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Inside Content Strategy: What It Is and Why You Need It

When I tell friends and family I’m a content strategist, a predictable question often follows: What does that mean? My best short answer is, I help brands decide what to say and where to say it.

It’s more than that, of course. But at its simplest, it’s true. As marketers, we all try to tell a good story about our brand. Usually, those stories are crafted for customers, but recently, many brands have also renewed their focus on telling their own story to employees and recruits to attract (and keep) talent.

Whatever story your brand needs to tell today, the words are only half of the task. It needs to be placed in targeted ways and locations so that the right audience will interact with it, and at the right moment. A content strategy can draw the map everyone follows to get the story out.

Content Strategy Is a Roadmap

The next common question I hear is this: What is a content strategy? Is it a spreadsheet? A diagram? People ask this a bit timidly, like it’s obvious and they missed a meeting or an email that finally explained this mysterious document. It isn’t obvious, though, so let’s talk about it!

A content strategy is not a cut-and-dry artifact (though the tools do matter). Think of it as a roadmap a team follows when creating content. It’s a shared, documented understanding of challenges and how content solves for those challenges. The content initiatives you invest in create movement toward your goals.

You can build a content strategy by roughly following this model. Which stage will you concentrate on this year? (There may be a few.)

[diagnose challenge], [agree on solutions + ways to achieve them] → [build and launch a detailed action plan]

Now, what does that look like in practice? Your 2023 roadmap will be as unique as your own brand’s journey.

  • Are you rebranding? Your strategy may include foundational work like audience research, empathy mapping and creating style guidelines.
  • Need to streamline your messaging? Create a message framework with key message and content pillars. One of Simantel’s own helped Caterpillar clients bring structure to their content with the Take a Closer Look campaign.
  • Are you launching a new product? You’re probably planning for new content to support it. Use a message matrix to guide content creators on what different audiences need to hear about the product, and when.
  • Are you maintaining a legacy brand? You likely use editorial calendars and content trackers to keep the content engine running.

Remember, there’s no right place to be on the content journey. Whether you’re building, repurposing or optimizing content this year, you’re in a good place. Here are a few other principles to guide your work.

Remember: Content Should be Purposeful

Here’s a controversial idea — don’t create content simply for the sake of creating content. Create it to achieve a specific goal in your content strategy. The origin story of any given article or web page may be as simple as It seemed like a good idea. But a good idea without connection to a broader strategy likely won’t succeed.

If this is you, never fear. Your users aren’t judging your dusty shelf of content-from-days-gone-by — and there could be more utility in it than you think. Do you already have winning content that manages to generate traffic, despite being published years ago? Great! Don’t abandon it. Audit your content to understand what’s working, and why. You can update and optimize the good stuff — and apply learnings to what’s underperforming, too.

Pursue quality over quantity. Your customers, governance team and anyone else responsible for maintaining content will thank you for being a little choosy.

Remember: Content Is for Users

Okay, no duh. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of publishing a features and benefits article when there’s a new product to sell. Remember, you only have seconds of a user’s attention. Will your content earn their focus?

It takes empathy to understand what an audience needs and what will resonate with them. Return often to tools that help you see the world through customers’ eyes. User personas, empathy maps and social listening insights can guide content creators back to the reason our brand exists: our customers.

Do you have a story you want help telling? Feel free to reach out. Our staff of talented content and communication strategists can help you build a roadmap that meets you — and your customers — where you’re at.

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