The trouble with content strategy


Companies agree: content matters. But that doesn’t mean they are executing a proper content strategy. Barb Mosher Zinck explains why a cross-departmental approach to content is elusive – and why it’s needed.

man-in-mazeYou know what the biggest problem may be with content strategy today? Too many think it’s all about content marketing and forget there are other areas of the organization responsible for customer experience that also need a solid content strategy.

A new Accenture Digital report talks about how content is as essential as water; it’s the marketer’s most “vital natural asset.” Of the marketers surveyed for the report, 100% agreed that content – both internal and external – is valuable for meeting business objectives.

The problem is, everyone thinks it’s critical to the business (particularly marketing), but just as many can’t quite figure out how to effectively manage and produce it, or how to leverage content across the entire company.

What is the right amount of content?

This is an important question for companies. The Accenture report states that 92% of respondents are producing more content than they did two years ago, and 83% expect that volume to increase even more in the next two years.

Another interesting stat: only 17% strongly agree that they are prepared to deal with the amount of content they have to produce (37% agree and 36% are neutral).

So they are producing more and more content, but a little over half aren’t sure the investments they make in digital content will achieve their business objectives.

Why is it so difficult to effectively manage and produce digital content? The report cites the lack of skilled talent, deficiencies in technology, and overall process issues as the top three problems.

The thing is, many companies have more than one department responsible for digital content. And while in almost every case, all content supports customer experience, these departments don’t share content or even talk about a cohesive organizational content strategy.

Content success requires a cross-company content strategy

Some things need to happen to improve content success, and they have a lot to do with the better integration of technology, tools and processes, and coordination and collaboration of digital content creation and management across the organization.

Scott Abel wrote a good piece on the Content Marketing Institute about why and how marketers need to become content efficiency experts. He noted a Gleanster report that found that:

Organizations that invest in streamlining and optimizing content marketing production create twice as much content as their less-efficient competitors, and they do so 163% faster.

He offered three steps to set up efficient content operations:

  1. Identify detrimental inconsistencies in your customer-facing content.
  2. Collaborate more fully with other content-creating departments.
  3. Move toward a unified content experience.

In Abel’s article, he talks about the marketer, which makes sense if you think that the marketer owns the customer experience. It may be the way companies are heading, but I suspect there is still a long way to go before most can say their marketing team owns the end-to-end customer experience.

Which means if we focus our discussions on what the marketer needs to do, we leave out other important roles that also produce (or should produce) customer-focused content.

And therein lies the trouble with content strategy. It’s too marketing focused. I agree that marketing creates a large amount of content, but so does customer service/support along with lines of business.

Much of the content developed for each department is shareable across departments and needs to have some degree of consistency, in style, voice, and approach, as well as actual content, to ensure the customer experience is consistent.

Abel’s steps apply in all cases. So what if we backed it up and created a content team that works across departments, developing a content strategy that supports the needs of everyone. Then we might know that when a great piece of content is created for marketing, it can also be repurposed in some way for self-service support. Or that content developed for support FAQs could be reworked for a content marketing campaign.

Two types of content strategists and the customer journey

Ann Rockley describes two types of content strategists – front-end and back-end. Most organizations have no trouble retaining front-end content strategists. These are the ones who create personas and journey maps, understand the needs of their customer or audience and figure out what content is needed.

But back-end content strategists seem harder to find because they deal with the structure of the content, how to organize it, technically store and manage it, and reuse it across the company. It’s a much more technically savvy role, and it’s rare you find it in the marketing department.

In a cross-company content strategy, your content strategy team would employ both types of strategists, and they would focus on the entire customer journey. This would ensure you create a content model that encourages the creation and reuse of content in all situations, whether it’s lead generation, sales pitches or customer support.

It also gives you a single team that can look across the company and see what content is needed to support the entire customer journey. It should help you measure content ROI more effectively as well because you can see where a piece of content is used in different areas, contributing to Customer Lifetime Value (the big number everyone wants to understand).

A centralized team doesn’t mean marketing loses its ability to define and create its content; it simply pulls in a front-end content strategist from the central team as part of its team. That content strategist has the benefit of seeing things across the company and can provide insights and make suggestions on what content to create. A centralized team does mean other departments will get the same amount of attention that marketing gets for content strategy.

My take

At some point marketing may officially become the owner of the customer experience across the board. When they do, that content strategy team should fall under their management. But until it happens and we can see that marketing is focused on the entire customer experience, content strategy should stand apart.

Image credit - Business person standing in maze center © ra2 studio -

    Comments are closed.

    1. says:

      Good article.

      Thank you,

    2. says:

      Thanks for the mentions. I should add that Ann Rockley and I both started writing articles for content marketers about content strategy — more precisely, about intelligent content — because content marketers have more budget than anyone else … and because Content Marketing Institute bought the conference we brought to life (Intelligent Content).

      I think it’s fair to say that neither one of us thinks that content strategy is too marketing-focused; we’ve intentionally started focusing our writing on marketers in order to help get marketers (who almost always believe they are “different” than other content creators, despite being paid from the same company to communicate with the same prospects and customers) in alignment with others who already get it (in many companies, that’s the technical documentation team).

      I’ve spend the past few years as co-producer of Information Development World (along with Val Swisher) — the conference for technical, marketing, and product information developers — the folks responsible for creating exceptional customer experiences with content. We bring all these folks together to help them meet (believe it or not, they often don’t know each other, despite writing for the same prospects and customers) and to help them find common ground. What attendees inevitably say about their experience is “Finally, we’re getting all the content people in the same room.”

      I think that’s what’s needed. Everyone in the same room, so to speak. Everyone recognizing the value of content (a business asset worthy of being managed efficiently and effectively). Content strategy is only a teeny tiny part of the solution. The real forward movement comes when someone — a champion, usually a leader — recognizes the capabilities they need and starts to ask “How do we leverage the full value of our content to accomplish our goals?” Once that’s the focus, and there are capabilities the organizations understands it needs that it does not have today, content comes into sharp focus.

      While most organizations aren’t content focused, some are. They won’t usually tell you about their projects because they’re seen as a strategic advantage over the competition. Usually, the ones that get it right are so far ahead of everyone else that they will be first to take advantage of the powerful new cognitive computing content solutions coming in the next few years.

      Content will become center stage. It’s inevitable. Content strategists, maybe not.

      1. Barb says:

        Thanks Scott. I didn’t mean to suggest that you and Ann thought content strategy was just for marketers (I’ve followed you regularly and know your focus on technical communications). I think what’s interesting is that although it’s always been important in the organization, it’s the association with marketing (and customer service/support outside of tech communications) that’s bringing it more to the forefront than before. And I think that’s great.

        I’d love to talk to some companies who are content focused and how that’s providing them strategic advantage. If you know anyone who would talk (even anonymously) let me know.

    3. Thanks for this insightful, helpful piece, Barb. I’m on my way to CMI’s Intelligent Content Conference right now, and this topic hits the very focus of that event: content strategy for marketers. In fact, I’m on the CMI editorial team and worked with both Scott and Ann on the CMI articles you cite.

      From what I’ve seen in my year or so of working closely with the CMI team as we’ve explored content strategy-related topics for our audience (marketers), I might use different phrasing to make the point you make when you say “Too many think [content strategy] is all about content marketing.” In my experience, content marketers (in fact, marketers) have become more aware of the importance of content strategy and are seeking to understand how their efforts fit with the efforts of content strategists.

      I haven’t seen marketers claiming to own content strategy (although I suppose some could be out there). I have talked with lots of marketers who want to learn about content strategy and want to become better stewards of the content they are responsible for and to collaborate more with other content professionals across the company.

      As Rahel Bailie and others point out, content strategy is a umbrella under which many types of substrategy exist, including content marketing strategy. Companies have a lot to gain when marketers reach out to content strategists and vice versa.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful article!

      1. Barb says:

        Glad you liked it Marcia! Thanks for the insights. You’ve given me some ideas to pursue on this topic further.