What Is 'Content Strategy,' Anyway?

Every time someone asks me what I do, I feel like it takes way too long to explain. I am always reminded of Chandler Bing, the Friends character whose job was indecipherable to his social group. (Say it with me: "He's a transponster!" "THAT'S NOT EVEN A WORD!")

Then, take into account that the most recent person to ask me what I do happens to be a fairly precocious 9-year-old boy. My answer was, "Well, I write articles, like you'd read in a magazine, and I write websites and other things for companies. And sometimes I edit things that other people write, so they're easy to read and don't have mistakes. And I come up with the plans for websites, like an architect, so everybody on the team that creates the site follows the same directions to start with." His follow-up question? "Why does someone need to do that stuff?"

That, of course, is the question that both pierces my heart (or, more likely, my ego) and makes me consider thunking my head against the nearest hard surface on a regular basis. 

The fact is, if I practice my craft well, you'll never notice it's been practiced at all. When you read an expert writer's work, you only notice the information you're learning or the images your brain is extrapolating from the language. When you read a well-edited piece of writing, the same is true. And when you visit a website built on a solid content strategy, or experience an integrated communications program (web, print, social, etc.) driven by an artful content strategy, you only see what the sponsor of the site or the program wants you to see, so you're more likely to take the actions they want you to take.

Content strategy is a blend of architecture, engineering, and artistry. It mixes behavioral analysis, functional knowledge, and editorial skill into a plan to give the audience exactly what they're seeking, so they'll reward the sponsor with loyalty and patronage. If that sounds mercenary ... well, it is. No more so than a magazine editor determining the subjects of articles based on the ability to match them up with advertisers' products, but still, it's based in manipulation and can be used for good or ill.

Perhaps it's my journalism training, but I prefer to stay on the side of good whenever possible. As much as I like to write articles about things that matter, I also like to develop content strategies that add context and heart to promising ventures. A personal security device for use on college campuses. A minor league hockey team in a passionate little city. A global tech giant performing groundbreaking research and collaboration in healthcare. Where there's a story, there's a strategy.

So what do I do? I bridge the gap between what someone wants to say and what someone needs to hear, spanning the rushing noise of the world to connect the two. I take in lots of information, twist it, turn it, and give you back balloon animals made of words and pictures.