Content strategy and content marketing are not the same thing

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As a content strategist, I’m often mistaken for a content marketer, and it takes a bit of explaining before people understand the difference. Content marketing and content strategy are terms that are often switched, so I’m not surprised there’s confusion.

Being mistaken for a content marketer started happening a couple of years ago. At the start of my career, content marketing wasn’t really a thing. And to be fair, neither was Content Strategy. Although heaps of dedicated professionals were out there in the trenches doing it – even if we didn’t know what to call ourselves.

Now content marketing is everywhere. And doing an excellent job from what I can tell. It’s very cool to see content strategy principles being applied so well and with great results.

New old things

Content strategy is a new old thing in that publishing content to inform and inspire has been around forever. The term content strategy turned up in about 1997 and grew into and industry from there. Mainly due to the efforts of content strategy rock stars like Kristina Halvorson, Rachel Lovinger, Hilary Marsh, and Karen McGrane.

Fast forward to 2019, and content marketing dominates google search results for the term content strategy. Like content strategy, content marketing is a new old thing. Marketing content has been used to sell stuff for centuries. The current boom in content marketing began in around 2004 and has exploded with the rise of digital content.

Both provide massive value to digital experiences. Both know content isn’t just king, it’s the kingdom. Both know people want the right information, in the right channel, at the right time. Both use content strategy methods to create, maintain and evolve useful, quality online information.

They are same, same but different. Like opposite sides of the same coin. Sharing the same DNA but performing different roles and delivering different results.

Same, same but different

The Content Marketing Institute article “How Content Strategy and Content Marketing Are Separate But Connected”, provides this view:

The “content marketer” addresses the “whys” the “content strategist” addresses the “how’s” and together, they work out the “what’s” and “where’s.” While this makes sense, I think there are more significant differences.

Content strategists often create information that marketers don’t, like help or content for existing customers. Often responsible for delivering a variety of business communication objectives, in online and offline channels. Some even manage content at an enterprise level. Content Strategy is an end to end approach to online information. It helps businesses both acquire new and retain existing customers.

“Content strategy guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.”

— Kristina Halvorson

Content marketers are rarely responsible for creating help or information for existing customers. They’re responsible for achieving marketing objectives, often only in digital channels, at the early stages of the customer lifecycle. Content marketing is at the pointy end of a content strategy. It’s a marketing technique to help gain new customers and increase sales.

While they share the same DNA, they have different and essential roles in the customer lifecycle. However, they’re not always treated equally. In my experience, content strategy is treated as the poor cousin to content marketing.

How do I know? Because I have worked with many severely under-resourced and under-funded Content Teams responsible for customer care channels and help information.

Key takeaways:

  • Both disciplines know that people need the right information, in the right channel, at the right time.

  • Both are critical to meet business and customer objectives.

  • Both use content strategy methods to create, maintain, and evolve useful, quality content.

  • But, content marketing often receives a bigger slice of the pie than customer retention strategies.

  • The difference lies in the purpose or focus of the content created.

  • Content marketing aims at increasing awareness and driving potential customers into digital sales channels, covering the content requirements for the early stages of the customer sale cycle.

  • Content strategy is focused on the whole user journey, including the content for customer retention.

  • The purpose of a content strategy is to tell the story of the entire business to potential and existing customers. Primarily covering the content requirements for the whole customer life cycle.

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