Definition of content strategy (A practical approach)

Most of the content providers believe that having a clear content strategy is a key to success in the content market. It’s not so hard to prove that creating content without having a robust content strategy would be a waste of resources. However, beside this wide consensus on content strategy importance, it’s not easy to state a clear definition of content strategy. Seems that different people mean different things when they talk about content strategy.

To reach to a definition of content strategy it would be more practical if we think about non-strategic content creation and delivery.

In other words, first I’d try to describe what content strategy is not! 

So, let me start with a list of the most popular symptoms of non-strategic content management. Then it would be much easier to conclude a definition of content strategy.

Symptoms showing lack of a clear content strategy

definition of content strategy

I would try to describe each of the above points in more details:

Lack of a clear content style

There are so many publishers which their every single piece of content has its own style. Sure you know many publishers who if you put all their articles and photos and outdoor ads and interviews and other published contents together, no one could guess that they are all originated from the same source.

Putting a logo on every document and using the same font in all texts or the same color spectrum in all graphics or using the same character in all ads would be kind of oversimplification of style concept.

May one of the best cases for clear content style be The National Geographic. There are wide variety forms of content published by this publisher. But there’s something in common. Many times when you take a photo you tell yourself: It could be published by National Geographic.

The same happens with many other professional publishers. BBC documentaries, Springer books, Forbes articles and Redbull contents are other good samples of a clear content style.

Lack of a content plan

It’s not your obligation to tell your audience that exactly when and where your next content will be published. Even it’s not your obligation to publish your content regularly. Even it’s not your obligation to hold the same content style forever. But you are obliged to have a plan for your content. For type of the content, for publishing schedule, for style of the content and for converting the content consumer to an engaged audience. Without a plan, every decision can be right, but not necessarily effective!

Lack of a clear content structure

Let’s suppose that as an audience, I receive your content somehow and consume it. Let’s suppose that I am happy with it. Let’s suppose that I trust you. With all these assumptions, I’d look for the other contents from the same source.

I will look for more information about the source. I will look for more contents on this topic. I will look for the other sources who trusted your content. I will look for the other topics you deliver. I will look for the other types of the content with the similar theme. I will look for the contents you have published before.

But there are many content providers who do not help me with this questions or at least do it less than my expectation.

let me call it content landscape. A single leaf of the tree can be considered beautiful. A single grain of sand can inspire someone. A drop of water can be a sign of life. But the most engagement happens when you have a unified landscape in your view. With a jungle in front of you. With a sea in your horizon and with the sand under your feet.

Putting all the empty content pools aside, you see some very active content providers with many amazing pieces of content without any understandable structure. Every new content looks as a new project and every old content looks as an abandoned one.

Lack of a formal organizational structure behind

You have written an article and are ready to publish it on your website. But no one knows who has the right to make the final confirmation.

You have designed the cover of a brochure or the contents of a billboard ad. Who has the right to confirm it? or reject it?

So legal claims are raised by competitors after your last campaign or the recently released product comparison chart. Who is going to follow it?

There are many other similar questions showing a necessity for a clearly organized role structure behind any content strategy.

Lack of clear measures of success

Let’s suppose we have a heavy traffic high-rank website supported by a very active social presence. Let’s suppose we’ve gained one of the best collections of keywords by our SEO activities. Suppose we have a very good monthly revenue.

Is it ok? can I call my content strategy a successful one? No-one knows. It depends on your overall strategy. It depends on you decided horizon. It depends on the type of your visitors. It depends on the mission of your content delivery plan. It depends on your branding strategy. Sure you can add many other dependencies to my list.

If we do not define success measures, every single result can be equally considered as a success or as a failure.

Lack of clear intent

The concept of strategic intent, as stated by Prahalad in his classic article in Harvard Business Review is not limited to executive meeting and corporate contexts. Whenever we talk about strategy, strategic intent shall be a matter of concern.

Strategic intent is not limited to having clear intentions  behind the actions. It talks about seeking kind of stretch in organizational targets. Trying to reach targets beyond what’s considered generally as attainable with current resources.

Putting all contents published by a brand or a company together, it should be easily understandable that what kind of intention lies behind.

Also, it should be possible to figure out what kind of new lands and landscapes are intended to be stretched to.

Lacking this intention or misalignment in action would be the sign of lacking a well-defined content strategy.

Lack of clear image of content audience

Nowadays, we are far beyond the classical definition of media and mass communication. The idea of broadcasting is not the only existing idea in the content industry. Not even the dominant one. Narrowcasting is the new dominant point of view which considers the audience interests as the core of the content strategy.

So no content can be evaluated before knowing the content audience. Targeting everybody means seeking nobody in the current stage of communication.

Take a look around and choose one brand. Consider the whole package of content originated from the brand. Are you able to describe the target audience? If the answer is no, most probably we are facing a digital rubbish generating machine and nothing more!

Lack of a well-managed content life cycle

Contents, if designed well, may be considered as living entities. But looking at the wild desert of the wasted contents, sure you will see many dead contents never lived their supposed-to-lived life. Even many of the contents are born dead.

The Content Life Cycle is part of the content strategy overlooked by many publishers. Part of the story belongs to the nature of content just when it is born. The rest belongs to nurturing it afterwards through the hard, challenging, cruel and highly competitive content jungle.

When you see many outdated contents left around, many useless ones hold alive without any practical use, when you see newly born contents already dead, sure it would be a sign of a not-existing content strategy or a dead strategy itself.

Lack of a feasible content plan

Every activity in the business world has to be strategically feasible. Strategic Feasibility is something more than positive net profit at the bottom of financial statements.

Profit can be defined as extra revenue comparing to the costs. But the strategic feasibility means staying positive even taking opportunity costs into consideration.

If you spend one million for your content creation machine and it generates two millions of revenue, you are profitable on the papers, but not necessarily feasible.

The strategic question would be: What other options you had instead of investing in this content machine? What other contents was possible to be generated with this content machine? What other audiences could be considered as potential ones? Can you assure me that it was not possible to imagine anything more than this two million, to be generated by this content machine? Can you assure me that the content itself was a right place to put my money in?

The content machine should be considered something more than a mere jackpot in a casino. Otherwise, even a big some of generated revenue would not be more than a temporary win. Content strategy is a promise for valuable results in the long-term, not a bunch of lucky moves in the short run.

 So now it’s easier to make a practical definition of content strategy:

The process of creation, storage and distribution of content based on a well-organized content plan centered around a clear intent and tailored for the specific content audience, monitored and managed based on clear measures of success through the whole content life cycle.

The content strategy is responsible for designing the content identity in terms of structure and style and recommending it to all content generating departments.

Any successful content strategy should be feasible. Not only covering its costs but also generating a sustainable stream of revenue for the whole organization.

But don’t forget that to implement the content strategy, all of the organizational activities should be aligned. This is only possible when there is a formal organizational structure behind. In a small or medium company, it can be managed easily through documentation and regular meetings. But in large organizations, there’s no other choice than assigning someone outside departmental boundaries for coordination of the all content-related activities. The role I already discussed as CCO or Chief Content Officer.

Sure my definition of content strategy is not the only one. Just take a look to the list of content strategy definitions provided by Bussolati. But I had a reason for making my own definition of content strategy. As it seems in most definitions, the concepts of content and strategy  are lost in the digital or web-related terms (Rahel Bailie is a clear exception).

In most of the definitions in the Bussolati list, definition of content strategy is centered around making a better user experience or a better search appearance. Or even in some cases the content concept is explicitly limited to the digital contents.

In future articles, we will take a detailed look at every term I’ve used in my definition of content strategy.