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  • Steven Wilson-Beales

What’s the difference between content strategy and content marketing?

At a recent Content Strategy event we discussed the best way of promoting yourself as a content strategist to companies with some interesting insights. It was pretty much universally agreed that there’s so much confusion around the term ‘content strategy’ that you’d be better off talking in terms of ‘content marketing’ or even better ‘user-centric content’ to clients.

I found this advice useful, but equally troublesome as there are subtle differences between the two which could lead to complications further down the line. So, let’s take a closer look at this.

What Google and Twitter say… Firstly, if we punch the two terms into Google Trends you can see that content marketing has gained significant traction in recent years…

Secondly,  a quick scan of the hashtags #constentstrategy and #contentmarketing clearly shows the latter term is more popular – it’s extremely busy with a participants from a broader variety of professions (SEO, marketing, social media) pitching in with ideas for optimising your content.

These results clearly show that people are more comfortable with the term ‘content marketing’ even though’ content strategy’ has been around for longer.

So, why is that? Do content strategists need to do a better job at explaining what they do? Possibly.

I asked around for other people’s definitions of the two terms:

@stevewbeales Content strategy is a long-term investment for content excellence. Content marketing is a trending term with a short future. — Kevin Potts (@kevinpotts) July 11, 2013
@stevewbeales Content marketing is more singular, campaign-based. Strategy is repeatable and factors goals, actions and long-term vision. — Todd Smith (@toddsmithdesign) July 11, 2013

Great comments and also raises an important point.

Sometimes, I think the words we use when describing content strategy can appear to be quite value-loaded, dismissing the work that content marketers do as merely ‘tactical’. I think we have to be careful about the language that we use – it would be a very brave content strategist who suggested that digital marketing departments do not think about strategy at all.

So what is the difference between content strategy and content marketing? It’s easy to suggest that content marketing is more about tactical deployment than strategy, but that would be misleading – a good content marketer will always question the strategic business goals before working on any recommendations.

I think some of the confusion comes from the overuse of the terms ‘content’ and ‘strategy’ – these are terms used in so many contexts that they begin to lose any meaning. Can you really use a single term like ‘content’ to describe such a variety of resources (video, text, images, audio, social media) with so many different ways to manage them? And how many times have you heard the term ‘strategy’ used when what’s being described is really tactical?

I’m aware this is all beginning to sound very academic so here’s my own definition:

Content strategy focuses on the planning, findability and sustainability of content; content marketing focuses on the conversion funnel and engagement cycle of its audience.

However, this doesn’t mean the two fields are mutually exclusive  – you’ll need a content strategy in your digital marketing campaign just as you’ll need to consider engagement cycles (if applicable to the project) in your content strategy!

If this sounds like quibbling then it probably is. Some of the best books I’ve read about content marketing could be easily applied to any content strategy project.

It’s possible that more people are comfortable with the term content marketing because they find the term easier to understand – and that’s a challenge (and opportunity) to content strategists everywhere…

Have you any thoughts on the difference between content strategy and content marketing? Please feel free to leave your comments below.

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