Content marketing and content strategy. Two definitions that leave a lot of people confused and thinking that these are actually the same.

In fact, content marketing and content strategy are two very different concepts. Their execution and purposes vary greatly so I don’t think we can view them as equals.

Can you put your finger on the actual difference between them? Have you utilized the power of both content marketing and content strategy in pursuit of your brand’s success?

And, ultimately, a chicken-and-egg problem transitioned in the domain of marketing:

Which comes first – content marketing or content  strategy?

Since I’ve posed so many questions it would be unfair of me to leave them unanswered.

Content marketing – sell, but don’t tell

Put in short, content marketing is every type of content creation which has one main goal: to sell. You do content marketing because you want to hook your customers and show them how and why you are better than the competition… and what would they benefit off your products or services.

Content marketing channels its power through many sources. Blog posts and landing pages are a very popular example. Both of them have to do with a shorter route of content marketing. On the other hand, there are lengthier ways to turn your prospects into leads – ebooks are a preferred method. Interviews with satisfied clients or industry professionals are a good bet too. Last but not least, you can have a multimedia approach to content marketing via webinars, (instructional) videos or even whole demos of what you actually offer to customers.

[Tweet “Create not only content that sells but that gives information, answers questions and is reliable.”]

There is a uniting factor in all of these: the call to action. Whenever you are doing something related to content marketing, you want to finish off with a certain call to action. It can be a more sophisticated way to encourage your customers to buy your products/services or it can be a simple sentence like “Buy your copy now!” The point is that it has to be present, an icing on the marketing cake.

Content strategy – Inform and conquer

Content strategy, on the other hand, focuses on information. To be more precise, it focuses on what people need to know and ultimately delivers it. When it comes to content strategy, you are not selling. Instead, you are giving factual, accurate information in the most relevant and insightful way, just as your audience would need it.

The first thing you want to ask yourself before putting out your content strategy is what does a certain piece of information contribute to your customers’ needs. Sloppy, not personalized,  ineffective information will lead to you losing a lot of clients or subscribers. After all, the current era is one of information overflow, so if these people don’t find what they need, they will move on to another business and its services. Never forget that there are always alternatives to what you do, so you have to be on the cutting edge in all aspects of your business, including content.

Content strategy has become increasingly important as the peak times of only pitching a product to your prospective customers and reaping results are (almost) gone. Content marketing and babbling about sales have become a tough way to convert prospects. People are looking for meaningful interaction and informational pieces that bring value and knowledge. There is too much fluff content out there and marketers obsessed by the idea to sell you something.

Marketing or strategy: which route to prefer?

So how do you approach this? Do you employ content strategy or do you emphasize more on content marketing? Do you really need both of them?

And, finally, how do you create your content strategy and your content marketing plan?

The answer to all these questions is simple: you have to define what your goals and purposes are. Do you want to sell more or are rather looking to inform people? What is your approach in communicating with your prospective customers and already established clients? Keeping in mind utilization of both content marketing and content strategy might be the best way to do this.

I want to note something very important which gets mistaken a lot: content marketing is a part of your content strategy. You can’t turn this around and think of content strategy being a part of content marketing. Think of content strategy as a tree and of content marketing as a big, steady branch of this same tree.

The most appealing thing I love about content strategy

I cherish content strategy (when it’s done right), because it focuses on people. You really need to understand your audience and the ins and outs of the way they think and act. You must have extensive knowledge about:

  • their incentives (what makes them buy products or subscribe to services?)
  • their needs
  • their moral values (what would they deem good or bad and how can you fit in their world view?)
  • the way they “consume” content (timing: during the workdays or rather during the weekend; in the morning hours while commuting or rather while resting in their cozy apartment in the evening; format: shorter or longer content, complex or simplified, text or multimedia)
  • how often do they search for content (is it daily, biweekly, monthly?
  • what makes great content for them
  • what makes a great product/services for them

It is a very intricate and educational process. If you get to know your audience better, you will be also able to take your business further with the help of this accumulated knowledge. Content marketing needs to be excellent at only one thing and that is the art of selling. It doesn’t need to educate, or to help and support – unless those things will drive a sale or create a lead. Content strategy knows better.

There is something sophisticated in content strategy and in the way you can combine it with the power of content marketing. In case I got you intrigued and you want to learn more about content strategy, there’s a great free course I can recommend you. It is the Coursera  Content Strategy for Professionals: Engaging Audiences for Your Organization course offered by the Northwestern University.