for a while — how to develop content for the buyer’s cycle, for example; for B2B, for integrated communications and marketing, etc.

    Check out the section about the future in this post from June 2008 – http://www.conversationagent.com/2008/06/make-your-web-site-sticky-10-ideas.html, which further expands the same concept I wrote about that May. And, what a coincidence, I came up with a Venn diagram, which admittedly is not very sexy, more than a year ago that looks very similar to yours here – http://www.conversationagent.com/2009/10/how-do-you-do-pr-without-looking-like-youre-selling-something.html.

    Of course there are others talking and writing about the topic. Joe Pulizzi at Junta42 comes to mind. Kristina Halvorson at Brain Traffic is another good one.

  5. I’m struck by the paragraph at the end of the article, where the work of the “traditional user experience professional” is related to structuring, organising, managing and creating content. If that would read “the traditional information architecture professional”, I would agree. But in my opinion there’s no more user experience in content strategy than there’s user experience in visual design, or front-end development, or any other activity required to create stuff (= “experiences”) for users.

    In short, user experience and content strategy are both terms that try to reach beyond their limits, and while doing that, empty themselves from any meaning.

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  9. Jeremy,

    Writing as a content strategist (my ‘adapted’ profession for many years) but with my much longer and wider experience of conventional marketing and communications, I very much agree with your concept.. but I think that your model needs a slight tweak.

    At the end of the day people are people and they expect to deal with organisations and brands as human beings regardless of whether they’re opening a newspaper, stepping into a shop, receiving a text, ordering something or communicating online (at home, in the office, on the move – wherever), taking service delivery… the thing that connects all the touch points is consistent content – not technology. Making the experience good, accurate, personal, one that’s expected, something special and delightful… whatever is required – but consistency is base 1 – relies on content that is thought about, planned for, crafted, broken down and managed correctly at every single step of its lifecycle – on any platform, at any time.

    And it’s getting more complicated with semantic expectations and applications. I think content strategy over-arches the content piece and I’d rename the ‘Content Strategy’ part of your model, Content Management and put Content Strategy at its heart.

    Clare

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