Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing

August 15, 2013

The #EcomChat session on “Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing” stirred up a hornets nest of emotion around whether or not the phrase “content marketing” is a load of old cobblers peddled by wishy washy industry peeps prospecting for fools gold. The chat included lots of advice & thoughts from ecommerce, usability and conversion practitioners, as well as some wonderful links to further reading (big thanks to @aattias for his landslide of links!). Below are a few of the excellent comments from the one hour session. As ever, there were 3 rough outline questions to start the conversation:

  1. Is there a difference and if so, what is it?
  2. Should ecommerce teams focus on either/both and why?
  3. Which retailers are doing content marketing well and what can we learn from them?

Q1: “Is there a difference and if so, what is it?”

We think there was common consensus that a content strategy is distinct to content marketing and doing content marketing without a clear plan isn’t advisable. Where there was disagreement was on whether or not you need either to be a successful ecommerce player (see question 2 below). Amongst the hearty debates were these gems for the first question:

  1. @aattias: If pressed, Id say content strategy is a plan, content marketing is the action. @Jamesgurd replied that he broadly agreed, it’s planning vs. execution and @KevinWaugh chipped in saying Content strategy is how, content marketing is the what.
  2. @geake: Managing a consistent buying process when the customer could be on a desktop/mac/iphone/ipad/android etc.
  3. An interesting comment was made by @charliesaidthat: content strategy looks at manuals, tech spec, product packaging, customer service content not just marketing. However, not everyone agreed that content strategy covers those areas.
  4. @danbarker take is ‘Content Marketing’ is basically a frame whereby you put content at the centre of some/all marketing
  5. According to @charliesaidthat the content strategists he talks to (@scottabel @rahelab etc) talk about platform neutral content and cost savings, their focus is on making content the same across biz, and not having to re-write it / re-format it 20 times and teams.
  6. @montsecano introduced the context of SEO for content strategy/marketing: “My take ‘content marketing’ is another way to say that the message is given priority over rankings to reach out to people”. @pferron made an interesting comment “content marketing is a new way in framing a combination of SEO realities and popular adoption of content sharing technology” which was popular with other people.
  7. @chinashopbull wryly suggested that content marketing isn’t new at all and is simply a shiny name for something that has been around since marketing began: “As Marketers we have a new name for things every 6months/year – it existed forever as whitepapers, how to guides etc”. @jamesgurd agreed with “I’m not convinced there is anything new about CM – CM has always been around, just the tools are changing”. @gingerwarriorX was broadly in agreement with this: “same as ‘social’ marketing a few years ago – a different way of slicing up the same things to gain perspective”.
  8. @pferron added a useful definition: “content strategy is making decision about curation vs creation / investment vs return / audience need vs business need” and @futurestatedigi put tongue in cheek with “Content Strategy was so termed by the marketing guy who wanted a pay rise:)”.
  9. @ysekand brought up the subject of execution to help define content marketing: “Create content that helps your existing and potential clients make better decisions. In short, that is content marketing?”. @danbarker said he wasn’t sure that was an accurate enough description because “that could incorporate stuff like updating product copy, or altering a faq, or changing homepage imagery” and suggested that “perhaps more about using it with the specific intent of acquiring/retaining customers?”.
  10. @danbarker tweeted a couple of London meet-ups for content marketing in case you’re interested: london content strategy & the content strategy association are 2x semi-regular ones and @charliesaidthat recommended Content Strategy Applied: contentstrategyapplied.eu in November.

Perhaps our favourite quote came from @armyangus with this little beauty: “content strategy is the story you wish to tell. Content marketing is the means by which you tell it”.

Dan Barker moved the conversation on to Q2 as the comments flowed thick and fast.

Q2: Should ecommerce teams focus on ‘Content Marketing’, ‘Content Strategy’, or both? (& why)?

There was broad agreement that you need a clear plan in place, aligned with overall business goals, to ensure content marketing is focused and relevant. A handful of the answers to this including the following.

  • @aattias chipped in with: “both. 1 without the other is ineffective. Can do marketing w/o strategy but it’ll suck, just like any other marketing”.
  • @acchaudre nailed her colours to the mast with “Without a content plan, you are just blind and useless.” and @projectocto added “Often a business exists to sell, content marketing helps that goal, but is not the be-all”.
  • @pferron commented “I feel ROI plays a role in e-coms team decision making here – our ability to track a net benefit on longer term conversion”.
  • @kevinwaugh suggested that seeing as ecom is the most customer facing aspect of a company, content strategies should be at the forefront.
  • @jaredmckiernan threw the cat amongst the rabid wolves with a bold “No. Focus on selling”. This drew a few replies and questions, including @gingerwarriorX with the cheeky “and how do they gain a receptive audience without content?? Just tweet sales links?”.
  • @aattias suggested that it can be helpful to also align content strategy to buying funnel, target users with relevant content at each stage of buying journey. This got quite a bit of attention with @montsecano saying that they’re doing just that atm to position themselves as a resource that people see as useful.

James Gurd threw in a quick poll for good measure and asked if anyone believes that you don’t need a content plan to be successful in ecommerce? @andyharding replied with “You don’t. See Zalando for detail”. The general consensus was that content plans aren’t critical to success but they’re really useful in building a brand and creating loyalty, personalising the experience etc.

With time running out we moved swiftly on to Q3 for a 5 min burst of enthusiasm…

Q3: Which retailers are doing content marketing well and what can we learn from them?

  • @Koozai_Cat thinks Wholefoods Market do content well, they create a lifestyle around their products rather than pushing the sale.
  • @projectocto suggested ASOS has a great UGC strategy – creates content and engages the users automatically.
  • @aattias gave the example of @velocitytweets, “Their B2B marketing manifesto for example is a work of art bit.ly/1ak9Y6j”.
  • @pferron suggested a retailer who does T&C’s and FAQ explaining the proposition really well is Woot woot.com/faq.
  • And @aattias left us a parting gift with links to content marketing resource: the Ultimate List of CM tools: bit.ly/17oIf2H.

And with that, the hour was up and @danbarker and @jamesgurd returned to the shadow world in a whisp of smoke.

Do leave a note in the comments if you have any more you regularly use. And please spread the word to anyone you think may be interested, or join in if you’re free at 1pm UK time. Otherwise, simply follow the #EcomChat hashtag on Twitter.

Thanks!

Dan & James.

p.s. If you’re wondering “what is this all about?”, there is an about page to explain everything.

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