Content strategy vs content marketing: The key differences

Content strategy and content marketing are often treated as if they’re interchangeable words. But, as you’ll learn below, they’re actually two very different things. 

Lucie Simonova

Updated on Feb 19, 2024

Published on Aug 10, 2017

To put it simply, if content marketing is a pie, content strategy would be the plate. 

However, the crucial differences between these two concepts go far deeper than a tasty metaphor. By understanding the different roles of a content marketer and a content strategist, your content production and distribution efforts could become far clearer both on paper and in practice.

With that being said, let's dive deeper into what makes content strategy and content marketing so distinct from one another. 

What is Content Marketing?

You can think of content marketing as one aspect of your complete content strategy. According to The Content Marketing Institute, “content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Typically, the content you use for content marketing is going to have its place in your sales funnel, and the core purpose is to attract customers and build meaningful relationships with them. 

That includes content in the form of:

All of these content types help to form the spearhead of your content strategy — if you have one, that is. 

What is Content Strategy?

Content strategy refers to the overarching plan you have for every piece of content related to your business. According to Moz, “Content strategy concerns itself with the vision—the ins and outs of how and why your content will be created, managed, and eventually archived or updated.”

Think of your content strategy as a building blueprint.

Blueprints are mapped out and confirmed before any building work begins, as they set out the guidelines of the foundations and major cornerstones. Your content strategy should work in the same way, outlining the objectives of your content as well as the delivery of it.

However, content strategies shouldn’t be set in stone, either. New channels, devices, and content marketing trends are constantly emerging, so you’ll need to evolve your strategy to suit the market. To get that balance just right, here are the major questions you should cross-check your content strategy with on a regular basis:

  • Why are we creating this content?
  • What audiences do we want to address?
  • What kind of actions and reactions do we want to achieve?
  • How will we promote the content once it’s published?
  • How will our audience find our content?
  • What types of content do you plan to create?
  • Where and when will you be publishing your content?
  • Who is in charge of creating your content?
  • How will you maintain your brand style across various platforms?

Of course, fully fleshing out your content strategy will take a lot more than just answering the questions above, but these should at least help provide a workable foundation. Your finalized strategy should build on these questions and then rely on broader research and further strategic planning. 

Our five-step content strategy checklist will help you handle all of that:

1. Set measurable and achievable goals

In order to measure the success of your content marketing campaign, you need to have clearly defined goals and objectives. Each piece of content should be created in order to achieve the desired end result. That might include more leads for your business, increased email sign-ups, or more social media followers.

On the flip side, if you just publish content on a whim, you’ll fall short of adding to the message your brand was set up to convey and end up diluting it instead.

2. Build journeys

As well as aligning your content with your brand’s goals, you need to also factor in the journey you want your audience to take along with your brand. The content you publish on social media and on your website shapes that journey.

The goal of your content should be to speak to prospects at multiple points throughout their journey to inform them further and thus guide them down your sales funnel. From the time they first come in contact with your company through weighing their options to when they finally make the decision to buy from you—you should have content for every step of the way.

3. Choose content types

Producing content is great, but what kind of content best conveys the message of your brand? You may want to consider things like infographics, YouTube videos, SlideShare presentations, Medium articles, and other content types to complement your standard blog posts.

4. Define distribution and promotion channels

Once your content is created, where will you send it? Identifying the most relevant channels for your brand is the key to gaining more traffic and converting more customers. 

You need to think about the most suitable social networks to focus on, which online communities to engage with, and whether or not you’re ready to take on podcasting and video creation in order to take your content to the next level.

5. Create an editorial calendar

Finally, your content strategy and marketing efforts need to come together like clockwork, and this is where your editorial calendar comes into play. Your calendar should outline when and where content should be published, right down to the most active times of the day for each channel.

Serving separate purposes

As you can see, there is a significant overlap between your content strategy and content marketing efforts—and yet they serve separate purposes.

Your content strategy sets out the whys and hows that overarch every piece of content you’re going to create. On the other hand, content marketing is made up of the processes that serve to create and promote that content. 

Many brands jump right into dishing out content before ever stopping to think about the underlying strategy, which is one of the key reasons why only 30% of brands say their content marketing efforts are effective.

The solution is to implement both short-term and long-term content strategies that will help you build a focal point based on your content marketing goals. 

Now, over to you. Do you have separate content strategy and content marketing plans? How do they relate? And how do you manage them effectively?

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