Content Design, Strategy, Marketing - What are they?

Content Design. Content Strategy. Content Marketing. What brings these practices together, and what pulls them apart?

Content Design. Content Strategy. Content Marketing.

Sure, they all have the word 'content' in them.

But no, these are not the same thing.

To separate them, let's look at the outcome of each (by my definition).

  • The outcome of Content Strategy is that your business has a system for the production, publishing, governance and maintenance of content.
  • The outcome of Content Design is that you have a website filled with great, accessible content that meets user need.
  • The outcome of Content Marketing is (hopefully) sales, or at least increasing the number of people in your marketing funnel.

My work focuses on the first two.

Similarities and differences

In each, the 'content' aspect might be words, but not always. Content Design - because of the focus on web projects - is usually defined as being mostly words. Content Strategy should cover all types of content, and their relationship to each other (for example, how does a landing page on a website relate to the event it's promoting and the email series that the attendee receives after they book?).

Talk about Content Marketing, rightly or wrongly, seems to focus on blogging, content upgrades, downloads, video marketing and the whole gamut of text, images and infographics shared on social media - not on the central pages of a website.

For the most part, we're talking about digital content, centred around a website and supported by blogging and social media. But in the case of Content Strategy and Content Design, we're talking more about the former and less about the latter.

I'd also see Content Strategy - particularly as it pertains to governance and workflow - as essential to developing an Intranet.

That's why you can find 1001 documents about governance and Sharepoint - a soul-sucking platform that many big businesses' use for their Intranet. Content governance is a key feature in the technical implementation of the intranet, but it's usually not inherently a job owned by IT or developers, but marketing and communications people. Should this content be available to all staff, some staff, read-only? Who has access to updating these contact details? Whose job is it to keep our files, folders, links and policies up-to-date?  Everyone involved needs as much help as they can get!

Each relies heavily on analytics. With Content Marketing, you want to know that people are moving along your funnel and - fingers crossed - be able to attribute the contribution of marketing effort to revenue. Content Design and Content Strategy both start with looking at the numbers. What is happening now, why is it happening, and how can it be improved?

For the most part, we start with numbers because they help us push through assumptions and start a conversation about content that can breach organisational silos. A lot of conversation in the Content Strategy or Content Design communities relates to how to take stakeholders with you. You'll find people in these roles have excellent workshop facilitation skills.

It's essential to work with people to understand how and why things work the way they do. And it's essential to work with users to understand exactly what they need. Where a Content Strategist might define specific audiences, a Content Designer - focused on a single web project - will define exact user and job stories (for example, as a website designer, I need to understand complementary services - like Content Design! - so that I can deliver more to my clients).

This is because Content Design is heavily rooted in Design Thinking: a discipline that prioritises empathy, understanding the perspective of your users and brainstorming and iterating your way to multiple solutions to meet their needs.

I believe that Content Design is the 'next step' of Content Strategy. In fact, the defining book on the topic - called Content Design - references the defining book on Content Strategy - Content Strategy for the Web - within it's first few pages. In my experience, Content Marketing is the odd one out here.  It's a completely different discipline. To boil it down to the most basic level, one discipline is about want and the other about need.

But the reality is, no matter how you define them, we're talking about different parts of the same continuum.

I focus on user need and accessibility. I want to reduce the amount of content being produced to focus only on things that meet user need, and help businesses feel less overwhelmed by telling their story. That's why I don't say I do marketing - but that doesn't mean that the things I do don't also satisfy a marketing outcome.

And copywriting? Well, that's an essential part of delivering all three.

This might be the first time you've heard of these disciplines or the first time you've considered the subtleties between them. If so, do you have any questions that I could answer? Email me or join the conversation on my Instagram feed where it's content o'clock 24/7.

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