Content marketing and content strategy; a fishy relationship

  • By Farah Hirani
  • |
  • Mar 11 2019
Categories: |Ideas

From content marketer to strategist

My journey to the world of content strategy has been an odd one. I studied marine biology in school, worked as an environmental scientist for a while, then as a marine biologist, and then transitioned into marketing, content management, and am now a content strategist. It has, in its own weird way, felt natural.

One thing that seems clear to me as I look around from my unique vantage point is that there’s an interesting relationship between content marketing and content strategy. When I worked as a fish biologist, I recall that there existed a pretty stark contrast between the fish folk and the marine mammal trainers. We (the fish folk) were the nerdy, factoid-loving types who always had to convince people our animals were cool. The mammal experts, who regularly dealt with dolphins, whales, and sea otters, were the celebrities. The rockstars. Their stuff was the draw; what people came to see. Their animals were flashy and charming. They always got the big budgets. We had to fight for our fish, and make do on their budgetary scraps. That’s how it often is in the aquarium world.

Like the beluga whale, there’s no doubt that content marketing can be impressive. I’ve done my fair share of it, and I love how, when done correctly, your campaigns can change minds, push boundaries, and inspire action. It’s got the same glitz and glamour as two sea otters holding hands while they sleep. Content marketing can change the world, and all you have to do is look at the past few American presidential elections for proof. But it has a much better chance of doing so if the content machinery behind the scenes is in place.

And there sits the work of content strategy. Like the flounder, existing quietly in the background, out of the spotlight, low-key and unremarkable. But still fabulous.

otters and flounder

Sea otters (left) bask in a spotlight that the flounder (right) works hard to avoid.

The thing is that content marketing only works when the content resonates with the right people. In order to do that, you need a lot of information. Who are you trying to talk to? What do they care about, and when? When and where do they consume content? What types, and in what formats? What elements of your content are going to make your message stick? And that’s only the beginning.

You need to have processes in place to make sure you can collect that information, analyze it, use it in the right way, plan your campaign strategy, communicate it throughout your company, align all your audience-facing and content-generating teams with each other and with business goals, collect analytics on how things are going and adjust them as needed, and the list goes on.

And you need to be able to repeat this process for each piece of content you create, and each campaign you run, because you want consistency in the quality of your brand.

Achieving this requires a solid content strategy to be working in the background, keeping all the systems running smoothly and efficiently. The strategy piece is bigger than just marketing, of course. It also supports other areas of content throughout the company, such as intranets and knowledge centres, websites, customer support and technical documentation, employee and customer training materials, HR databases, and digital assets.

So we can see that a good content strategy is foundational for content marketing to be at its best, just as the humble and beloved (mostly by me) fish might play any number of supporting roles that allow a marine mammal to thrive (see the video below for one such example).

And it works both ways. There are some things that marketers have gotten really good at that we strategists could learn something from. Storytelling, for example. There are some cases in which content strategists could probably benefit from using this technique more effectively, and I’ll be exploring that in future posts.

But for now, I can’t help but notice the similarities between the two disciplines, despite the contrasts I’ve described. At the end of the day, we’re all just content people trying to help businesses meet their goals while putting the audience’s needs at the centre of everything we do. Sure, one’s a little shinier than the other, with a higher profile and an often bigger budget, but we’re both essential and awesome in our own ways.

So the next time you go to an aquarium, take some time out to observe the fish. They’re cooler than you think. I promise.

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