Jewel Marketing
Taiwan Content Marketing

The Nine Types of Content Strategy

By Jason Patterson

Founder of Jewel Content Marketing Agency
Less than half of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy in place. And even among those that do, many don't really have a content strategy. They have a plan, framework, or calendar they think is one, or have labeled as one.

Content strategy is a misunderstood discipline. Perhaps even more misunderstood than content marketing. Why? Because all content marketing is marketing related. While content strategy might not involve marketing at all.

And while there are a few different lenses through which content marketing can be viewed, there are nine different types of content strategy, with those nine types divided into two different categories.

So What's a Content Strategy, Anyway?

A content strategy is a plan, a plan to lure a prospect, customer, or user along a path or journey using pieces of content, in a manner similar to leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.

And while content strategy is integral to a formal and organized content marketing program, not all content strategy works like this.

Content strategy leads someone along a path using content. That path might be through the marketing funnel or buyer's journey, or it might not. A chatbot script on a government website can also follow a content strategy. So can a questionnaire on an online learning site. A lot of things can.

Content Strategy Journeys Have Two Categories

The nine types of content strategy fit into two categories, based on what the user/customer journey looks like and how it works.

Linear Content Strategies

This category of content strategy has at least one clear and definite endpoint. A goal that is meant to be reached or achieved, with certain stages or a certain sequence passed through along the way (though reality may not perfectly follow this order).

As the name implies, if you sketch out the intended path, you'll see a line. Perhaps not a straight line, but a line, with a start and a finish, formed by a trail of content breadcrumbs.

And there doesn't have to be a single trail or a single endpoint. There may be more than one of both. But the important point to remember is that the content journey has an end.

Orbital Content Strategies

This type of content strategy has no endpoint. It's about keeping your user or customer "orbiting" you, consuming your content.

There may be purchases or other direct interactions you want to happen along the way (such as renewing your Netflix subscription or providing a thumbs up or thumbs down for one of their programs), but there's no exact intended path or paths to follow. And no intended stages either.

Instead of a single trail of breadcrumbs, or a few trails, the user or customer is in a field of breadcrumbs, gobbling them up in a somewhat random pattern, but still always moving "forward" in a manner akin to a scrolling video game.

Imagine a video game protagonist orbiting in the rings of Saturn, consuming the many little pieces of ice and rock that comprise the rings, shifting laterally to consume the individual pieces, but always moving "forward" and you've got the idea.

So what are the goals of orbital content strategy? Well, besides the occasional subscription renewal I mentioned earlier, another goal might be to pull the audience into what might be considered a tighter and tighter orbit, with interactions with your brand and its content increasing as the orbit tightens.

Engagement is the most direct KPI this can be expressed as, but there are other things you might look at, like brand affinity, mindshare, distinction, advocacy, etc.

And before we go any further, there's an important point to note about content strategy. While it is a planned journey, and while content pieces will link directly together on certain types of journeys (like in chatbot scripts), it is not required that they do so.

Think back to the Netflix example. At the end of a movie, they offer more movies or programs for you to watch next, but there's no law saying you have to choose one, and I don't think they would consider it a failure if you choose something else, or turn Netflix off for a while.

As long as you keep resubscribing and coming back to watch, I imagine it's all good.

Meet the Nine Types of Content Strategy

Content strategies are not mutually exclusive. A brand or organization may have several in place at once for different journeys, or even different stages of the same journey, and they may have overlap.

1. Funnel-Based Strategy (Linear)

This is exactly what it sounds like. The journey in question is a linear one down the marketing funnel. It could be the content marketing funnel model Jewel advocates, but other organizations use other models.

In any case, the journey starts at the top (which we call "awareness"), moves down through the middle (which we term "consideration") and ends at the bottom, either as a lead or a purchase.

Of course, the journey doesn't always happen this way. Sometimes your awareness content is skipped (i.e., the prospect already knows what the problem is and doesn't need your education). Sometimes your consideration content is skipped by gating awareness content (though this is not always advisable). But a full journey down the funnel is planned with content, nonetheless.

And before you ask, yes, after a prospect makes a purchase, assuming you're still in touch with them and they're receiving your newsletter or something similar, they do move to the awareness stage again, but this is not a orbital content journey.

As stated earlier, an orbital content journey has no distinct stages, and has a more indistinct path.

2. UX Content Strategy (Linear)

User experience (UX) strategy is in some ways the purest form of content strategy. Because you plan a user journey, step by step, with every content piece linking together in "if this, then that" branching paths until an endpoint (of which there may be several) is reached, with this journey often experienced as a chatbot conversation, questionnaire, product selector, e-commerce journey, or series of emails.

Some might not consider something as simple as a series of questions and answers to be content, but I don't make the rules.

3. Website Content Strategy (Linear)

Web content strategy is somewhat like UX strategy in how it typically focuses on what many refer to as a user journey. But there are also plenty of differences.

One, UX need not be confined to a website (i.e., the user journey might start on social media or some other external point). Two, the website journey often isn't branching like a UX journey. And three, website content strategy can have a lot more destinations.

In some ways, a web content strategist is like an old-fashioned telephone switchboard operator. Their job is to get different users where they need to go. They make content and pages easy to find for users or customers (and easy to keep organized in the back end).

And such a content strategy might be employed on a website with a lot of webpages or a lot of written content (like a newspaper).

4. Intelligent Content Strategy (Linear)

Intelligent content strategy (aka content architecture or back-end content strategy) tries to create a personalized or at least customized user experience or customer journey. In the past this was done through modularized content, mixed and matched under the guidance of AI, though in the future AI may eliminate the need for modules by generating the content entirely.

Intelligent content strategy is similar to UX strategy in that it tries to create a very "tight" content journey that sticks closely to the user. But the difference is, what you see when following UX strategy boils down to choices made along the way, while intelligent content strategy is dictated more by who you are (or at least who the CRM system thinks you are).

Put another way, UX strategy is like a regular hedge maze, while content architecture is more like one of those magic hedge mazes that changes shape dynamically based on your origin story.

Intelligent content strategy is the future. Or at least it's the future many marketers want (and are telling us we should want). Though I remain skeptical as to whether AI can ever truly personalize with a sufficiently high batting average for its efforts to never be clumsy, impersonal, or annoying.

5. SEO Content Strategy (Linear)

With SEO content strategy, you type a keyword or query into a search engine, click something that looks promising in the resulting search engine results page (SERP), read the article or webpage, and follow a prompt.

The prompt might link to a lead magnet. Or it might lead to a piece of product-related content (probably meant to lead to an eventual purchase).

And please note, if your SEO efforts are to optimize a website for certain keywords and that's it (i.e., you want visitors on your site but you're not really planning what happens next), this is not content strategy.

It is merely an SEO strategy using content. Because the focus of such a strategy is on the website (and elevating its SERP rankings) and not the user (which is one of the reasons why I'm not a big fan of excessive SEO focus with content).

6. Campaign Content Strategy (Linear)

This is content strategy for a digital campaign that has a distinct beginning and end. It might be a series of emails designed to get you to answer a call to action. Or it might be an online campaign promoting a whitepaper that includes social infographics, factoids, native advertising, etc.

Any way you slice it, even though passive awareness might be one goal of such a campaign, what's really wanted is a conversion for what is usually some type of lead magnet. A download, a free trial, etc.

Campaign content strategy works a little differently than most of the others in the sense that you don't always "journey through the content." Rather the content "journeys through you," at least until you convert, at which time the campaign might end (from your point of view) or it might go on.

7. Media Content Strategy (Orbital)

As the name implies, this type of strategy is often employed by publishers, media firms (streamers, newspapers, etc.) and by companies that have a regular day job but are also publishers or media companies (in the ilk of HubSpot or consultancies).

What they all have in common is that the content is the product (at least as far as the content strategy is concerned). It may be free and paid for with advertising or sponsorship, or paid for with subscriptions, or paid for piecemeal. It doesn't matter.

It also doesn't have to be online. It could be in print.

Beyond that, these types of companies generally want consumption and engagement. And they tend to focus on creating lots of opportunities for it, though not always (consultancies are often more scarce).

8. Brand Content Strategy (Orbital)

Brand content strategy creates a somewhat similar user or customer experience as media content strategy, since both tend to involve frequent engagement opportunities and don't have to be strictly online.

But there's a different goal with brand content strategy. The content isn't the product. And the product isn't the "product" either (brand content strategy may talk about the product but it often has no sales and perhaps even no marketing funnel-related KPIs).

With brand content strategy, no product is being sold (at least directly). The goal is to get people thinking about your brand, and thinking what you want them to think about your brand, and talking about what your brand wants them talking about.

And while engagement is a more direct goal, typically you're also doing social listening and other secondary and tertiary measurements.

This type of strategy is typically confined to large organizations, for two reasons. One, the media and content resources required to play this game are considerable. And two, you need to be large enough to have a dedicated brand section of your company to do it right. Otherwise things will be too jurisdictionally thorny with both marketing and media relations involved.

9. Digital/Social Content Strategy (Orbital)

This encompasses an organization's owned digital marketing and media efforts that are external to the website and/or app. Both social media and digital efforts (i.e., non-social digital advertising, non-linear email, and newsletters) might be integrated into such a strategy, or it might just be one or the other.

And while digital and social may be run by different people, they're not significantly different in terms of strategy, which is one of the reasons why I'm lumping them together.

And yet even when they are integrated, each is still different, because for one the orbit runs through social media, and the other runs through wherever someone happens to be online where you can reach them via advertising or email. In other words, the "planet" may have one ring or two.

Beyond what I've just told you, this is the most muddled content strategy category because of a lack of common goals. Reach and some type of engagement are invariably KPIs, as is the act of attracting and keeping people in orbit (i.e., followership or subscribership), but that's about it.

A digital or social strategy may have sales KPIs, marketing KPIs, or neither. It may also have brand KPIs or not. Put another way, brand and digital content strategy may actually be very similar to each other or very different.

Confusing, right? There are a LOT of variables that influence social and digital strategy, making them very hard to understand, even among the initiated, which sucks, but that's how it is.

You've Learned the Content Strategy Types, Now What?

As said back at the start, content strategies often aren't mutually exclusive.

You might have a brand content strategy in place that has overlap with your digital strategy. You might have a marketing funnel strategy overlapping with a digital strategy mostly focused on awareness (i.e., the top of the funnel), with a UX strategy also in place for your chatbot or product selector or cold email.

Or a media company might have a website content strategy in place and a media content strategy for everything off the website.

As to which content strategy or strategies you need and must specifically hire for (you'll want a content strategist with the right type of acumen and/or experience), ask yourself what parts of your content footprint you're serious about. And by "serious" I mean not only do you care that your content is consumed, you want that consumption act serving a goal, or directing the user or customer towards a goal or action.

Remember, content strategy is about planning a journey.

If you're not serious about content, it means you don't really care what the next step is after a piece of content is consumed. Sure, it'd be nice if a reader subscribes or buys from you, but you're not prepared to strain yourself or don't see the value in straining yourself to make it happen.

But if you really care about what happens next (or at least down the road) with your content and are prepared to fight for that next step, you're serious. And you'll need a content strategy.

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