Content Strategy Diary

Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing – the Ultimate Guide to Differences

Do you know that movie “We need to talk about Kevin?” I feel a bit like Kevin when somebody says that content strategy and content marketing are the same things.

If you yourself think they are the same, don’t worry – it’s not your fault. 

Even the top experts use these terms interchangeably, and by doing so completely disregard different sets of skills these professionals need to have in order to do their job (and they are indeed quite different).

Back to my anger issues.

Another thing that gets my eye twitching is when experts talk about strategy and tactics as if they were the same thing. So, we’re definitely going to talk about this too!

There’s one more thing I’d like to underline before diving into the differences.

This article is obviously the same for everyone. But depending on whether you’re somewhat confused content marketer/content marketing strategist or a content strategist, or if you’re more on the client-side (aka an entrepreneur, CEO, CMO, digital marketing manager, or someone else in charge of the hiring process), this article will have a different outcome.

CM / CMS / CS Outcome:

This article will let you know why it’s ok to have a mini-breakdown when:

Client-side outcome:

Now that we took off the bandage, let’s dive right into answering the most common questions and confusions.

Strategy, planning, tactic – are these synonyms?

Before we can clarify the differences between CS and CM, we first need to address the biggest confusion of them all.

What is the difference between:

Three photos of chessboard showing the difference between strategy, plan and tactic.

Believe it or not – even some of the biggest gurus out there use these terms as if they were the same thing.

What is strategy?

The strategy is the art of planning and directing actions to fulfil long-term core and strategic goals.

Let’s translate this to a “normal” life example. With a little disclaimer: birthday party in this case is a metaphor for a major piece of digital content.

Say you want to organize the best birthday party ever. Even though this may seem like a core goal, this will probably be a strategic goal (one level under the core goal).

The core goal (aka the WHY behind your initial desire, the ultimate goal) could be that you want to impress everyone, become the talking point and finally position yourself as the best birthday-party organizer. 

An image showing a short roadmap to see whether or not you need a content strategy, using a birthday party as a reference.

You see, a party is a “short-term” thing, and the focus of a strategy is always much deeper and long-term.

 A strategy is all about:

  1. Understanding the target market (the environment), 
  2. Making choices about priorities, 
  3. How and when to take certain actions,
  4. What direction to take on cross-roads. 

The strategy is your very own roadmap to the ultimate goal! 

Its main task is to keep you on track and stop you from wandering off far away from the yellow brick road.

It is a document you’ll keep consulting and coming back to whenever you’re planning something new.

What is planning?

Simply put – planning (or plan) is about making choices about how to use the resources you have and the actions you will take to achieve the objectives of your strategy.

If the strategy is your roadmap that will keep reminding you where you’re headed and what are the necessary steps you need to take, then the plan will tell you HOW to make these steps happen. 

This is why we have so many plans! There’s an:

And so much more…

Plans are a crucial part of the strategy, but they cannot (or better yet – shouldn’t) exist without the framework that tells you where should all these plans lead to, what is their higher purpose.

We use plans to break strategic steps down into details that can be quickly adjusted, and plans should (ideally) be a product of the collaboration of the content strategist and relevant experts (SEO, PPC, content marketer, etc).

Like strategy, plans need to have clear goals that will lead to achieving a strategic goal, but they are short-termed, and they should be revised after every major campaign, quarterly or as soon as you collect a relevant amount of data.

So, in our birthday party example, the planning could cover questions like:

What are tactics?

Tactics are actions!

They are much more concrete and are often oriented toward smaller steps and a shorter time frame along the way.

Tactics are the bridge from ideas and plans to reality!

In the case of the unforgettable birthday party, some of the tactics could include:

You can look at tactics as actionable tasks that you need to complete in order to fulfil your plan that will bring you one step closer to achieving the strategic goals necessary for reaching your ultimate, core goal/s.

Is everything clear so far?

Ok, let’s dive into the REAL problem.

Content Strategy VS Content Marketing VS Content Marketing Strategy

I always thought that the difference between a job of a content strategist and a content marketer is quite clear (I mean the name says it all), but I was proved wrong on so many occasions. So, let’s clear this up.
Do you know what is marketing?

Yes, you’re right – marketing is the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising. (Yes, this is an actual Google definition).

I’m not going to ask you what a strategy is, because we’ve cleared that up.

If the difference between content marketing and content strategy is not obvious by now, let’s underline it:

Content marketing is all about the creation, publishing, and distribution of great content. Unlike traditional marketing, it’s not an “in your face” sale process. It’s much more devious.

I truly hope you are on the inbound marketing train, if you’re not – please revisit your career goals because the main purpose of content marketing is to:

and oh so much more that will finally result in not just one-time sale, but repetitive sales, and even brand ambassadors.

Unlike pure advertising or sales – content marketing is a slow process. 

On the surface, it’s about attracting new leads organically (preferably, though the actions should be coordinated and helped by paid advertising, at least until you become an authority in your industry), but that’s just the tip of the ice-berg. 

The majority of this discipline is about nurturing and creating a genuine bond with your prospects, customers, brand ambassadors.

Content marketing efforts are the ones that will help you achieve most of your strategic and core goals.

BUT…

It cannot (shouldn’t) exist without a content strategy.

And no, content marketing strategy is not the same thing.

By definition (content + marketing [= promotion] + strategy [= the art of planning and directing actions]) this strategy “only” deals with planning in detail the promotion of the content and coordinating marketing efforts.

This leads us to the burning question:

What in God’s name is content strategy?!

Content strategy is the foundation of content marketing.

Or better yet,

Content marketing efforts are one part of the overall content strategy.

Content strategy is a meticulously-in-depth-research based framework you can always go back to to make sure:

  • You’re on the right track, and
  • That you’ve aligned your content production and marketing efforts to the strategic and core goals connected to the business goals, mission and vision.

This is what gives your content a higher purpose! 

Inbound methodology and an omnichannel approach are an essential part of it because every action should have a chain reaction that will work towards achieving the core goal – the reason why you’re doing anything!

This strategy covers everything from the:

We can say that the main goal of this strategy is to make goddamn sure WHY each piece of content is created and WHO’s in charge of making it happen.

While every digital content piece can have a different goal (drive lead conversions, lower bounce rate, promote new services, increase conversion rates, attract more traffic, increase visibility, get backlinks, etc…) – this goal needs to correspond to the core or strategic goals.

Do you need a content strategist or a content marketer, or…both?

After explaining the major differences – let’s talk about the people behind the disciplines.

A content strategist (I myself am one), needs to be an inbound marketer with a broad set of skills.

This expert needs to be able to create the strategy and to do this, he or she needs to be very comfortable (if not fully knowledgeable) of SEO, research tools, content writing, design, advertising, email marketing, social media marketing, content syndication, content editing and optimizing - and to top it all - they need to have a strategic mind.
Walkindsky Explores official bronze colored logo
Tamara Biljman
Content Strategist

Sounds impressive?

Yeah, I know, that’s why you should treat us like pandas and give us the big bucks.

Back to the story…

These specialists are in charge of seeing both the bigger picture and the details that create it.

As a person with a non-content-strategic way of thinking, you might see just an amazing birthday cake (content piece), but a content strategist will see that

  • This birthday cake was created so that guests would take pictures of it and share it on social media platforms,
  • Talk about it to their friends and colleagues, aka share a valuable word of mouth
  • That will attract new leads that will help you launch and promote new products,
  • That will finally help you expand your team,
  • Make you more money,
  • Open doors to the big events and
  • Position you as an absolute #1 one day (if you’re committed enough).

Content marketers will help you actually do it with the support of other experts (SEO, PPC, content and copy-writers, designers, etc).

While one person can be both (these disciplines are complimentary) – don’t be surprised if they don’t agree to it.

So to answer the question which one do you need – you need both. 

You can hire a content strategist as a “consultant” – a one-time major thing, with quarterly reviews and making sure your content efforts are on track. 

Obviously, if you can afford an in-house full-time content strategist – that is great! This way the leading content marketing expert in your company could always consult with a content strategist (and vice versa), and content strategist could take on a role of a manager that would make sure daily that the strategy is being implemented correctly and that all members of the content teams are working towards the same overall goal.

What is the purpose of this content piece?

Now that you’re an expert on these differences, and you found out that I’m a content strategist who’s tagline is “giving your content a higher purpose”, let me ask you:

What was the actual purpose of this article?

Think you know the answer? Let me know in the comments.

About Me

I’m an art historian – digital marketer – passionate traveler – addicted writer – dedicated member of a long distance relationship mashup.

I’m a materialist that has an urge to help the world. I have absurdly logical mind that helps me focus my creative hyper-energy.

It’s ok to be a crazy mixture of completely opposite ingredients.

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I am an art historian turned content strategist who spends days exploring what makes people tick on all channels of communication. I love making sense of data, exploring new AI tools and crafting compelling content that raises brand authority. This doesn’t really come as a surprise considering my background – Interwar propaganda art that earned her two MA degrees and articles in international scientific journals.

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