What Is Content Strategy? Understanding the Blueprint for Digital Success

What is content strategy? Discover our guide that will help you develop a solid understanding and learn how effective content strategy is the key to moving your business forward.

If you’re working to develop a digital content strategy, you’re likely overwhelmed, confused, and unsure of where to start. In today’s world of constantly changing social media platforms, algorithms, and search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, it can take time to figure out how to move forward with creating great content that stands out in the vast sea of content readily available to all consumers. 

From making your audience aware of your brand to developing valuable content that helps your customers feel like a part of your community, a solid content strategy plan is key to reaching the people who matter most to your business. Here, we’ll explore everything you need to know about developing your company’s content strategy, from defining your target market to utilizing key performance indicators (KPIs) to determining whether your strategy is moving your company in the right direction. Read our round-up of the best AI content marketing tools to help you build your content strategy.

Definition of Content Strategy

According to the Nielsen Norman Group, “A content strategy is the ongoing practice of planning to create, deliver, and govern practical, usable, and compelling content about a particular topic or set of issues.” Many people confuse content marketing and content strategy. Simply put, content marketing is creating content that doesn’t explicitly promote the brand but encourages interest in the brand and builds a relationship with a target audience.

Content strategy is the action plan to create excellent content marketing pieces. This could include online materials, including social media posts, videos, direct email, infographics, and eBooks. Excellent content will inspire the audience and encourage conversions about the brand, taking your audience from potential consumers to loyal customers and supporters.

Defining and understanding your target audience demographics is an important first step toward creating an excellent content strategy. Many content marketers find that developing customer avatars–fictional representations of members of their target market–can help to establish a brand voice that speaks to their audience. Creating avatars can also help you understand the pain points experienced by your target market, learn where they hang out on social media, and understand the types of content that are most likely to speak to them.

Why is Content Strategy Important?

The advertising and marketing world has changed significantly over the past few decades. The advertising strategies that worked in years past are no longer relevant to today’s digital world. According to Demand Metric, 78% of chief marketing officers believe that custom content- content created for a specific consumer- is the future of marketing—90% of organizations market with digital content. Content marketing makes financial sense, as digital marketing campaigns cost 62% less than traditional marketing techniques.

Businesses aren’t the only ones buying into the importance of content strategy; customers also believe in its power. 68% of consumers read about brands that are significant to them, and one out of every five minutes consumers spend online is spent consuming content. When a business has a solid content strategy, it’s better able to create a positive user experience (UX) for its potential and actual customers. 

Utilizing tools to develop a good content strategy ensures that the user gets what they need through every step of their experience with the product or brand. When you understand your customers’ needs, you can create a user experience that provides customers with the right information at the right time, allowing for a seamless transition from potential customer to brand enthusiast.

Key Components of a Content Strategy

What is content strategy?
A key component of effective content strategy is understanding who you’re trying to reach, the message you want to convey, and what will draw them to your content

Feeling overwhelmed by the idea of developing a content strategy for your company? You’re not alone. Suppose you’re new to the concept of intentional digital advertising and marketing. In that case, it’s wise to take a step-by-step approach to developing a content strategy that makes sense for your business. 

Purpose and Goals

Understanding your company’s purpose is necessary before developing your content strategy goals. Honing in on your company’s mission statement (or developing one) is an important first step to guide your content strategy and development. Whether you’re working to provide top-notch service, groundbreaking products, or a certain type of lifestyle, it’s important to keep your company’s purpose at the core of all of your marketing and advertising work. 

With your company’s purpose in mind, you can begin the goal development process. Developing SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound can help you ensure you’re moving toward fulfilling your company’s purpose. After creating your SMART goals for your content strategy, you can break your desired results into actionable steps. 

Audience Analysis

A key component of effective content strategy is understanding who you’re trying to reach, the message you want to convey, and what will draw them to your content. Before getting started, consider whether your target market has brand awareness surrounding your company or if you’re presenting them with a new concept. When you become aware of the importance of determining a target market in advertising, you likely begin to notice real-life examples of differentiation between brands that offer similar products but work to appeal to different demographics. 

For example, Nike and Under Armour both offer high-quality athletic clothing. Nike is the more well-known of the two brands and works to appeal to men, women, and children, with a target age demographic of 11 to 55. Under Armour, on the other hand, targets a primarily male audience between 18 and 25. Nike also targets high earners, while Under Armour targets those who are just getting started in their careers. 

Steps to Identify Your Target Audience

Steps to identify your target audience
After you’ve solidified your target audience, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty of what a day in the life of your typical customer might entail

Step 1: Conduct Target Customer Research

You’ll need to get to know your target market before you figure out how to reach them. Some questions that you can ask to help you determine your target market include: 

  • What’s the age range of your target audience?
  • Where do the people in your target audience tend to live?
  • What lines of work are most common within your target market? 
  • What’s your target market’s average annual household income?
  • What social media platforms are people in your target demographic most likely to use?
  • What do the people in your target market value?
  • What pain point does your product or service solve for your target market?
  • How does your target market spend their free time?

Step 2: Analyze the Market

After you’ve begun collecting data on your target market, it’s time to learn whether the people you’d like to convert are interested in what your company offers. At this stage of the content strategy process, you may need to return to the drawing board a few times. The people in your target demographic aren’t willing to pay what you’re charging for your product, necessitating a change in either your target market or the price point of your product.

You may find that your product appeals to a different age range than you originally anticipated or solves a problem you had yet to consider during the research and development process. As you learn more about your target market, be sure to analyze and listen to the data as it is–don’t try to manipulate data to make it support your original thoughts about your target market.

Step 3: Define the Audience

After you’ve solidified your target audience, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty of what a day in the life of your typical customer might entail. Typically, understanding your target market requires the creation of avatars that are real-seeming potential customers who represent a portion of your demographic. The more detail you can include in developing your customer avatars, or buyer personas, the better.

Looking at these examples, including names, photos, and descriptions of pain points and challenges, can help you understand the real needs of the people your customer avatars represent. Your market and audience may change over time, and you’ll need to revisit and update your customer avatars regularly to stay accurate with the demographic you’re working to reach.

Content Audit

Your content must keep up as your business and marketing know-how grow and develop. Auditing the content available to potential customers is vital to ensure your company uses a consistent voice on all platforms. A content audit typically entails reading your company’s current content to discover whether it aligns with your current messaging.

When going through a content audit, you must have your branding guidelines on hand. Delete or edit posts that don’t fit with your current brand tone or messaging. Regular content audits allow your team to ensure your customers receive consistent messaging from your company, no matter where they get their content. 

Content Types, Content Creation, and Workflow

Once you have a sense of what type of content is and isn’t working for your target audience, your brand will need to decide the type(s) of content you’d like to include in your strategy. Blog posts, infographics, articles, social media posts and stories, and videos can all be useful types of content, depending on the type of information your ideal customer prefers. Once you know who you’re working to reach and the message you want to send, it’s time to set up a schedule for content writing. 

If you’re working with a content creation agency, you’ll want to work closely with them to discuss what posting schedule makes the most sense for your company. Meeting with your content creation agency regularly allows you to ensure that you’re all making progress toward a common goal: getting the right content in front of the right people.

Talk periodically about whether your content schedule continues to make sense for your company based on new metrics. Paid advertising on social media networks can boost your content, and understanding the best way to reach your target market is important to help you make the most out of your marketing budget.

Measurement and Analysis

As you implement your content strategy, you must regularly check your key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure you’re moving toward your marketing goals. Quantifiable measures of your content strategy’s success are vital to helping you and your team continue to make decisions that move you forward. A few KPIs you’ll want to consider: 

  • Landing page conversion rate 
  • Sales close rate
  • Cost per click
  • Return on ad spend
  • Click-through rate
  • Google’s quality score

The Role of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in Content Strategy

The more eyes you have on your content, the more conversions you can make, and SEO helps ensure your media is getting in front of the people who matter most to your business

Search engine optimization is an essential component of any content strategy. SEO helps to boost the likelihood that your content will pop up toward the top of your target market’s search results. To best use keyword research, you must understand the intent behind your target market’s search patterns. Talking to your target market and understanding their pain points can help.

SEO best practices change regularly, and you’ll want to make sure you update your content to reflect trends in SEO to ensure maximum visibility with your target market. The more eyes you have on your content, the more conversions you can make, and SEO helps ensure your media is getting in front of the people who matter most to your business.

Challenges in Crafting a Content Strategy

It can take some time to nail your brand’s content strategy. Even if you’ve focused on digital content for quite some time, the ever-changing digital landscape means that you’ll need to continually learn what good content looks like in the context of the evolving needs of your ideal customer. Common content strategy problems include: 

  • Failing to utilize target market feedback
  • Ignoring KPIs
  • Focusing on flashy content without considering conversion rates
  • Valuing quantity over quality, especially in social media posts and email marketing campaigns

Overcoming these pitfalls can be hard work, but focusing on performance metrics can help you continue to move forward. Openness to adjustment is key. When your team has developed a content strategy, it can be tempting to stick to the plan no matter what. However, if you learn that a certain part of your content strategy is not working well, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. 

Nailing the ideal content formats for your target market, regularly reevaluating your content goals, and working with content strategists when you get stuck can all help you continuously move forward. Often, when you’re struggling to get the conversion rates you want, a few simple tweaks to your plan can help you get back on track. Trends in successful content strategy planning can be unpredictable, and it’s normal for your content strategy to be a constant work in progress.

Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing vs. Content Plan

Content Marketing
Your content marketing plan involves the research that helps you develop your content calendar and plan

When creating your company’s content strategy, it’s essential to differentiate between content strategy, content marketing, and content plan. While the terms are all related, they refer to different parts of the content strategy development process. 

  • Content strategy: This is the “why” behind your digital marketing process. A good content strategy plan will provide the blueprint that will push your business forward.
  • Content marketing: This is the “how” portion of your content strategy. Your content marketing plan involves the research that helps you develop your content calendar and plan.
  • Content plan: A key component of your content strategy, your content plan dictates what you’ll post, where you’ll post, and when you’ll post; consider it as the “what” of your content strategy. Your content plan can be flexible and can change in response to your customers’ needs. New, engaging content ideas will grow and develop as a part of your content plan.

Developing a Robust Content Strategy

Creating a high-level content strategy can help you meet your business goals and boost your bottom line. Patience is key when your team is going through the content strategy development process, as you may need to take a step back at times, returning to the basics as you learn more about your target market and get data on content performance. Steps to creating a high-performing content strategy include: 

  • Set clear objectives: As mentioned, setting SMART goals for your content strategy is an important initial step in the content strategy development process.
  • Conduct thorough research: You need to know what you’re up against to develop a plan to move forward. Research the market, your audience, and the competition to understand what you need to do to stand out.
  • Create a content calendar: Planning your content for a few weeks is important for keeping your social media up-to-date. Don’t plan too far in advance. However, it’s important to regularly research current content marketing trends to ensure your post frequency aligns with ever-changing best practices.
  • Allocate resources: As we discussed, digital marketing saves money. You’ll need to plan your budget to include your marketing and insight tools, team member salaries, and any outsourcing you’re including as a part of your content strategy. 
  • Implement, monitor, and adjust: As you put your content strategy to work; you’ll need to use KPIs to adapt your approach continually. As with most marketing trends, change is the only constant you can count on. It’s important to be open to adjustment.

The Future of Content Strategy

Adaptability is everything in keeping up with ever-changing content strategy trends. Today’s consumers are using new tech like voice search optimization to find the information they need. Many content marketing strategists use AI to generate text, which can save time but often lowers the quality of the content delivered to the potential consumer. It’s wise to constantly look at your content strategy plan as a temporary overview of what’s working, knowing that you’ll need to revisit and update your plan to maximize effectiveness regularly. Check out our round-up of the best content writing courses.

Real-World Examples of Successful Content Strategies

Red Bull: Selling an Experience

The catchphrase Red Bull gives you wings is known worldwide for good reason. The energy drink company doesn’t just sell a beverage; they’re also working to sell an adventurous spirit that helps customers feel that the world is their oyster. The company’s partnerships with social and sporting events (and their social media content detailing these events) help them reach their target market.

Patagonia: Creating a Sustainable Future

The outdoor clothing company placed an ad in the New York Times on Black Friday over a decade ago discouraging customers from buying their products (yep, you read that correctly!). The ad solidified Patagonia as a company that put the environment first. It sparked online conversations that became an effective content marketing campaign among their target market about how Patagonia gear could help them enjoy and save nature.

American Express: Curating a Community

Geared toward customers interested in building lasting businesses, American Express has successfully created communities where their customers can learn from one another. The company works to fund small businesses and help business owners connect and learn from one another.

What is content optimization? Read our guide to find out!

Further Reading

Ready to learn more about developing a solid content strategy plan for your business? Check out these resources. 

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  • Amanda has an M.S.Ed degree from the University of Pennsylvania in School and Mental Health Counseling and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. She has experience writing magazine articles, newspaper articles, SEO-friendly web copy, and blog posts.