The terms “content marketing” and “content strategy” are often used interchangeably, but they are two very different practices. They are related, and there is significant overlap, but they are two distinct concepts.
First, what is considered content? Content is anything associated with your company that people can read, watch, listen to, download, share, upload, copy or otherwise experience in some way, shape or form.
Content marketing, therefore, is non-interruption marketing, based on the art of communicating with customers and prospects without selling. The art of defining the voice, tone, style, and intent of this content is content strategy.
As Robert Rose from the Content Marketing Institute puts it, the difference between content strategy and content marketing is that “content marketers draw on the wall with magic markers, while content strategists use fine pens.” The content marketer “addresses the ‘whys,’ the content strategist addresses the ‘hows,’, and together they work out the ‘whats’ and ‘wheres’.”
“If advertising creative helps to establish your brand and your identity, content marketing helps personify it and connect you to people,” says Paul Gruensfelder, Manager, Social Media and Digital Marketing for Barnabas Health. “Content marketing is what your audience will interact with.” The most important aspect of content marketing is connecting with your audience in a way that helps increase brand visibility and drives business results.
Content marketing is just one tactic in a strategic integrated marketing plan. However, it tends to be valuable in a number of different channels and strategies, such as SEO, social media, public relations, email marketing, etc., which in turn, makes content marketing inherently shareable. “It’s much easier to share an email, blog post, or tweet than it is to share a billboard ad or radio spot,” says Gruensfelder.
The biggest misconception about content marketing, according to Gruensfelder, is that it’s free. The distribution might be free, i.e. organic social media or a press pickup, but there is a cost in time, resources, and opportunity that comes with content marketing. Those costs need to be considered when developing your content marketing program.
A Day in the Life of a Content Marketer
Gruensfelder directs the social media strategy for a seven-hospital health care delivery system, the largest in New Jersey. For him, managing the overall strategy for over 40 profiles and an aggregate audience of 40,000, a day as a content marketer includes lots of analysis and critical thought. “Everything from research and identifying topics to analyzing best post types for the content. I also manage the day-to-day in terms of social media customer service (which is definitely a type of content for us), as well as the post execution and delivery.
Trends in Content Marketing
Video, video, video. A picture is worth a thousand words, and “a 30-second video shot at 24 fps is 720 photos. So, it’s kind of like that video can be worth 720,000 words,” says Gruensfelder. However, with everyone creating videos for everything, there is a significant over-saturation and a terrible signal-to-noise ratio. “That is why consumers are flocking to more one-to-one social networks/messaging platforms, to help consolidate the conversation and filter out the noise,” adds Gruensfelder, and it’s “exactly why Facebook’s organic reach is plummeting. Too many brands are competing for the same eyeballs.”
With this over-saturation, marketers will see more opt-in one-to-one communities where people can go to get more relevant content. Savvy brands have picked up on this trend. “Brands that are succeeding in social media and content marketing create relevant, compelling, high quality-content. And, they do it at a frequency that helps keep their brand top-of-mind.”
Gruensfelder also predicts that over the next few years, once virtual reality and augmented reality technology is more widely available to consumers, this technology will be disrupting the space.
Advice for Aspiring and Entry-Level Content Marketers
Strong analytical and writing skills are important to succeed in content marketing. You will need to be able to determine the cross-section between important to your audience and important to your brand. Gruensfelder says: “You can spend all day creating strong, compelling, ‘viral’ content, but if it doesn’t drive a business result (which can and should include opt-in audience growth), it’s a waste of time. Then, once the content topic is determined, being able to articulate the topic in a variety of ways for a variety of channels, all of which must be stimulating and engaging, is critical to success.”
Researching your audience and pinpointing their needs, wants and preferred channels is key. “Research the heck out of your audience and make sure you’re providing the content they’re looking for,” says Gruensfelder. Once you’ve created and distributed your content, “measure, measure, measure.”
There are a plethora of tools available to help marketers track their return on investment and audience engagement. As an aspiring content marketer, it’d be worth getting familiar with at least a couple of these tools. Two of the most widely used tools are Google Analytics, which tracks everything from visitor behavior on your website to your AdWords campaigns, and HubSpot, with which you can create, distribute, and measure your content.
Content strategy is the “art and science of defining high-level objectives and guidelines for voice, tone, style and intent of content, whether within a web application or website, or at a higher level for company brand,” according to Stacey Seronick, Freelance Content Strategist. It is “not unlike the job of a trapeze artist; you walk a fine line that has some give to it, balancing the goal and intent of your content with legal restrictions, potential ROI, your user needs and pain points, and the voice of the brand.”
The most important part of content strategy, says Seronick, is ensuring your content is easy to understand within its context; finding the right voice and tone to match with a brand and a set of user characteristics is the name of the game.
Ideally, a content strategist is added to a project team at the very outset of the project, during the Discovery phase. Adds Seronick, “This not only affords the strategist the fullest possible understanding of a new project or product, but also allows the team to have an appreciation for what the content strategist can bring to the table.”
For an effective strategy execution, content strategy should be developed and implemented by a team of strategists, editors and marketers working together like a well-oiled machine where the strategist defines the voice and tone, the marketer supplies the words, and the editor massages the wording of the content to match the voice and tone, according to Seronick.
A Day in the Life of a Content Strategist
Seronick: “Depending on your industry and employer, your day-to-day may be structured differently. There is also the issue involving what one company calls a Content Strategist may be what another calls Editorial Strategist; or what one company calls and Editor is actually playing the role of Content Strategist.”
The job entails a lot of listening and synthesizing of many sources (customers, vendors, developers, internal partners, etc.) into a coherent strategy that is based on sound research and fits with the overall tone and strategy of the product, line of business, and/or brand.
Adds Seronick, “Your day may be spent on-site with a customer and your research team, or it may be spent quietly at your desk, ruminating on all the sources you have conferred with. Or, maybe you are running around, asking internal partners to explain this very complex product to you again.”
Trends in Content Strategy
The humanizing of the web and connected devices is a trend emerging across the board in any given industry. “Content used to be much more stilted and was good at maintaining a fence or barrier between businesses and their customers: in the last few years we have seen much more success when talking to customers like humans. Consumers no longer accept being talked to, like they are in more traditional advertising. These days, that’s not enough- you need to create an entire experience with give and take between the user and the business or service, and it must be able to compete with the Best of the Web, not the Best in Your Class,” says Seronick.
In the immediate near-future, Seronick sees the lines between content strategy, sales strategy, and tech strategies blurring and converging more as businesses understand the value in having these groups collaborate.
Seronick’s educated guess as to what content strategy will look like five years from now, is that as security concerns and the Internet of Things grow larger and more pervasive, content strategists that have been working in purely virtual or online spaces may now find themselves strategizing for much more visceral or physical interactions.
Advice for Aspiring and Entry-Level Content Strategists
Although many companies look for an English or Journalism degree, a background in UX will help you create an effective, meaningful content strategy. “The most successful strategists seek to get inside the heads of their users and observe their daily pains and then find a way to alleviate, if not fix some of these pains,” says Seronick. Therefore, basic skills in psychology, design, and research will help you succeed as a content strategist.
Another piece of advice from Seronick: Do as much listening as you can. Head to the mall, take a walk through the office, a coffee shop, or wherever and listen to people talk. Eavesdrop on conversations. Listening to how people communicate with each other and the words they use is an invaluable trick to remind you that you’re designing and writing for humans, first and foremost.
If you’re in between jobs and looking for the next great gig, do a content gap analysis for a well-known site or mobile app, suggests Seronick. Then, put together your content strategy suggestions and upload it to a portfolio site. “Designers have it easy- they know they need a portfolio, and hopefully they know how to build one, but content strategists need to show what they can do, as well, and doing these sort of faux evaluations is the content strategist’s equivalent of building your ‘book’.”
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