Why you should power your Content Marketing efforts with a sound Content Strategy


Source: Zoolander (well-respected digital marketing thought leader)

It’s never been more important to power your Content Marketing efforts with a sound Content Strategy. There is strong partnership and definite overlap between the two, hence the continuously blurred lines.
So, healthy debate is alive in the content kingdom:

  • Is Content King or Queen – or does Context reign?
  • Is Distribution, Marketing, Usability or SEO the Queen?
  • Is Conversion the royal heir?
  • Are Content Strategy and Content Marketing the same thing?
  • Should we Keep Calm and Create More Content?

Alas, we don’t live in a monarchy and Keep Calm is so post-peak (although it would have been pretty solid content marketing – shout out to the WWII-era British Government for planning ahead). Let’s dial it up to the 20th century, shall we?


Content Strategy and Content Marketing are ubiquitous. But without clarity and common understanding between the two disciplines, how can you collaborate and reap the rewards?

Let’s start with the lay of the land.

There’s no denying that Content Marketing is particularly hot, and has been since 2011, both in terms of search interest


Source: Google Trends, Feb. 2009 – Feb. 2016 (Keep Calm trend not included as Google sadly doesn’t date back to 1939)

and in dollars. Marketers are putting their money where their mouth is. Budgets allocated to Content Marketing are on a similar trajectory to search trends, with:

  • 90% of respondents planning to increase Content Marketing budgets (and more than half of these plan to do so by 20% or more!)
  • The 10% planning to decrease content marketing budgets shrunk from the 23% who planned to make cuts in 2013

Source: Forrester Wave™ survey via AdAge, Is It Content or Is It Advertising?

How long will the heat wave last?

Content Marketing is rumored to be sliding out of the peak of inflated expectations (look, shiny objects!) and into the trough of disillusionment, as Joe Pulizzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute assesses. Looks like it’s about to become survival of the fittest in the marketing realm.


Source: Gartner via Content Marketing Institute

Another caution flag (hang with me, it’s not all doom and gloom!) from the Content Marketing Institute's annual research:

  • 9 out of 10 businesses are ‘doing’ Content Marketing
  • But, their success rate is only about 30%

Pulizzi highlights two reasons for this disparity:

  1. Lack of strategy (ß AHA, now that’s a problem you can work with!)
  2. Brands using content the same way they use advertising
    Source: AdAge, Is It Content or Is It Advertising?

As he phrases it, ‘it’s going to get weird’ in 2016. Yes, we’re going to see some epic failures (I’m looking at you, Starbucks Race Together) – but with those, some legendary wins.


Don’t swirl in the trough – hit the slope!

Clear definitions and smart collaboration help everyone in your organization speak the same language to more effectively perform, source or sell these services; measure and optimize efforts; and structure teams and staff them well.


We got you, Hansel.

Content Strategy is defined this way:

“Content strategy guides planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.”
Kristina Halvorson, first edition of Content Strategy for the Web

“A content strategist is like a business analyst for your content. We look at how content is currently helping (or hindering) your business and develop a strategy to make it work better.”
Sally Bagshaw, Founder, Brisbane Content Strategy Group and Snappy Sentences


It’s important to note that Content Marketing Strategy is technically a subset of Content Strategy, since as Moz points out, you can ‘strategize about non-marketing content’. Truth.

However, a strategy within a strategy is a bit Inception-like, and the same concepts apply. For example, applying Content Strategy principles to your internal deliverables – like tailoring your efforts against: what are they expecting, how will they use it, and what happens next? – will only make them thank you.

That said, Three Deep is focused on the marketing subset of Content Strategy. It’s the fuel for our performance-driven digital marketing programs. #micdrop

In contrast, Content Marketing is defined as:

“An approach where instead of distracting our audience with advertising that's not relevant to them, we're going to create valuable, compelling and relevant content on a consistent basis and build an audience over that time in order to see some profitable customer action."
Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

Keep in mind that what makes a customer action profitable depends on the strategy – it doesn’t always mean dollars. Aaaaand we’ve made it full circle!

Sometimes it helps to (over?) simplify. Here’s your cheat sheet.

Content Strategy PLANS

For the creation, publication and governance of content


Content Marketing EXECUTES

To attract, engage and convert using content

Content Strategy MANAGES

Business assets


Content Marketing PRODUCES

Profitable actions

Content Strategy GUIDES

Relevant messages


Content Marketing DELIVERS

In the right place and time


Great. Got it. Now what?

A good Content Strategy is only as strong as its business foundation. Rally the troops around measureable goals and KPIs that break down your business objectives. Measurement models are our lifeblood at Three Deep. They tend to serve as a nice pair of shades against shiny objects, in addition to driving measurement and optimization efforts. More on our healthy obsession with analytics here.

Then, we dig into your audiences and their paths to purchase. This gets our heads in the game on who they are, what they want to know or do, and what they are thinking, feeling and doing along the way. Are visions of Post-It notes dancing in your heads? They should be.


By aligning your objectives with your users’ objectives, and mapping content against their journeys, gaps and pain points become opportunities. Their problems become yours to solve. Unite!

Maybe it’s gaps between devices or channels, maybe it’s gaps between what customers are looking for vs. what they’re finding (or not). Start with the biggest points of impact, and revamp, reduce, create accordingly.

Content Marketing without a Content Strategy is a bit like going to the grocery store hungry, without a list. You toss in a bunch of stuff that sounded good at the moment, but you won’t have any meals for the week. And ain’t nobody got time for a bunch of hangry marketers on the loose!


You’ve heard ‘think before you speak’, yeah? Content Strategy: Have something to say. Content Marketing: Say it.

Still so hot right now!


Source: Zoolander 2

Want more?

I’m all out of pop culture references, but it’s worth noting Content Strategy and Content Marketing efforts both need and leverage all disciplines at Three Deep. Meaning, you can’t escape us (cue evil laughter). Check out our integrated services and you’ll see how we approach performance-driven digital marketing programs that put content to WERK!

Let me know some of your favorite definitions, biggest questions, or share your perspective on the fate of Content Marketing that’s in our hands. Would love to hear from you! xoxo