Key Distinctions to Know About Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing

Key distinctions to know about content strategy vs content marketing with hands writing on a clipboard.

You shouldn’t be asking whether to go with content strategy vs. content marketing. It isn’t an either-or proposition. Both are vital if you intend to reach your audience successfully. Read on for an explanation of content strategy and content marketing, two different but interrelated aspects of your overall digital content strategy.

What’s the Difference Between Content Strategy and Content Marketing?

Content creation is no longer as simple as blogging once a week. What qualifies as valuable content has evolved, and businesses now rely on content as a powerful tool to differentiate themselves from competitors and reach new customers.

When businesses publish content, they engage current audiences, attract new customers, establish authority, and drive growth. But, to deploy content successfully, it’s essential to understand the nuances between content strategy and content marketing.

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct components of a comprehensive digital strategy. Both are geared toward achieving business goals, and they work synergistically together. 

Content strategy acts as a roadmap that guides content creation, laying the foundation for creating and managing your content assets. The strategy guides the purpose, direction, and execution of the content you create, just like a map tells a driver the direction they need to go. 

On the other hand, content marketing leverages your content so it actually reaches the audience. The idea is to use your content to establish authority, foster trust, and ultimately drive customers to choose you when they’re ready to act on their needs. 

Defining Content Strategy

Content strategy guides effective content marketing efforts. Creating a content strategy provides a plan for how your business can use content to achieve specific goals.

Four steps are typically used when creating a content strategy template:

  1. Conduct research to understand your audience. Identify your target audience and create buyer personas. Analyze their pain points so you can address them. Understand what your audience needs at each stage of the buyer’s journey.
  2. Define the purpose and messaging for the content. Establish clear objectives based on your business goals. Define the key messages and themes you want to convey and ensure your messaging aligns with your brand’s values.
  3. Use the information you gather.  This research can guide decision-making about what types of content to produce, when to publish it, and where to distribute it. Identify the channels and platforms where your target audience is the most active. 
  4. Establish metrics to measure the success of your content efforts. Note a baseline of current activities, so you know when there’s a positive or negative change. Continuously revise and adjust your content strategy based on performance data and what your audience asks for.

Content strategy comes before content creation. Developing the strategy first ensures that your content serves a purpose — it should contribute to the overall success of the business.

A strategy should encompass short-term and long-term goals. Decide what you want to achieve in the next month, 6 months, year, and beyond. Content isn’t something you can forget about once you’ve published it, either. A successful strategy also incorporates long-term content management. Your content needs to be updated as time goes on to ensure consistency and relevance across all channels and platforms.

The building blocks of a solid content strategy

Okay, so you’re convinced you need a strong content strategy, but how do you actually build one? Start with a plan that aligns your content efforts with your business goals so your published material drives results. 

A robust content strategy typically includes the following elements:

  • Content mission and goals: The mission provides the overarching purpose for why your organization is creating content. These reasons for content creation should align with and support your business objectives. 
  • Audience research and persona development: Who uses your services or buys your products? Create personas with as much detail as you can. Include ages, genders, locations, income levels, education, and personal values and interests. 
  • Style guide: Create guides covering brand voice and tone, how to use logos and colors, and basics like grammar. 
  • Content audit and gap analysis: Identify areas where your competitors have content that you don’t. When you start publishing content, you can later identify areas where your competitors have content that’s similar to your content but performs better.
  • Content monitoring and processes: Establish workflows and oversight processes to ensure quality and consistency across every piece of content you create. Decide how you plan to evaluate and approve your content and define a procedure for revisions.
  • Content types and formats: Specify the mix of content types that best suit your target audience. This may include blog posts, social media posts, videos, infographics, e-books, podcasts, or webinars.
  • Content creation and curation plans: Once the content types are defined, decide how to ideate and produce new content.
  • Content distribution and promotion strategies: Outline when, how, and where to distribute and promote your content. Establish your company on YouTube and social media platforms, but also consider paid promotion through ads or influencers. On-page SEO should also be considered as an important part of the strategy.
  • Content measurement and optimization: Define which metrics you’ll rely on to determine success once your content is live. Track conversions and analytics so you can spot what’s working and what isn’t. Then, refine your plan as needed. 

Aligning Content Strategy With Business Objectives

Producing content for the sake of producing content is like setting out on a road trip without knowing where you’re going. First, define your business’ purpose, values, and goals. Then, shape the content strategy to support those. 

Every piece of content you create should be a stepping stone that leads your audience where you want them to go. Your content strategy provides the roadmap for your goals, whether that’s to increase brand awareness, generate leads, nurture customer relationships, or drive sales.

Content can deliver tangible results, so your organization’s goals play a crucial role in defining your content creation and content marketing tactics. You can spend time and energy creating all sorts of content, but with a little forethought, that time and energy can lead to your desired outcome.

Content Strategy Examples

Let’s say you’re the owner of a software company looking to develop a content strategy. A majority of your audience needs user manuals and other product documentation. To answer this need, you develop a comprehensive content strategy for creating and managing product documentation. First, you should conduct user research to determine what information your audience needs. Then, define the content types that make sense for your audience. This may include short video tutorials or an expanded FAQ section on your website. 

As another example, you might be revising the corporate website for a manufacturing company to enhance its online presence. Define your target audiences, identify the key messages, and create a content calendar for regular updates. To help search engines easily find and rank your content, implement SEO best practices.

What about a content strategy to develop thought leadership? First, you’d need to identify relevant topics. Then, develop a mix of content formats. This would likely include blog posts, white papers, and webinars. Develop a plan to distribute these formats and establish relationships with other websites where you could contribute. 

Regardless of the types of content you settle on, there should be an established voice and tone. An oversight plan helps to ensure accurate, relevant, and up-to-date information for consistency across all access points.

Understanding Content Marketing

A content strategy provides the recipe, but content marketing is when you really start cooking. Creating, distributing, and promoting content brings your content strategy to life.

Remember, the strategy defines the goals of your content marketing efforts. Unlike traditional advertising, in which a potential customer might walk by a billboard or see a few seconds of one of your TV ads while channel-surfing, content marketing is targeted and focused. Because you’ve developed your audience personas, you know who you’re trying to reach and what their buyer’s journey looks like. 

Effective content marketing tactics

What do you want your customers to do? Create a separate plan for each outcome. Do you want your existing customers to make a new purchase or to purchase an upgraded product to replace one they already have? Do you want people who are new to your brand to subscribe to your newsletter? Or maybe you want to increase your social media followers. Define the goals as part of the strategy, then create an effective content marketing tactic to achieve them. 

Effective content marketing tactics include:

  • Storytelling and brand journalism: Share customer stories and case studies that demonstrate success with your products or services.
  • Educational and informative content: Knowledge-based content can take many forms. Showcase step-by-step tutorials or data-driven research that addresses your audience’s needs.
  • Thought leadership and industry insights: Weigh in on and share transparent information about anything that impacts your industry. 
  • User-generated content and social media engagement: Encourage and reward your customers for engaging with your brand. Acknowledge their comments and reshare. Giveaways or other rewards can help your customers know they’re appreciated.
  • Content repurposing: Get the most out of your content by using it in different ways. For example, turn a video script into a blog post. Convert a webinar into a series of social media posts. Extract key insights from a white paper to create shareable infographics.
  • Cross-promotion: Cross-promote your content on your social media channels, on your website, and in your newsletters. People interact with your brand in different ways and through different means, so this gives them multiple touch points.
  • Lead nurturing and email marketing campaigns: Keep the conversation going once someone has engaged with your brand by sending them information that helps them learn about and grow with your products or services. 
  • Influencer collaborations and guest posting: When people see influencers or other brands they respect using or promoting a product, it often reinforces trust and credibility.

Choosing the right channels for content distribution

Where does your audience spend time online and consume content? A brand that appeals to young people may want to optimize interactions on TikTok. A DIY-oriented brand would likely find success on a highly visual platform, such as YouTube or Instagram. Steer your content toward the platform that’s right for your audience.

Different distribution channels appeal to different demographics, interests, and behaviors. Research your audience’s preferences through surveys, social listening, or analytics. Find them where they’re already active.

Content Marketing Examples

Imagine you’re developing a content marketing framework for a clothing company. Your marketing may start with a TikTok account featuring fashion tips. A lookbook on your website could show different ways to style the outfits. You could share behind-the-scenes stories of how your clothes are made and how you decide on your styles. Finally, you might share photos of actual customers wearing your clothes to build brand loyalty. 

Content marketing examples for a software company, on the other hand, might involve creating a podcast featuring interviews with industry experts and customer success stories. You might share regular product updates through a newsletter. You could foster engagement with existing users on social media channels and attract potential customers by contributing content to other popular sites with industry-leading blogs. 

In both examples, the created content could be promoted across your social media channels and through email newsletters.

Synergizing Content Strategy and Marketing for Impact

While content strategy and content marketing have distinct roles, they rely on each other for success. A well-defined content strategy provides the foundation for effective content marketing. If you’re creating content that doesn’t take your organization’s goals into account, or if you’re creating content that doesn’t align with your values as a company, your content efforts will likely be ineffective. For example, if your brand relies on a message of sustainability, you should avoid creating content that inadvertently promotes environmental harm.

Integrating strategy and marketing for enhanced impact

When content strategy and marketing work together, it creates a cohesive experience for your audience. When the efforts are aligned, messages are consistent across all platforms, and your content resonates with the people you’re trying to reach. This integration is important to ensure your content drives desired outcomes. 

Adapting content strategies in dynamic markets

If there’s one thing any content creator will tell you, it’s that the digital market is an ever-changing target—but there are ways to ensure you can still hit it. In addition to being flexible, keep an eye on the overall market so you’re aware of when you need to adapt. Ideally, you’ll figure this out before the need arises instead of responding to something you didn’t anticipate. 

Successful organizations understand effective content strategies and marketing efforts are adaptable. Consumer behaviors change, trends emerge, and technologies evolve. By combining best practices with a flexible approach, businesses stay responsive.

Measuring Success

Consistently measure your content’s performance through well-defined key performance indicators. Identify the key metrics necessary to determine the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts. Without knowing what numbers you’re tracking, it’s impossible to understand what’s working, what’s not, and how to optimize for better results. Use a range of analytics tools and techniques. 

Key metrics for content success

In general, there are several broad categories of metrics content teams should measure.

  • Website metrics: Page views, unique visitors, traffic sources, engagement, conversion rates
  • Search metrics: Organic search traffic, keyword rankings, technical SEO factors
  • Social media metrics: Reach, engagement, shares, mentions, audience growth
  • Email metrics: Open rates, click-through rates, unsubscribe rates, conversions
  • Lead generation: Lead volume, marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads 
  • Sales impact: Opportunities influenced, deal value, customer acquisition costs
  • Return on investment: Content costs for your efforts compared to the profit your efforts generate

Overcoming Challenges in Strategy and Marketing

Even with the best content strategy and marketing, challenges inevitably arise. As mentioned above, the market changes quickly, which means goals change too. Organizations often face obstacles when it comes to adapting and executing. 

To ensure success in the face of difficulties, it’s essential to understand your audience and your market in as much depth as possible. Continuously monitor how you allocate your resources to be sure you’re using them wisely. Assess the messages you’re sharing and why. Determine if you’re reaching enough people to achieve your goals. Empower your team to communicate with you about any concerns, challenges, or opportunities they encounter. This knowledge should help you stay on course.

Navigating common content strategy and marketing challenges

One common challenge arises when teams are working on different aspects of a single goal without the knowledge of what the other is doing. You can prevent this by fostering cross-team collaborations. Ensure everyone in your organization knows what the overall goals are and what part they play in reaching those goals.

You should establish shared goals and metrics that keep everyone working toward the same objectives. Clear guidelines and responsibilities for everyone on your team may help support this. Delegate an individual or a group to review the content for consistent and appropriate messages. 

And don’t forget to stay agile. It’s imperative you develop a plan that’s also flexible with changing market conditions or audience needs. 

Bridging Strategy and Marketing for Content Excellence

Remember, excellent content follows naturally from an excellent plan. A harmonious relationship between your content strategy and your content marketing brings your strategy to life. Whether your goal is to increase sales or establish yourself as a leader in your industry, fuel your growth by creating a plan and using it to create compelling, goal-driven content.Tap into Crowd Content’s content strategy expertise to boost your digital impact. See how our content strategy services can revolutionize your marketing efforts and elevate your brand. Start planning your content strategy now.

Rick Leach

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Rick Leach, the Vice President of Content Operations at Crowd Content, is a seasoned professional in orchestrating large-scale content initiatives. At the helm of a dynamic team of content managers, QA specialists, and production assistants, he oversees the team’s production of high-quality content for businesses around the globe. Rick's expertise extends beyond operations management to providing strategic insights on scaling and producing outstanding content, making him a respected voice in the content creation industry.

Rick's journey in the content industry is preceded by more than five years as an Advertising Sales Manager at The Tampa Tribune, where he refined his skills in media sales and advertising. And his entrepreneurial spirit is evident in his successful 17-year venture as the proprietor of an e-commerce business.

On a personal front, Rick's life is as fulfilling as his professional endeavors. A proud U.S. Navy veteran, he enjoys a blissful family life, married with four children and a grandchild. Originally from New England but now residing on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Rick is an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.

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