Content Strategy Is A Process Not A Deliverable

“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.

12 thoughts on “Content Strategy Is A Process Not A Deliverable

  1. I’m a technical communicator and I spend all day making content. I have a strategy of sorts – a document that describes everything I’m going to deliver; including why, when and how. There is even a section about engaging the community and using social media. Am I a content strategist or just a small cog in the enterprise content strategy wheel? The lines between tech comm, marketing, PR and sales are getting so blurry – it’s hard to tell the strategists from the foot soldiers.

  2. Hi Kath – I think you’re illustrating my point perfectly. So many content disciplines like technical writing, communications, marketing etc. have been around far longer than content strategy – so what is the value-add of content strategy?

    Tools are just tools – I’ve never been one to only use a specific tool for use in a specific discipline. If a tool works in your field even though you’ve borrowed it from another, then why not use it if it helps your cause? If you use content strategy tools because they help you with you work – great! But looking at the bigger picture, someone who is a content strategist who only relies on a set of tools risks becoming obsolete as content creators and owners such as yourself inherently adopt these tools into their existing workflows. Now where is the value in hiring a content strategist?

    I’d argue many use the term “strategy” in their jobs when they should be using the word “plan”. Somewhere along the way, “strategy” sounded more important than “plan” and everyone at all levels of the corporate hierarchy were suddenly creating “strategies”. To me, a strategy only happens at the C-suite level, or at least in positions of senior leadership. The strategy at this level drives the organization forward. Content has a significant role in providing insight into this direction and for this reason, the content strategy conversation should be elevated beyond tactics to one which facilitates a greater understanding of the impact content assets have on the organizational direction – including competitive advantage, profitability, and, ultimately, the bottom line.

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  10. Wow, Kris. Looks like I’m late to the party. But I think this post from 2012 is still important today. What you’ve said about the chatter of content strategy and content marketing is still true. As you’ve pointed out, the hype of social media in circa 2009 (I remember it well) is not so dissimilar to the content marketing hype of today. Thanks for putting the emphasis on strategy. As a university CMO, I’m trying to get the executive team to understand that our product is not just courses, that keeping pace with technology empowered and information seeking consumers is not just about online courses. It’s also about producing content. I have a ways to go. But this is exactly what my marketing and communications team is discussing as I work to get more sophisticated with the strategy that births our content on various channels. Thanks for your post. It’s provided some additional clarity for me.

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