Kiera Abbamonte — Contributing Writer
Before you can create beautiful, high-quality content that your audience loves, you'll need a strategy.
A content strategy is a document outlining your goals, audience, resourcing, and priorities for a period of time. A great content strategy enables your team to be flexible, while empowering you to say “no” to colleagues and management when they push content that doesn’t align with your goals.
A content strategy also helps keep your content marketing efforts sustainably aligned with your marketing strategy, so you’re all working toward the same goals.
In this guide, we cover:
- what a content strategy is,
- how it differs from your content plan and calendar, and
- how to write a content marketing strategy that sets you up for success.
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What is a content strategy?
A content strategy is a high-level document that outlines how you’ll use content to further your business’s broader objectives.
Think of your content creation process as a roadmap. Your content strategy would outline where exactly you’re going and who you hope to see there. Your strategy should also outline why you want to go there, tying content initiatives back to overarching business goals like brand awareness, customer acquisition and retention, revenue growth for private companies, or fundraising growth for nonprofits, among others.
To do that, your content strategy needs to answer a number of important questions:
- What are our goals? Why are we investing in content?
- How will we measure content success? What are the leading and lagging indicators of success and how do they map to broader business objectives?
- Who is our content for? Which persona(s) are we targeting and how will we create content for each?
It’s crucial to have a content strategy in place well before you create or distribute any content because your strategy ensures the content you invest valuable resources in — like bandwidth and budget — will actually be of benefit to overarching business goals. Plus, with a clear-cut strategy in place, it’s easier to translate those goals into the channels and content pieces you’ll create down the line.
However, it’s important to note that your content strategy doesn’t deal in logistics or content production details (more on this distinction in the next section).
For modern companies, content marketing involves a number of steps. Bringing a content operation from strategy and building the user experience around it requires you to keep track of a lot.
Further complicating things, many blogs and even content strategists themselves use terms like “content strategy,” “content plan,” and “content calendar” interchangeably. In reality, these are 3 distinct elements of the content production process and each documents different kinds of information.
So before we go any further, let’s break that difference down and get clear on what we mean when we talk about how to write a content strategy.
If we think of the content workflow like a hierarchy, your content strategy sits at the top. It outlines how you’ll turn content into improvements in your overall business objectives and who your target audience is. Your strategy sticks to the high-level and doesn’t delve into specifics like content channels or formats, publication schedules, or responsible parties.
From there, your content plan builds on the overarching mission laid out in your strategy and takes it a step further. Your plan should outline content types, topics, case studies, and any keywords you need to cover for search engine optimisation (SEO) in order to further the marketing goals outlined in your strategy to reach the audience you’re targeting and increase organic traffic to your content. It should answer questions like “What content will we create?” and “Where will we publish and promote our content?”
Your content calendar adds logistics to that plan, laying out individual content assets, who will create them, and when they’ll be published and promoted. Often, this is done using an actual calendar and helps visualise the production process.
Going back to our roadmap example:
- A content strategy defines your destination and who you’re going to see there.
- A content plan outlines the route and mode of transportation, along with who on your team will join you on the trip.
- A content calendar defines your departure time, who’ll drive, and when and where you’ll stop for petrol or a charge.
Let’s look at a more explicit example of each piece of the content process.
“Our content needs to drive MQLs for the sales team that will help grow customer acquisition in our travel vertical.”
“We’ll create a number of gated pieces of content to generate leads and gather their contact information. We’ll publish them on our blog and promote them via paid search ads on Google, as well as our own social media platforms.”
“On August 15th, we’ll publish a longform interactive whitepaper on how our customers in the travel industry can recover after COVID-19, and we’ll share this on LinkedIn and other social media. Kylie will write the whitepaper, Simon will design it, and Samara will proofread it and give final approval.”
How do I write a content strategy?
Now that we’re on the same page about what a content strategy is — and what it isn’t — let’s talk about how to write yours.
The chief purpose for your content strategy is to translate high-level business objectives into concrete goals for your content. To do that, you need to start with a solid foundation of what those overall goals and vision look like for the business.
From there, you’ll outline how publishing the right content will help you achieve those goals.
If we consider the example above, the content strategy connects the overarching business goal of growing the travel vertical with the leading content metric of driving conversions of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).
In addition to business goals, your audience is one of the most important pieces of your content strategy because who you’re creating content for defines all kinds of details later on — like the different types of content you create (such as podcasts, videos, or infographics), the tone of voice your brand uses, and where you’ll promote content, among others.
For some, this may just be your primary buyer persona. For other organisations, you may have multiple buyer personas — say an individual donor persona and a business sponsorship persona or a customer persona and an internal employee persona.
The key here is to include as much detail about your persona(s) as possible. That way, it’s easier to translate that audience information into a cohesive content plan down the line.
Your strategy should outline:
- who your target audience is, including demographics, behaviour, and more,
- their pain-points, interests, etc.,
- the websites, publications, and content formats they prefer, and
- what they look to your brand for (i.e. entertainment, information, a specific solution, etc.).
With your audience defined, you can establish standards for the messaging, brand voice, and design of your content. You don’t have to get into too many specifics here, but you should outline, generally, how your content should look and feel, along with how that look and feel will resonate with each persona.
While your content plan and calendar will get into the specifics, your strategy document should set high-level expectations for your content operation from the beginning.
It’s important here to be realistic. Take a look at your budget, your content team’s time, and any bandwidth for things like onboarding freelance help or hiring an agency. With these realities in mind, you can begin to formulate expectations around what’s truly achievable — and sustainable — for your team’s content goals and production.
When it comes to content, there are a million formats, trends, and channels you can target, with more popping up every day. But for most brands, successful content strategy is as much about what you don’t focus on as what you do.
That’s why your strategy should document the goals, metrics, and channels you won’t chase, too. That way, you can remain laser-focused on the good content that will move the needle — and you’ll have backup when you need to turn down content ideas from your team, leadership, and other stakeholders.
With everything above mapped out, you’re ready to put pen to paper (metaphorically) and write your content strategy document.
As with most things, there’s no one right way to do that. Some brands may house their content strategy in a Notion document shared with the whole marketing team. Others may outline the strategy in a pinned card on their Trello editorial calendar or summarise the key details in your content brief template.
The important thing is that it’s documented somewhere that’s accessible to everyone on the team.
Your content strategy isn’t set in stone. As you put it into practice, as business goals evolve, and as audience preferences and expectations change, it’s important to review your content strategy.
The best way to do that is to establish a regular cadence for reviewing your strategy and optimise as necessary to ensure your content continues to work toward the company's KPIs. We also recommend conducting a content audit of your existing content to determine whether updates and revisions need to be a key piece of your strategy.
A thoughtful and well-defined content strategy ensures your team spends their valuable time and budget creating effective content that moves the needle for your business as a whole. You can even see the broader strategy in many of the best pieces of content — which is a great way to get inspiration for your own content strategy and the assets you can build off of it.
For example, this climate-focused visual story from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is clearly drawn from their overarching content strategy of building support for climate initiatives by making it emotional and real for readers.
Here’s another example from Tripadvisor: their 2021 year in travel report clearly showcases the underlying strategy of inspiring wanderlust among their audience while helping would-be travellers feel more comfortable about travelling during a global pandemic.
Your content strategy also serves as a stepping stone to creating your more detailed content plan, which, handily, we’ve written a step-by-step guide for, to get you started.
Kiera Abbamonte is a content writer who works with SaaS and other B2B companies. Located near Boston, MA, she loves cinnamon coffee and a good baseball game. Catch up with her at KieraAbbamonte.com.