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Content Strategy vs Content Plan: Experts Explain the Nuance

Understanding the differences between your content strategy and your content plan is essential, say content marketing experts.

The Better Brand & Content Summit called together content marketing leaders from brands such as Zapier, Wayflyer, and Zendesk to explore the toughest topics in brand and content. Chief among these was an age-old content marketing question: what is the difference between a content plan and a content strategy? 

“The plan is often [called] the strategy,” says Tyler Wade, Content Marketing Manager at design services firm Superside. “But a plan is much more static. It’s the steps to achieve the goals you set out in your strategy. And if your plan fails, you head to plan B.”

So what are some of the differences, and why are they critical to content marketing success?

Content Strategy Supports Your Marketing Goals

Mark Rogers, Director of Content Strategy at content marketing agency Animalz, believes strategy is misunderstood in content marketing. “A lot of people don’t see the value in it. And really, the strategy sets the foundation for everything you do in content marketing,” he says.

How does a strategy come together with a plan, however? Rogers offers an analogy. “Let’s say you’re in LA and want to get to New York,” he says. “There are a bunch of ways you could do that. And your strategy takes all the pros and cons of each method of transportation and defines the best path forward.”

“The plan is your what and your how. So, to take that example, how do we get from LA to New York?” adds Wade. “And we changed the strategy to be, what’s the fastest way to get from LA to New York? Does your plan change?”

In other words:

  • Content strategies tie to business goals while taking customer needs into account
  • Content plans are how you execute those strategies

This content hierarchy has a third step or level: A content calendar sits at the bottom, below the plan, organizing your publishing schedule. Your calendar must also highlight distribution channels. After all, great content fails without proper distribution.

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Content Distribution Informs Your Strategy and Plan

Content distribution leaves many fintech companies scratching their heads. Most distribution advice boils down to ‘publish content on social media and create organic content.” But how? 

Rogers recommends spreading your distribution approach across your content strategy and plan. “[Your distribution platform] selection goes more toward the strategy side of things, but it goes across both [plan and strategy],” he says. “So, when you weigh the pros and cons in your strategy, that’s where the platform that you’re going to use fleshes out. And then, the plan itself is how you engage on that platform with your content.”

Wade says measurement and metric tracking also spreads across both the strategy and plan, and Rogers agrees. The bottom line is:

  • you must define your strategy
  • derive a plan to execute that strategy
  • and specify metrics that measure your progress.

All of this sounds theoretical. So how does all this work in action?

How Content Plans Can Deliver on the Strategy

Rogers and Wade give the example of a small design company with a dedicated but small following. The CEO’s audience isn’t a good fit for the design services they offer, but their large social media following offers great possibilities for content distribution.

“What that tells us is we need to be where the audience hangs out,” says Rogers. “We also know that again, our product is built on designers — so we need to make sure we bring in design talent before, or sooner than SEO. Because SEO is always a long-term game.” 

Because an audience of small business owners needs to trust the company before using the product, Rogers recommends starting with awareness-building podcasts and videos while working social proof into them. Creating share-worthy content that generates backlinks is also a good move since that takes care of distribution implicitly. 

Combined with social media advertising and content centered on long-tail keywords, this strategy could build awareness and trust amongst that small but dedicated audience. 

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