/ November 17, 2017/ 0 comments

I once worked for a company that wanted to stick its flag high and clear above all by coining as many industry phrases as possible. Further, the company discouraged employees from using terminology coined by competitors so we wouldn’t raise their stock as subject matter experts. I understand why a brand would put value in coining terminology, and I’ve been known to throw around lingo now and again. But, when you’re an innocent bystander (read: customer or layman), things can get really confusing, really fast.

To be honest, lines can blur whether you’re standing two inches or twenty feet away from all the terminology slinging we can get caught up in. While we’re all puffing out our chests and sticking flags in the sand, I just want to take a moment, step back, and delineate three terms I see thrown around more than a pigskin on Sunday. (Note: Just for the record, I am not claiming any fame or revelations in this post. I’m curating content liberally and playing stenographer, reading back well-defined information to create clear lines for anyone that has gone cross-eyed.)

Marketing Strategy

BusinessDictionary defines Market Strategy as:

“An organization’s strategy that combines all of its marketing goals into one comprehensive plan. A good marketing strategy should be drawn from market research and focus on the right product mix in order to achieve the maximum profit potential and sustain the business. The marketing strategy is the foundation of a marketing plan.”

The next natural thing to ask is, “What is a marketing plan versus marketing strategy?” While that gets away from the original discussion in this post, check out this article from The Balance to tumble down the rabbit hole a little further. In many circumstances, a marketing plan will incorporate the next two terms: Content Strategy and Content Marketing.

Content Strategy

Content Strategy for the Web, written by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, define content strategy as:

  • Guidelines for how you are going to use content to meet your business (or project) goals and satisfy your users’ needs.
  • Guides decisions about content throughout its lifecycle, from discovery to deletion.
  • Sets benchmarks against which to measure the success of your content.

Adding to this, I like to incorporate the tools/software/platforms used to manage, create, collaborate, and measure content. But, it’s often best to add tools later on after the foundation of a content strategy settles in.

Content Marketing

In 2008, Seth Godin commented that content marketing is the last viable marketing strategy out there. Living up to its name, Content Marketing Institute (CMI) covers it well in its What is Content Marketing article:

“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.”

This quote from CMI does a good job of addressing “who, what, when, where, and why.” Let’s take a closer look.


This mostly addresses the “where.” Content should be put in a position to succeed. For example, you wouldn’t want to advertise yachts on a highway billboard in Iowa. Consider:

  • Posting and sharing your own content to print, web, social media, and other resources.
  • Posting and sharing others people’s or organizations’ content to your own platforms (i.e. curating).
Relevant and Valuable

Here, CMI addresses the “what” and refers serving a customer/audience need. Providing value by delivering entertaining, educational, or inspirational content is key to building trust, rapport, and ultimately positive and profitable relationships with targeted customers.

Clearly Defined Audience

This is all about “who,” which I’m sure you already figured out. Basically, know your customers. When you know what they want, where they look for it, and how they go through the buying journey, content marketing tactics can be highly effective and targeted.

Profitable Customer Action

It’s all about the results, the “why.” Without that, we have no measurement of success, no needle to move, no metrics to measure. However, “profitable” in this context does not necessarily mean dollars. A profitable action can be anything, really. But, it has to be an intended outcome driven by a piece of content. Actions can include:

  • Clicks or opens
  • Forms filled out or subscriptions
  • Downloads
  • Sales

Putting it All Together

There you go, everything has it’s own tidy box to live in. I like to think about these concepts from a high-level to low-level to put them into context.

Highest level: Marketing Strategy
Lower level: Content Strategy (which will be a part of the Marketing Plan)
Lowest level: Content Marketing (which can be a part of the Content Strategy)

It’s important to recognize that this high-to-low perspective is not a valuation of their importance or impact.You could argue that content marketing is more impactful than a marketing strategy, etc. In reality, all three are dependent on the other. Also, there are guidelines and methods, but there is no one way to do any of the above–every organization will (and should) navigate a marketing strategy, content strategy, and content marketing based on their unique needs.

I for one would be completely comfortable with a council of elders sitting down and standardizing terminology, so that we can all have conversations in the same language. Do you agree with these definitions? Do any other marketing or business terms make you do mental gymnastics? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

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