“All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” ~ Sun Tzu
Buzzwords like strategy are so overused in business today they’re almost cliché. Solutions and processes are “strategic”, problems must be solved “strategically”, and everybody is a “strategist”. It sounds critical, it sounds hard to do, and it sounds darn right important — but the phrase itself has become as meaningless as all other business jargon. What does strategy really mean anymore?
Strategy Pronunciation: /ˈstratɪdʒi/
noun (plural strategies)
1a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim:
time to develop a coherent economic strategy
2 the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle:
he was a genius when it came to military strategy
Often contrasted (confused?!) with tactics.
And herein lies the problem when trying to get buy-in for content strategy. Pair the word “content” – something that has never been traditionally valued by organizations – with the meaningless, overused and almost pretentious sounding “strategy” and the dichotomy is apt to spin almost any senior decision-maker into cognitive dissonance.
The industry hasn’t done much to support content strategy’s adoption at the corporate level either. Sure, the grassroots groundswell from content creators finally getting to bask in their day in the sun has been monumental. Their efforts have brought the importance of content to the mainstream, but the industry itself is going through growing pains. Why? Because up until now, Content Strategy hasn’t been about strategy at all.
Conference topics and articles abound on content inventories, audits, meta-data, personas, responsive content, content modeling and what it means to be a content strategist, but none actually focus on the strategy of content strategy itself.
Strategies involve objectives. They have to. Either a strategy supports the attainment of the objective or the longer term impact to outcomes after the objective has been reached. Either way, a strategy is something that uses tactics but is not exclusively about them. Strategies also have to support measurable objectives. That is, a strategy’s success can only be realized once an objective has been met and that objective has a set of metrics against which it is measured.
This is why so many content strategists are doing work at the tactical level rather than having a true impact at the C-suite level where they long to be. Content strategy has become all about the small “s” – strategy at the page level.
But the small “s” doesn’t help the profession evolve, nor does it help get the buy-in necessary to make an impact to content at the enterprise level where it must live. A few years ago, social media saw the same growing pains with self-proclaimed experts suddenly hanging out their shingles based on the knowledge of a few key tools and no experience to substantiate them. The “douche-bag” was born and the caveat emptor market impact was pronounced.
Content strategists are well on their way to this same defrocking as witness by a conversation I had a few weeks ago at a networking event:
The tools content strategists have at their disposal are inconsequential to the final strategy they devise. The strategy and the objectives it supports are what businesses value. This is the sales-pitch needed at the boardroom table, not the arsenal of tactics mastered that hold no real weight in terms of their impact or importance to the bottom line.
Content strategists need to focus more on the left side of the equation in terms of what they can do, in order to influence the right side of what they deliver.
There’s a fine line between so many disciplines: information architecture, content strategy, information management, content marketing, etc. Defining content strategy is less important than asserting its role within the organizational domain.
If the following describes Marketing in the Industrial Revolution:
Then, this would best describe Content Strategy in the Information Age:
Content strategy is a process, not a deliverable. By focusing its value back on how it meets objectives and influences outcomes, and then further aligning these with how it fits within process can go a long way towards reclaiming the big “S” we’ve all come to respect in strategy.