Let’s be honest – most of us use the terms ‘strategy’ and ‘plan’ interchangeably.
I know I do… #awkward
Most of the time, it doesn’t really matter.
For instance, if I talk about having a strategy for when I visit an all-you-can-eat buffet, it doesn’t matter whether it’s really a strategy or actually a plan. It essentially means the same thing (i.e. I’m not wasting my time at the salad bar!)
But, the difference between having a strategy and a plan when it comes to content marketing is a whole different ball game.
This is one instance where you can’t really interchange the two terms.
What’s the difference between a strategy and a plan?
Let’s check the dictionary, shall we?
The Cambridge Dictionary provides the following definitions:
Strategy: a detailed plan for achieving success in situations such as war, politics, business, industry or sport, or the skill of planning for such situations.
Plan: a set of decisions about how to do something in the future.
Still clear as mud?
Okay, let’s go back to my somewhat ridiculous all-you-can-eat buffet example to see the difference in action.
Let’s imagine you (like me) are coeliac – which means you’re allergic to gluten. Sadly, gluten is present in a whole lot of delicious delights such as bread, biscuits, pasta, and cakes. This means that a lot of dishes at all-you-can-eat buffets are now a no-go zone.
Sorry about that.
Instead of racing in and stacking your plate with anything that looks good (i.e., making a set of decisions), you need to first stop and develop a strategy (i.e., have a detailed plan for achieving success).
Remember, you want to make the most of the food on offer while also protecting yourself from getting sick (known as being ‘glutened’).
To achieve this, you first need a strategy to identify what you can and can’t have before heading to the buffet. Once you have this information, you can plan how you’ll take on the buffet and make the right decisions to enjoy your meal without getting sick.
As strange as it seems, it’s the same deal when it comes to content marketing.
Let’s look at content strategy vs content plan
The difference between a strategy and a plan makes much more sense when you bring it back to a discussion about content (blame my stomach for the buffet example!)
Essentially, a content strategy is an overarching plan that guides content creation. An effective content strategy answers three key questions to make it easier to create the right content for the right audience.
- Why do you want to create content? (your purpose)
- What do you want to share? (your message)
- Who do you want to speak to? (your audience)
A content plan directs how you will put your strategy into action. A good content plan answers three more questions and draws on data and analytics to make decisions on how to best connect with your audience.
- How will you share your content? (content type)
- Where will you share it? (content platform)
- When will you share it? (content frequency)
It’s important to develop your content strategy before moving on to creating a content plan. Else you won’t know who you are talking to, what you want to say and why it matters.
Which means your content marketing investment will be wasted.
Content strategy – why, what and who
For me, the easiest way to understand the difference between a content strategy and a content plan is to divide these six core questions: why, what, who, how, when and where.
If you look closely, the first three are concerned with the WHY – the overarching purpose or strategy. The last three are about the HOW – the way to achieve the purpose or plan.
The key question to ask when embarking on the strategy process is why?
Why do you want to create content? Why does it matter? Why should people care?
There needs to be a purpose to every piece of content you create. Let’s face it, if you don’t know why you’re sharing it, no one else is going to know why either. If your audience doesn’t see why it matters to them, they can’t buy into your content and it will fall flat.
The first step in developing a content strategy is knowing your why AND being clear on why it matters to others. This will guide you as you create content and ensure there is a genuine purpose to each piece of content you share.
The next question to answer when developing your content strategy is what?
What’s your message? What do you want people to take away? What will success look like?
Your message needs to be clear and speak to the problems of your audience. Think of it as your elevator pitch – what are the essential things people need to know about your business?
It’s also important to know what you want to achieve with your content. Do you want to build brand awareness and boost your profile? Or move people further into your sales funnel?
Your strategy should be specific on the measures of success. This might include a goal for site visits, social media engagement, content downloads or client enquiries.
The final part of a content strategy is identifying who you want to target with your content.
Who is your ideal audience? Who will benefit from your content? Who will take action?
Despite popular belief, you DON’T want to speak to everyone. If you water down your message to appeal to the whole market, you won’t attract anyone. You need to segment the audience to discover the people who will get the most benefit from your product or service.
This information will help you create targeted content to meet the needs of your audience. This means you’ll understand who will benefit from what you have to say and how to speak directly to them in the tone and language they prefer, increasing your chances of success.
Content plan – how, when and where
With the higher-order information settled – why, what and who – you can look at how you’ll put your strategy into action by developing a content plan.
The obvious starting point when working out a plan is how you’ll make it happen.
How will you share your content? How will you get people to pay attention?
Choosing the right content format and type is key. Video is big, but does it work for your target market? Do they prefer micro posts? This is where understanding your audience will help you identify how to pitch your message in the right format to gain traction.
Keyword research plays a big role here too. Identifying target keywords to get your content ranking higher in search engines is crucial to your content plan. This is how you’ll attract more of your ideal audience, harnessing the power of SEO to get on their radar.
The next phase of your content plan should look at where you will share your content.
Where will you focus your social media time? Where will you share your content?
Turn to data and analysis to decide where to focus your energy (because you can’t do it all!). You need to know where your ideal audience hangs out and how they prefer to consume their content because that’s where you need to be too (even if that means TikTok!)
It’s important to consider owned and earned channels in your content plan. Aside from your website and chosen social media platforms, you may have the opportunity to share your content with industry groups, directory lists and other wider channels to gain more reach.
Closely tied to the question of where is when you will create and share your content.
When will you post? When will you create? When will you know your strategy is working?
This question looks at the frequency and timing of your content plan, as well as metrics for measuring performance. Creating a content or editorial calendar is a great way to map out how and when your content will be shared and helps keep you on track too.
Get to know social media analytics to see when your audience is online. This phase will take some experimentation as you try out different approaches. While a consistent posting schedule is best, don’t drive yourself into the ground trying to do it all.
What this means for your content marketing process
First off, here’s hoping you have a defined content marketing process as it really does make content creation a whole lot easier! But, if you don’t, here are some tips to help get more from your content marketing investment.
Step 1: Review your current content
Look at what you’ve already produced to review your current approach. Start with a list of your website pages and blog posts to see the topics you have covered and identify any gaps (Screaming Frog is a great tool for this). It’s also a good idea to examine how well each piece of content has performed via Google Analytics.
Step 2: Develop a targeted strategy
Ask the key questions we’ve discussed above – why, what and who – to understand what you want to achieve from content marketing. This will give you clarity and make it easier to focus on your key content pillars – the 3 – 5 topics areas which should be at the centre of your strategy. It’s also vital to set goals to measure progress.
Step 3: Create a plan of action
Harness the info you’ve drawn from your content audit and strategy development to map out how you’ll deliver your content. Think about the platforms you’ll use, the types of content you’ll harness and how frequently you’ll publish content. Make sure you track analytics so you can adjust your content plan as you go.
Step 4: Start writing your content
With an overarching strategy in one hand and a detailed plan in the other, you’re all set to get started on creating targeted content. You know the why, what, who, how, where and when. It’s time to leverage those valuable insights to create content that will provide value to your audience and inspire them to take action.
Level up your content marketing with Double Scoop
If you’re still confused about content strategy v content plan, don’t stress – because we’re here to help!
Double Scoop offers a complete content marketing roadmap that takes you on a 4-step journey. Starting with an audit of your existing content, we use these insights to develop a strategy to guide your efforts.
Once we know where you’re headed, we’ll create a plan to get you to your content goal, identifying the best approach to share your content with the world. We can even write your content for you to bring your content marketing full circle.
Sounds good? Get in touch so we can get to know each other and start the ball rolling.