What Is A Content Strategy And Why Do You Need It?

Last week I attended Content Marketing World with over 1,000 other passionate marketing and business professionals. The topic was content marketing and how to effectively deploy content strategies.

Some of the sessions were very specific to content approaches, such as Joe Chernov and Todd Wheatland‘s sessions on slideshare and the opportunity with video content.

But there were a number of sessions, including my own that asked the question “What is Content Marketing?” A few that answered “What is Content Strategy?” And still others that asked “What does it mean for brands to become publishers?”

So here I will define Content Marketing and content strategy. I will provide the simple business case for why you need it and also how you can quickly gain success with a content strategy that deploys effective content marketing techniques.

What is Content Strategy?

Wikipedia describes content strategy as “…the practice of planning the content creation, delivery, and governance. A repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process…”

I define it as the mindset, culture and approach to delivering your customer’s information needs in all the places they are searching for it, across each stage of the buying process. It is a strategic approach to managing content as an asset, with a quantifiable ROI.

What is a Content Strategist?

Kristina Halvorson describes the content strategist as the person who defines not only which content will be published but also why it is published in the first place.

I define the content strategist as the change agent required to explain why content strategy is such a huge opportunity for companies to evolve the way they market and sell products, by putting the customer at the center of everything you do. By helping them with content. By answering their top questions with great content.

What is Content Marketing?

Wikipedia defines this as “all marketing formats that involve the creation and sharing of content in order to attract, acquire and engage clearly defined and understood current and potential consumer bases with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

For me, content strategy is all about the why and how and content marketing is what you actually deliver – the tools, techniques, channels and content types.

Why Do I Need A Content Strategy?

This is a simple argument: The web, social and mobile revolutions have changed the world connecting all of us and enabling the seamless flow of instant information. We are all now the most popular and trusted source of news and information for each other.

Marketing is not just about promotion. Traditional Marketing techniques are no longer as effective as they used to be. The amount of content and messaging being delivered to consumers every day is increasing exponentially. And so, a content strategy can save marketing and maybe your entire business!

In short, your content has to be awesome. It has to be truly helpful. It cannot be about you. It has to be about your customers’ wants and needs.

How To Be Successful With Content Marketing?

  1. It starts with culture and changing the deeply-held belief that marketing has to promote your products. Content Strategists need to be able to articulate why you need a content strategy and start to focus your organization on helping your customers.
  2. Define your measures of success. Look at how many “early-stage” search terms are driving traffic to your website. This tells you if you are answering your customers’ top questions. Look at your percentage of leads from inbound sources. This tells you how well you attract customers and earn their business vs. buy it. Finally, look at how much early-stage content you produce and how well it engages your target audience.
  3. Create an inbound content destination that answers your customers key questions, does not promote your products directly but invites your visitors to explore your solutions. If your content is great, your conversions will be too.
  4. Get a mobile plan so that you can deliver content to your customers in the format that they want.
  5. Think like a publisher and follow these steps to creating great content.
  6. Measure your success. Test. And optimize everything!

Click here to see my presentation from Content Marketing World.

Let me know what you think in the comments below and follow the conversation on Twitter,  LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+.

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

16 thoughts on “What Is A Content Strategy And Why Do You Need It?

  1. Brilliant post, Michael.

    It’s definitely the time for a rigorous approach to content strategy.

    Lots of B2B marketers have experienced success with one or two pieces of content. Now it’s time to get strategic and create a program that can generate the right content, promote and measure it — continuously.

    1. Thanks Doug, you guys really walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I was telling everyone about you at Content Marketing World. Shame you couldn’t be there. (Of course by “everyone” I mean 3 people but hey that’s something right)

  2. Great stuff, Michael! I couldn’t have said it better, or agree more completely. We’ve been telling clients for the past year that they have to forgot about thinking of themselves as marketers and start thinking like publishers. I was so happy to see you take that same position, and express it so eloquently.

  3. Wow, Michael, this is right on and very helpful! First thing I did was send a link to two small businesses who are struggling with these ideas.

    Since today’s my birthday, I’m going to consider this a nice little gift, and bookmark it!


    1. Thanks Barrett, and Happy Birthday! I can think of no better compliment than to say that this was helpful and that you shared it and bookmarked it. That is why I write here and thanks for giving me the early birthday gift (28 days and counting) 😉

  4. We are a culture of searchers now. Industrial marketers have largely missed the opportunity of search. I appreciate & agree with your comments and promotion of content marketing. Good search tactics combine with good content marketing can allow industrial marketers to dominate their respective market niches. (This is what makes search & content marketing so effective for industrial marketers. It is “long tail”. When will they take their heads out of the sand? Keep up the good word about content marketing Michael.

    1. Thanks Tom, It’s really true for all industries. If Marcus Sheridan can use content marketing and search to sell fiberglass pools, anyone can use it to answer their customers basic questions.

  5. Hi Michael,

    As usual – you provide a great post. Wish I could have been out to CMW to meet you this year. We’ve been back and forth on this issue and glad to see the reference to content strategy and the need for strategist type thinking. This area is still evolving and my bet is that we will move beyond content strategy to a frontier we haven’t defined yet. Traditional marketing is dead yet some organization I have discovered in my research work still do the same approach – but online – and call it content marketing. Let’s connect oon.


    1. Thanks Tony, I agree with you that there is a lot of sugar coating of this problem. Change is hard. And that is why I continually try to evangelize to marketing leaders that it is time for a new approach.

  6. Another issue that businesses have with content marketing is that they don’t want to share “too much”. They think that if they give away their process or approach to solving certain problems, the prospect won’t need them. However, this is rarely true. All it does is instill trust that you know what you are doing.

  7. Thanks for the great sharing Michael. We are right at the point of developing a cotent strategy to enhance local pull marketing efforts. Your post especially the tips of steps is very helpful. Still I am haunted by the question of how to measure the success? I’m asking this mainly from performance tracking point of view, as the contents would be distributed in 3rd party platforms with which some can not be monitored, and there is a break between them to the destination that we drive the customers to go at the end. This might become a particular challenge when it comes to demand generation type of efforts. Do you have any suggestion for that? – Thanks.

    1. Thanks Marco, for me the main metrics are % of leads coming from pull at a high level. And you should be able to see which sites are referrng traffic to yours. Your efforts should be driving that number up and the cost per acquisition down.

      The other metrics to look at are how much of your content is in the early stages. There should be an appropriate balance of early, middle and late stage assets. Also, you should be able to measure the business value of your owned properties such as your website, your blog and your social accounts.

      Hope that helps!

  8. Thank you very much Michael. We had technique diffculties in streamlining the tracking from most of local social media platforms like Weibo (China version of Twitter) to our own DG destination, but as you suggested, we should be able to track the linkage between the traffic chang with the end DG results.

    Also your suggestion about the early, middle, late stage conents are very interesting. Is there any good references you know that I can learn more on that? content marketing is still a bi fresh for me. – Thanks a lot.

  9. Thank you Michael. We are a fledgling business just starting out and we are instinctively doing just what you have so eloquently explained here. It gives me more confidence in myself!

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