It is around VIII century BC. Theseus, the mythical king of Athens, has arrived to Crete and is about to face his next adventure – kill the Cretan Minotaur. The beast, half bull and half man, is kept in the legendary Cretan Labyrinth where thousands have found their death either trying to kill the ferocious creature or searching their way out of the maze. Theseus, however, not only slew the beast but also found his way out of the deadly Labyrinth.
Ariadne, the daughter of the Cretan king Minos, gave him a ball of thread. Theseus tied the thread to the door of the labyrinth and unrolled it all the way to the Minotaur and then found his way back to the entrance, following this same Ariadne’s thread.
The myth today (an improvisation)
It’s 2015 AD, the age of sophisticated changes to search algorithms, the era of the social media mind, the H2H marketing approach time and … And, counterintuitively, the time when most strategies are still trying to win the person’s “fickle, fleeting, frenzied attention” more than they are trying to help them develop “into the people they were meant to be.” (cit. Umair Haque, Your Digital Strategy Shouldn’t Be About Attention).
Your client (Theseus) has arrived to a moment when he (we will assume that your client is a brave man) needs to face yet another adventure in his live – solve a problem of some kind. And there he is, about to enter the labyrinth (the maze of any given trade, be it the wondrous world of hair eraser vacuum producers or the niche of video creators for real estate businesses) to kill the Minotaur (his problem: in our case, he either has a cat and therefore lot of hairs on his suit, or he owns a real estate agency and wants video created, say, because he heard video content is the new king).
So, as the the myth has it, Theseus (the client) kills the Minotaur (his problem) and exits the labyrinth (the maze of any given trade) not only because of his heroic nature but also thanks to Ariadne (you) who gave them a ball of thread (the thread is your content, the ball of it is your content strategy, beautifully woven with the coveted consistency of the messages you communicate with your content).
Your good content strategy lead a user across his journey to your product or service and helped him navigate all that information from all these sites, fighting gracefully, or not so much, for his attention. At the end of the day, Theseus successfully went through yet another adventure, growing stronger and doing what he had to do.
Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it?
The details about the analogy with Ariadne that follow are more about giving you a conceptual framework to help you, rather than throwing you into the details of content strategy planning, execution and ongoing maintenance. At the end of the article I have listed several resources which I believe are a perfect start to get the ins and outs of the trade, such as (not in particular order) persona development, content templates, editorial guidelines, workflow design, tracking, archives, common language, vocabulary, measurement, metadata, taxonomies, etc.
Back to Cretes where you are Ariadne, helping Theseus out of the Labyrinth
Before we go on, I owe you (and, at least, Apollodorus) an apology for not using the entire myth. In the introduction, I have oversimplified and only took part of the myth’s narrative. The story goes on and eventually Theseus leaves Ariadne, the legend here diverges: she was abandoned by Theseus and hanged herself; or, Theseus carried her to Naxos and left her there to die, and she was rescued by and married the god Dionysus.
But you and your content strategy are not going to go through this part, at least not in my version. In this version you are the Ariadne with the most meaningful and useful thread which saves Theseus from the maze.
To prepare to hand a ball of thread to Theseus you need to wrap your mind around three things:
- Consistency and clearly communicated messages are a winning edge
- Content strategy is a practice and iterative process which should be carefully designed with your resources in mind
- The best content is the one that serves users’ needs and/or meets business goals
These three are to be informed by the seemingly simple truth that having a content strategy (no matter how simple or complex it is) starts with a clear understanding of your core message and your ability to differentiate on the market. And differentiation starts with crystal clear signals and their consistent sending and ongoing adjustment.
Designing a content strategy is designing user experiences, workflows within the company and interactions, related to both the user’s needs and the goals, the business has set out to to achieve. All these are not only connecting but also being connected within via a common thread, which is to be interwoven in every interaction seeking to build awareness, educate or simply intrigue.
Give what you seek to receive
(take a look at your real life/search activities/habits)
Use yourself, the readily available guinea pig, and observe your process of solving a problem through a product or service. The problem is not always something “problematic”, it could be you really having to find that perfect navy blue bookend, for example. No matter how big or “non-existent” the problem is, you will have to somehow find your way through it and end up solving it.
You begin searching. You search, you use a search engine, friends, memories of ads, of a brochure that you saw somewhere by chance. And what if all the way along your search (offline, online, within your memories) you see a consistent voice that provides valuable and usable information and leads you toward solving your problem.
Would you trust it and even use it on your way back if it has helped you make it around the Labirynth?
It’s very likely that you will not only trust this content and its source, but also:
- Know where to get back to retrieve more information (because solving a problem is just another beginning)
- Use the mapping when you need to go through acquiring a similiar product or service
- Like and need the seamless and useful experience and therefore will be drawn back to it
To cite one of the opening lines of the book The Language of Content Strategy:
Customers buy or don’t buy based on their experiences with the information they pick up about a company and what it sells.
By taking the time and trouble to streamline your organization’s content, matching it with your business goals and your users’ needs, you are giving people a reason to use your thread to come back to you. You have the opportunity to be their shortcut to everything related to your domain.
Be clear about your core messages and values and communicate that in a consistent, respecting the needs of your clients way.
Content Strategy is not Content Marketing
The intent behind Content strategy (i.e. this common thread connecting your business goals to your user’s needs and then their needs to your content and vice versa) always starts with Why? Why this content? Why this approach? Why this channel? And then it continues with How? How is this content related to other content? How is the content related to the business goals of the company? How is this content going to be created? How will the maintenance of the content affect the workflow in the company?
Unarguably, content strategy and content marketing are related to each other, however they are two different practices requiring different approaches. Content strategy is a system that you build, a process to help you remain consistent in your communication and deliver useful and usable content that enhances user experience is an immersive and meaningful way. It is much greater an entity than content marketing.
To use a mathematical symbol:
Content strategy > Content Marketing
To use a blend of Kristina Holvorson’s definition and Erin Kissane’s one:
Content strategy is planning for the creation, delivery, governance and ongoing maintenance of useful and usable content, with clear understanding of the time, skill and money required to plan, create and publish content.
Content marketing, on the other hand, is
at its heart, content marketing is a marketing strategy — an approach that uses content to deepen our relationship with customers.,
as Robert Rose put it (cit. How Content Strategy and Content Marketing Are Separate But Connected)
What developing a content strategy will give you is a well-organised process that provides order and readily available resources to be used when serving your users, in other words engaging (directly and indirectly) with them and seeking to establish genuine connection, not chasing eyeballs, nor clicks, nor long email lists. Yes, all these are present when the connection is, but are not to be sought after per se.
Offer clear, seamless experiences – the need for them and the good feeling they evoke, will attract customers, or guide them back to you. Be the thread that will help people not the one that will add to the noise and entanglement in their (and your) head.
A fact to ponder on and a list of resources to follow
Before you go and grab the list with resources, here’s a fact to ponder on: Ariadne was in love with Theseus, yes in love. And now, a list to read and consult on your content strategy journey.
4 ways to boost your content strategy, Creative Bloq
What is Content Strategy?, Distilled
BRANDOPOLIS: A big brand content strategy from Distilled (How the world’s biggest brands make their mark online)
Content Strategy for the Web, by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach
The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane
The Language of Content Strategy, Co-produced by Scott Abel and Rahel Anne Bailie