Evolution or Revolution? The Truth About Content Strategy

It has been a little over 20 years since Bill Gates declared “content is king,” but as we have discussed in my previous post, content is nothing without a plan. In fact, PR Daily reports that between 60% – 70% of content that a company creates goes unused. Let that sink in for a second. More than half of materials that are produced never make it through to be seen by an end user. As you can imagine, this is a huge drain of company time, money, and personnel. In order to make the best use of their resources, an increasing amount of businesses are turning towards experts to guide their strategy so that they may create better-informed decisions in the long run.

Content strategy as a whole is a fairly recent industry as the boom of its popularity occurred from around 2008 to 2014. The idea of creating a fleshed out strategy for all of your content was a shiny, new concept for companies to capitalize on. Job roles listed as “content strategists” began to appear, and from that time on, marketing and brand presence have never been the same. Because content strategy gained popularity and relevance so quickly, many industry professionals debate whether content strategy is a revolution or evolution. From what I have seen on blog posts and resources thus far, there doesn’t seem to be a concrete answer. Experts have been joining one camp or another and defending their stance.

“In my experience, the content strategist is a rare breed who’s often willing and able to embrace whatever role is necessary to deliver on the promise of useful, usable content.”
– Kristina Halvorson

The experts on the revolution side believe that social media and content has radically changed the world and that schools of thought and technology must change with it. On the other side of the table, the experts on the evolutionary side believe that social media is just an additional way to get to the right audiences and that disciplines and best practices can evolve to be used on these newer platforms. Either way, both parties agree that content strategy and its implementation has shaken up the rules and altered the playing field.

After taking a hard look on both sides, I believe that content strategy is neither revolution or evolution, but rather it is more along the lines of a metamorphosis. When you take a look at the definitions of what these words really mean, you will find something curious. A revolution implies that the change is sudden and everything needs to comply or at least catch up quickly to the new standard. Evolution implies that the changes are small and gradual, taking years to acquire the new features it needs to survive. At the end of an evolution, the final product leaves very minimal evidence that ties it to its first stage. A metamorphosis is a series of drastic changes that occur in stages. While changes are intense, there is often a lead-up or an “in-between” stage where things start to come together before hitting the final product. Another reason why I believe content strategy is more like a metamorphosis is because it still has the same guts. Unlike a revolution or evolution where the beginning stage is often discarded, things that undergo a metamorphosis still hang onto their original principles and selves. This is important because companies don’t suddenly change their mission or presence when implementing content strategy, instead, they use it as a tool to enhance and grow what they already have. To support my stance, I’m going to break down the metamorphosis of content strategy in detail to show you how it really is a metaphorical journey from caterpillar to butterfly.

The Caterpillar: Realization and Alignment

In the beginning stage of content strategy, many companies do not understand the value it brings to the table. Because content strategy is a rather conceptual practice, it is important to back up your reasoning for content strategy with numbers. Provide data from competitors and calculate the potential gains and risks associated with starting a content strategy project. If you are successful at this, your leadership and peers will notice that something needs to change (and that their clock to do so is ticking.) The alignment may take time but when everyone is on board the metamorphosis process begins.

From this point on, internally, the company is preparing for its change. It gathers a record of relevant pieces, a group of the right people, and it starts to develop a preliminary strategy that upholds the company’s value and presence while enhancing its reach and approach to viewers. For maximum results in this phase, develop and refresh buyer personas. This will give your team a solid idea of who to reach, what content they’re looking for, and which platforms you will be able to reach them on.

The Chrysalis: Adopting Industry Developments

After devising the beginnings of a content strategy, the biggest change is to adopt industry developments. Take the time to “incubate” your plans here. Do not rush this stage as rushing can disrupt the process and affect your final form. Content lives in an environment that is extremely competitive and it is crucial that you take everything into account. Successful content today is relevant to people and useful to machines. This means that the forward facing information must be valuable to the viewer and that the backend information must make it easy for machines, websites, and social media to share and modify per platform.

Content nowadays must also be readily consumable. Mobile technology, decreased attention spans, and increased stimuli means that you need to reformat your materials based on the kind of engagement you are looking for. The changes to the content itself were also done through a metamorphic process based off of advancements in technology and consumer demands. For example, long-form articles attract viewers who are very interested in and are willing to delve into the information you present them. Short-form articles are great for reach as they are easily digestible and often highlight the top-tier important information, which makes them great for sharing. Besides the typical blog posts and articles, also consider variant pieces of content like videos, infographics, podcasts, and courses. Having a variety to choose from allows for a diversified and targeted approach. Be sure to cut content that is not of value to your audiences, don’t push out things like press releases or corporate documentation as they’re dry and don’t capture interest.

On top of these developments, leveraging user-generated content is currently yielding great results. It has been shown in many different industry areas that employee-generated content and engagement does wonders for visibility and authenticity. Don’t overlook what is already in front of you!

While the chrysalis stage takes the most work, it is what meshes all of the pieces together. Like a caterpillar, don’t come out until you are ready!

The Butterfly: Creating Processes and Best Practices

Because you have aligned internally, updated your content, and are appealing to industry developments/standards, you can now spread your wings a little bit. Now that you’ve gotten a hang of what you’re doing and how content strategy will work within your company, it is important to create processes and best practices so that you can be agile when creating new content or are adapting to new industry standards.

Interact with stakeholders and define a timeline for when assets should be received, create strategy pillars that your content can align to, and make sure that everyone who needs to be involved in the content strategy knows the direction you are heading. Keep a list of best practices regarding content creation, project management, KPI selection, and metrics reporting. Be sure to add in areas of concern to this section to make sure they are being addressed along the way.  

Now that you’ve got everything under control, you can fly! I hope that this breakdown helps to show how content strategy is neither a revolution nor an evolution. The ideas presented within a content strategy may be revolutionary or build upon previous ones, but content strategy as a whole is a metamorphic process that develops in drastic, but gradual, stages. These metamorphic changes hit businesses at different times, and they will work through them at their own pace in a way that is best suited for their development and progress. Like a caterpillar changing forms, the journey is personal! All in all, it is safe to say that content strategy has impacted the marketing environment, just be ready to go through some major transformations to keep up with your fittest and most adept competition.

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