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

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The modern marketer has heard of content marketing, they even know they need a content strategy and a content plan. But many are embarrassed to admit they don’t fully understand differences between these phrases nor what to expect in terms of output from each. Let me explain, in plain English...

Content marketing
To provide some context, let’s start with what it’s not. Marketing used to be an advertising game. Advertising is about interrupting audiences with a brand message. Brands interrupt your favourite television show with a commercial, or fight to get your attention on a website with banner ads. Advertising is pushing messages to people.

Content marketing is a pull strategy. You create content that your audience wants to consume, and therefore you are drawing your audience to your brand. Content can be in many forms. It might be a game that engages you, a white –paper that makes you a more intelligent customer, some images to inspire you, a how-to blog post to help you, an email to inform or entice you.

Successful content marketing is an ongoing commitment to create and deliver relevant and valuable content to attract, convert and retain your target audience.

Content strategy
Content strategy defines the vision and focus for your content marketing initiatives. It provides direction for how content can contribute to achieving your business goals, a framework for making content decisions, and a structure for measuring performance and success.

In terms of a documented content strategy, there are no definitive rules or templates, as each one will be tailored specifically to the unique needs of a business, their objectives and audience.

jacki jamespic1

Image credit: Content Strategy 2015: Marketing, Mobile, and the Enterprise, Kristina Halvorson, Brain Traffic

Content strategies articulate your content substance, that is the topics or themes that will deliver value to your audience and contribute to business objectives. These are often referred to as content pillars. Every piece of content produced by a brand should have purpose, and be mapped back to a pillar. Put the story or the idea ahead of the medium. Align your content to your brand story and guidelines.

Your content strategy pillars are just as useful for guiding content not to do. Don’t be tempted to produce volume over quality, and don’t let the quest for engagement get in the way of your ultimate goals.

Content strategy may also cover the structure of how that content is delivered and how the user will experience the content, or the context in which it will be seen. This can include:
• Elements of user-experience design and information architecture
• Structuring content for adaptability, reuse, discoverability and automation. Producing intelligent content whereby the content can be separated from how it is displayed.
• Developing channel plans that articulate how your content pillars will come to life in each of the various publishing and distribution channels. Bearing in mind that you may be talking to different audiences and in different ways on each channel.

Content strategies should also address the people and operational components including:
• How will content marketing be resourced and what skills are required
• What is the process for creating, publishing and maintaining content
• What tools and resources will we use to create, distribute, manage and measure content and conversations
• Define a roadmap and priorities in terms of implementing the content strategy

Every content strategy should include a framework for measuring performance and success. But remember that the only metrics worth investing any energy in collecting are those that help you make decisions. Don’t fall into the trap of judging success on meaningless metrics simply because they are easy to measure. Analyse the metrics that measure the contribution of content to your business objectives,

At a board and CEO level they want the answer to “is your content working?” Report on the metrics that demonstrate this, such as:
• Volume of qualified leads to sales teams
• Online conversions
• Engagement metrics that indicate customer retention

More detailed analytics and reports are useful when looking for opportunities to make content work harder and more effectively. Look for what has been successful in driving audience reach, engagement, and conversion. Keep an eye out for trends or insights by content pillar, channel or audience.

Content plan
Whilst a Content Strategy sets the overarching strategy guiding your content marketing efforts, a content plan is an executional document. A content plan tables the tangible content assets, schedules when they will be published, and details how these stories will be distributed and amplified across multiple channels.

Content plans provide many benefits, including:
• Providing visibility of content activities across multiple teams/silos
• Identifying gaps and clashes in publishing schedules
• Balancing volume of messages in terms of both frequency and weighting against content pillar
• Identifying opportunities to capture and create both ephemeral and evergreen content
• Unifying resources, teams and priorities

Content plans can take many forms such as a calendar, a spreadsheet, or housed within a content marketing platform such as Percolate or Kapost. The format is based on preference and scalability needs.

Same same but different
Too many marketers use the terms content marketing, content strategy, and content planning interchangeably. Hopefully now you understand the distinction and relationship between the three. If you’re still confused, perhaps you should just call me.



My time in the digital industry: I designed and built my first intranet site back in 1998 and was the Internet Channel Manager for three online gambling website sites turning over $42million per annum in 1999.
My time at Zuni: 5 years
My mission at Zuni: Develop strategies for clients that deliver tangible results. Deliver efficiency and synergy where there was once chaos and confusion.
My special blog topics: Digital strategy, digital transformation, content marketing and strategy.
Digital trend I’m most excited about: Wearable tech and 360 degree virtual reality.
Brand whose marketing I admire: Burberry’s digital centric approach.
Favourite digital campaign of all time: Volkswagon The Fun Theory. Demonstrating that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change behaviour.
Digital tool/gadget I can’t live without: I’d rather loose my wallet than my iPhone.
If I wasn’t working in digital, I would be: If I had the talent I would want to be a pop star or on stage in a musical. In reality, I started my career as a human resources professional and had aspirations of specialising in industrial relations.
Jacki James is a digitally focused strategist with boutique strategy agency Zuni. Jacki has forged a digital marketing career spanning 15 years and has held both agency and client side roles across a diverse range of audiences and industries working on some of Australia’s leading brands. She also occasionally moonlights as a lecturer in digital marketing. Jacki is adored by clients for her no-bullshit approach, candid advice and replacing fluff with action. Amongst her pet hates are unprofessional and dull presentation decks, and overuse of industry jargon. Outside of her career Jacki is a wife, a mum, Sydney Swans devotee and indulger in trashy TV.


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Guest Friday, 20 January 2017