Content Strategy and Content Marketing – same same but different?

Posted on Posted in Experts & Opinions

It may seem incomprehensible to quibble about the difference between Content Strategy and Content Marketing. Is a distinction between the two really relevant? I talked about this topic with Rahel Bailie, one of the top content strategists in the industry.

Of course, it is not very suprising that Rahel Bailie tells me that there is a difference between the two. More surprising is the fact that I agree with her on so many points that we came across in our conversation.

According to Bailie Content Strategy is like the umbrella and Content Marketing is one of the strategies underneath this umbrella. Content Strategy is all about the question: How do we make it happen? It is about systematizing content and as soon as you start to do Content Marketing at scale you should have a Content Strategy in place. Even Robert Rose – Chief Strategy Officer for the Content Marketing Institute – admits that content marketers need content strategists.

He also paints a clear picture of what the difference between those professions is:

“The content marketer draws the story and plans the channels that will be used to develop the customer relationship with the brand. The content strategist ensures that story, language, and management processes work consistently and efficiently across multiple teams, languages, and every publication the brand leverages.”

Robert Rose

Rahel Bailie illustrates the difference even clearer using an example: In this example we are going to create a blog, which eventually grows into a magazine, because it is so successful. Therefore we need a recommendation engine, better taxonomy and much more. This is the first problem the content marketer encounters, because this is not his or her profession. They usually are not specialized in technologies or taxonomy. Then we take it another step forward and want to do the same thing in print or put articles into e-books sorted by themes. At this point the content strategist comes in and designs a strategy on how to reach these goals.

How does a content strategist work?

Rahel Bailie explains to me how a content strategist approaches a project in 6 steps:

© FH JOANNEUM / Foto: Lea Dvoršak
© FH JOANNEUM / Foto: Lea Dvoršak
  • Goalsetting: First a content strategist has to know exactly which business problem needs to be solved and how content can play a role. He or she needs to know, what the company’s priorities are and then has to define the project priorities.
  • Inventory: The next question for the content strategist is which content does already exist? He collects existing content – including technical content, training content, content that is gathered in customer service, public relations,… so almost every content you can think of.
  • Content Audit: After gathering all content, the content strategist needs to take a closer look at patterns in the content. Old content, not read content, etc. is sorted out. This audit continues until only the high value assets are left.
  • Sampling of quality: These high value assets are now considered in more detail: Are they written in the right voice? Is the grammar correct? Are they written at the right level for the targeted audience?
  • Gap analysis: With the conclusions from this sampling the content strategist has a useful overview of the status quo based on which the gap towards the company’s goals as well as problems that keep the company from reaching those goals can be identified.
  • Developing strategy: With this knowledge the content marketer can develop a strategy and plan which outlines what needs to be done, which decisions have to be made, how long will it take to reach the project goals and what budget and resources are necessary to establish all that.

After this explanation it is clear to me, that the approach of the content strategist is not totally different from the approach of a content marketer (you can read more about content marketing strategy here). The approach is similar but the issues are different. Rahel Bailie tells me that companies slowly realize that they need content strategists as well as content marketers. However, currently you still see mostly ads for content strategists where the job is described as 50 percent of the job focusing on strategy and the other 50 percent on writing. Bailie states very clearly: “Content strategists don’t have the time to write. They are doing the strategy part!”

However, I believe that there are certain overlaps between these professions. Vision, goals, research about the audience, voice and style are topics that concern both content strategist and content marketer (MOZ, an US inbound agency, created a great chart, which demonstrates these overlaps clearly).

Still an awful lot to learn

So, there is still much to learn and companies have to realize that a content strategist has to have a different mindset, a different skillset and a certain way of thinking to make the strategy happen.

According to Rahel Bailie too many executives who do not understand how important content is are being asked for content decisions. A homepage without content is useless. Still it takes a lot of explaining and the way of thinking at the executive level has to change. This change still needs time and content experts have to provide information and practical help to accelerate this progress.

One step to create the necessary awareness is the master program Content Strategy that can be studied in Graz since 2014. Rahel Bailie is one of the experts, who teach students the skillset they need to be a content strategist (more information here).

More about Rahel Bailie’s point of view on Slideshare:


What do you think about Content Strategy and Content Marketing? Big difference or unnecessary distinction in practice? Let me know in the comments!

© Rahel Bailie

About Rahel Bailie

Rahel Anne Bailie is a recognized thought leader and one of the top content strategists in the industry. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She has worked in the content business for over two decades and is lecturer at Joanneum in Graz for two years. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book.

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