What is content strategy?

Written by Melissa Mapes, Founder
You've probably heard of content strategy and know it's important, but struggle to explain the exact concept. You're not alone.
Because content strategy is at the core of Real Big Words, I spend a good bit of time describing everything the term encompasses. The field has existed since the late 90s, but is still emerging as a mainstream category of work or job title. Thus, few professionals have a clear idea of what it really means.

Let's start with some essential definitions.

First, content.

If you ask ye olde Oxford English Dictionary, content is "the things that are included in something." Helpful, right?

It's hardly a wonder that people are deeply confused about the concept of digital content strategy given the broad definitions of its most basic elements. Ask around and you'll find very different ideas of what it means, even at Fortune 500 companies full of very smart people.

But content matters...and so does strategy. No one argues against this. It's simply the combination of the two words that leads to wild conflation.

Here is a helpful way to think about content in this context:

If your product is digital or relies on any digital presence, it needs content in order to be received by the world. The words, images, videos, and graphics used to bring your business into being all qualify as content. You cannot communicate anything without it.

Now onto strategy.

Strategy involves planning, research, and goal definition. It's the reasoning behind the choices made at your organization. You ensure that precious resources are invested wisely by employing strategy.

Put the two together and you have content strategy: the strategies developed to provide your audience with useful content exactly when and where they need it, and in a way that supports both business and audience goals.

This is how we define content strategy at Real Big Words, and it's also the functional role I've seen play out at successful organizations.

What does a content strategist actually do?

Many related responsibilities can be bucketed under content strategy, depending on the organization and team structure. Some content strategists specialize in one or two areas of expertise, while others operate as lone wolves with all-encompassing responsibilities (and I feel for those individuals).

This diagram illustrates responsibilities commonly associated with content strategy, and how they are often distributed across Marketing and UX / Product teams.
Where does content marketing fit in?

You may be looking at the chart above and wondering why content marketing isn't listed. It's there—it's just broken down into more specific responsibilities.

Content marketing makes up a lot of the marketing side of the equation. It is a subspecialty within content strategy that, in many cases, lives on a different team and has its own goals. Ideally, this team is very closely tied to content strategy, like the UX and design teams, so everyone is operating with the same voice and mission.

The other part of content strategy that may live on marketing is brand. While also not explicitly listed in the chart, it's present in copy, style guides, and the overall user experience.

Because it's so important for all these components to sync tightly, certain tech companies like Spotify are combining content strategy, UX, and design into departments called "Brand and Experience" or similar. Marketing departments then become more strictly focused on acquisition and growth, while these new groups focus on applying the broader vision for the company to the full user experience.

There is no one-size-fits all solution for defining the role of content strategy for your organization. Many factors, like company size, must be considered. But, if you have any sort of digital presence, you have a content strategy—it's just a question of whether or not it's being intentionally shaped and leveraged.

At Real Big Words, we can help organizations build and execute content strategies that work. Big or small, new or established, we'll partner with you to develop awesome content that users love. If you want to learn more, shoot us an email at