Big Ideas or the Bottom Line: Content Strategy since 2006

Defined by a pioneer of the field Kristina Halvorson in her landmark article The Discipline of Content Strategy from 2008, “content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” It brings order to the chaos of all of the information that exists, often hastily written and published, on the internet.

Content strategy has always existed in one form or another, and has its modern day origins during the 1940s – 1960s in the creation of methods to organize technical writing. But, content strategy as we know it has truly grown up in the last fifteen years.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the internet became a household tool in the US and many other first world counties. With access to the web came the ability to publish huge amounts of content. Companies and individuals alike rushed to add to the glut of information published online. Unfortunately, as with all new technologies, the what and how existed, but the why was still in its infancy. Very little thought was put into why everyone should be pushing content to the web, other than if you didn’t, you’d be left behind. The information that people needed became harder to find. Noise, rather than information, began to take over.

Shortly after Facebook became an advertising platform with the introduction of Facebook Ads in 2007, the idea of content strategy was beginning to crop up across various channels. The first two conferences dedicated to intelligent content and content strategy took place in Vancouver and Palm Springs in 2008. The first books and articles defining content strategy as dictating the why of content creation as opposed to the what or how were published. The term content strategy began trending online with data showing 286,000 searches in 2008 jumping to to 4,210,000 in 2009 as noted by Rachel Lovinger.

Advertising had long been in the hands of companies and media partners who sought to interrupt the consumer’s attention. Social media shifted the advertising power dynamic away from companies into the hands of the consumer. People could now speak directly with companies and the need for content to reflect a growing demand for organic advertisements that didn’t leave consumers feeling jarred or “sold to” became apparent. The field of content marketing quickly grew up to fill this demand and by the year 2014, Forbes reported that Director of Content was the number one marketing position being posted.

Today, searching online for the evolution of content strategy will yield far more results for the evolution of content marketing. Robert Rose describes content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a…target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” Content marketing, and the strategy behind it, have black and white deliverables which make money for companies, which feels hugely more important in the short run than making sure your website has the right voice and is telling the right story. Therefore, many jobs posted with the title content strategist are actually for content marketing strategists.

No one got Rose’s note that Content Strategy and Content Marketing are not the same field…

Content Strategy can be hard to put a pin on – it is thinking the big thoughts about how your company wants to be represented to the public, what the public wants to consume, how to organize your content across many platforms to create a cohesive experience for your consumers. Content marketing is what and when to post your well-crafted content to turn browsers into purchasers. In a world where the dollar is king, it’s no surprise the field of content strategy remains opaque and content marketing reigns supreme – fewer companies have the luxury to think the big thoughts when product is on the line, even if avoiding those big thoughts does more damage in the long run.

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