If the brand is the message, content strategy is how it gets delivered: the sum total of the activities to enhance the written and spoken expression of a company’s brand.
The term ‘content strategy’ is best known in its digital context: the structuring, development, and management of content for websites and digital applications. However, in a broader definition that includes all channels and contexts, content strategy would come closely on the heels of brand strategy (the identification of a company’s unique positioning and personality). Much as with a graphic design brief, the brand strategy becomes the basis on which communications can be built and a ‘strategy screen’ to determine if those communications continue to be on-brand.
The Components of Content Strategy
Thus, content strategy naturally follows brand strategy, and has parallels to activities undertaken when developing positioning. Content strategy goes further in forging a communications link between the brand and the target audience (whether it’s a customer, a potential employee, or an industry insider). Let’s break this down in more detail:
- Customer-centric market research to develop communications concepts
- Messaging that tells audience why the company is unique and why their services should matter
- Voice and tone that expresses the brand personality
- Editorial structure to define content categories and templates
- Content management, including content development, workflow, search engine optimization, and social media strategy
- Writing and editing that presents the messages in the brand voice
- Ongoing measurement of content metrics and content enhancement
Content Strategy as Part of Information Design
As we’ve discussed, content strategy as a term is best known in the context of websites and interfaces. In this more traditional definition, content strategy is part of an overall information and interaction design effort to present content as part of a dimensional, progressive experience, whose engagement with the user can be captured in specific metrics.
At the start of the engagement, the content strategist can conduct concept research: market research, competitive analysis, stakeholder interviews to define use cases and goals the UI must help the visitor achieve.
Working with interaction design, a content strategist undertakes concept testing with key audiences, in which they navigate a prototypical version of the website or digital experience. This allows the strategist and the interaction designer to finalize the UI concept and gain additional insights into the target audience that can be played out in nomenclature and messaging.
While the interaction designer focuses on the pathways and processes that allows users to do what they need and want to do in the UI, the content strategist is looking for the kinds of content that can encourage movement down the path and convert the visit to an action, a sale, a share, or some other active engagement with the company. More technically, a content strategist would also look to how content can be structured inside the CMS, how content can be optimized for search, what workflows (write, edit, approve, publish) are needed, as well as any translation, localization needs.
Given the quantifiable nature of online content, a content strategist would also set and manage key indicators of content performance, whether it’s search metrics, page views, shares, or other measurable indicators of the success of the content strategy.
Online is a Means, Not the End
While the vehicles for content have changed over millenia, from tablets to papyrus to printed pages to high-resolution, mobile screens, the principles of good editorial have always stayed the same: a structure I can follow, ideas I want to learn more about, and a style that satisfies. Staying true to those core principles while being current in the latest forms of media and expression are the goals of a good content strategist.
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