Content marketing strategy: Three words, many meanings

Content marketing strategy: Three words, many meanings
Content marketing - one word many meanings

As you are no doubt fully aware, content marketing has already become a fairly commonplace term within the world of marketing and communications. If the way agencies and consultancies position themselves can be viewed as a barometer of trends, then you could easily argue that content marketing itself has already become ubiquitous. This is no surprise given that content marketing has been around since the earliest days of marketing in one guise or another, as well as the fact that digital has provided the catalyst for its elevation to the top of the marketing tree. The problem is that everyone is using the term ‘content marketing’ in different ways.

Having a multitude of interpretations is, of course, pretty normal for ‘big new things’. Everyone wants to twist a concept to fit their particular set of skills and capabilities. Quite right too, as how can anyone truly claim ownership of an idea? However, it does leave the poor marketer having to navigate this sea of differing ideas. You will note that we do not say ‘conflicting ideas’ and that is because 99% of the time, the way in which the term ‘content marketing’ is being interpreted is actually nothing more than one aspect of the whole.

However we do recognise that to understand what you are looking for, you need to understand what is available and so in an effort to help codify the world of content marketing we use three core terms and definitions.

1. Content Marketing

This is the use of content within any marketing activity, campaign or programme. It is not limited to any specific channel, media or approach. As such, anything from a printed magazine, to an e-shot, TV advert, B2B thought leadership campaign or owned media website falls within the catchment of content marketing. For the avoidance of doubt, social media also falls within this bracket. Content marketing is, if you like, the creation and delivery of content within any marketing or communications activity. This is why, as many commentators point out, content marketing is really as old as the hills.You will therefore encounter a wide range of tools that claim to help deliver content marketing even though they do quite different things. The fact is that they are all relevant and, depending on your needs, can support you in a variety of different ways. For example, an online content curation tool sits comfortably alongside a campaign automation tool.

2. Content Strategy

However, content marketing should not be confused with a content strategy. Nor is the difference between the two as simple as saying that any marketing and communications activity naturally requires an overarching strategy. Instead, a content strategy is the overarching plan for delivering a content marketing programme and although that may appear relatively straightforward, what has emerged is a myriad of interpretations as to what that involves.At the one extreme are those who simply see it as the planning of what content should be created and delivered and ideally (which unfortunately means not always) which channels it should be delivered through. At the more mature end of the spectrum, where our thinking lies, are those that see a content strategy as being about making the planning, creation, delivery and measurement of content the red thread that runs through all your marketing activities. In other words, that the content strategy is not simply limited to one isolated set of activities, such as your social media programme. Instead it is a single strategy that is executed across everything you do.Most importantly, the planning and measurement elements of the content strategy allow you to take carefully identified audiences on pre-defined journeys that will meet your business goals – e.g. reputation turnaround; sales uplift, etc. – and then be able to measure your success in achieving this through the content that is consumed.

3. Audience Engagement Strategy

We believe that the weakness of current thinking around content marketing is that limiting it to the marketing function completely misses the point about customer engagement. As we have already argued, the customer engages with the brand, not an aspect of the brand in a single channel. As such, if a mature content strategy is going to take the audience on a complete journey, then the content must be seeded across all customer touchpoints and this stretches beyond the marketing function.

That is why we refer to an audience engagement strategy, in other words the wider content-led approach that will see every customer engagement touchpoint integrated around the content strategy. It also deliberately puts content in its place – content is just a tool! It is not, despite what you might read or hear elsewhere, anything other than that. The obsession with creating and delivering great content is a major barrier to success and so you will see that we quite deliberately stress the importance of the audience, for which content is the tool through which you can engage them.

Therefore it does not matter whether you as the audience have called in through the contact centre, responded to a piece of e-mail marketing, engaged through social media, or simply watched an ad on television, your single journey with the brand will be governed by a single audience engagement strategy.

This is more than simple semantics, this is an entire approach that will transform the organisation into one that is truly customer-centric in deed and not just word. Achieving this transformation is relatively complex and that is why we have developed our Intelligent Customer Engagement (ICE) methodology.