Content Strategy — Redefined

Providing the right content to the right person at the right moment is a critical component of any digital strategy.

The right content could be in the form of an article, video, form, infographic, interactive media, image, voice-activated command, chatbot interaction, etc. or it could be service of a product, brand, or marketing initiative. Regardless of the medium or type of content, it must serve the needs of a specific set of people, exactly when they need it and in the exact manner they need it.

Wilson” by Jay Melnick is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The crux of effective content then is that it must bridge intent with action. Like dear Wilson (shown above), our audience knows what they want and have every intention of getting it. Our content must serve this need. And in doing so it must be relevant, right and relatable to the needs of real people (or dogs) who have real needs.

Effective content empowers an audience to take informed actions that present demonstrable value to businesses and organizations.

Content Strategy, as a discipline, is uniquely positioned to lead all organizational efforts to provide this value. Far beyond content creation, Content Strategy can play an instrumental role in organizational change, branding and business strategy.

But do we have a definition of Content Strategy that encompasses those goals and the expanding roles related to content?

While there are many definitions of Content Strategy, the preeminent comes from the legendary Kristina Halvorson:

Planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.

And yet, this definition does not include any mention of purpose, action, value or even audience. This presents a problem.

Without a clear definition there is no consistent application of the term Content Strategy or the title Content Strategist.

Worse, as more organizations have moved to Agile and Lean UX frameworks, the desire for planning and governance has faded and are no longer as relevant as they once were. Getting buy in for large-scale planning, road mapping and auditing efforts is an increasing challenge in a world where we must move faster, iterate constantly, and evolve rather than perfect.

Additionally, Content Strategy now includes several distinct disciplines including Content Marketing, UX Writing, Copywriting, Content Management and Strategic Content Leadership that don’t neatly fall within existing definitions.

To resolve these challenges I propose a new definition:

Empowering the delivery of valuable and actionable content that drives desirable actions by communicating the right information in the right context for the right audience.

Let’s unpack this new definition a bit:

  1. How does Content Strategy empower the organization? By providing the insights and strategies necessary to produce, maintain, publish and govern content for any number of audiences across any number of devices and across any number of products. Sounds like empowerment to me. You?
  2. Who defines valuable? The audience and the publisher but if we’re doing things right then it is mostly the audience.
  3. How does strategy, planning, and governance fit in this new definition? Delivery of the right information in the right context for the right audience (ICA) requires a strategic vision, a plan to execute that plan and the governance necessary to ensure content-audience fit.
  4. Desirable actions? Ideally, the actions supported by content serve both the publisher and the audience but not always. Think of a Terms and Conditions acceptance which serves the business need for legal protection but isn’t very desirable for most audiences. So, a desirable action could be defined to meet the needs of publisher/audience or just one of the two.

Perfect? Probably not but this new definition ties together the traits of effective content with the needs of the audience and the value exchange for the audience and publisher.

Let’s see if this new definition can’t help us rethink the role of content, the business value of strategic content, and the need for more strategic Content Strategy leaders.

Share your thoughts below. I’d love to learn more about how we evolve this definition in order to lead our discipline towards a more strategic future.