Content Strategy vs. Content Marketing: How to Get Buy-in From Decision Makers

by Michael Riley

Many people mistakenly use the phrases Content Strategy and Content Marketing interchangeably. These two areas of business are actually separate, and require different skills and practices. It’s crucial to understand the differences between the two, and how when combined together they will each drive business growth.

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Key to Effective Workplaces is Focus, NOT Collaboration


I’ve written a lot about workplace collaboration and showed many offices that put collaboration at the forefront of their goals. While I don’t think designing for collaboration is inherently a bad thing, it seems that it isn’t always wonderful.

According to an interesting whitepaper by Gensler, the most significant factor in workplace effectiveness is not collaboration, but rather individual focus work. It also happens to be that focus is measured as the least supported workplace activity.

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Look. Listen.


Have you ever had a waiter get your order completely wrong? This frustrating scenario easily can be applied to today’s fast-paced, app-obsessed businesses. Time after time, we see products and services that customers didn’t want or need. It’s a waste of time, resources, and money.

The trick to overcoming this is pretty simple: stop insisting that your business tell people what they want or need.

Instead, observe your customers’ daily lives, ask them what their biggest challenges are, and find out what they dream about. Get to know your customers like they’re your friends. Then, and only then, can you really find out what they want or need.

Want to know your customers more? Here are two well-established resources you can actually use:

Stop Talking So Much


Most of us believe that the more we use words, the more we’ll be understood. It’s communication, right? And we’re always told to over-communicate because repeating using lot of words helps you to be understood. Here’s the problem: At some point, people stop listening.

I’m not talking about those critical things that businesses communicate internally, such as a change in strategy or business model. Those really do need to be heard several times before most of us get it. I’m referring to content that is ultimately consumed by your target audience. Websites, newsletters, print materials, and the lot.

If you think your audience is going to stick around and read a wall of grey text because you think it’s so gosh darn INFORMATIVE, then you’re doing it all wrong. Let me share a few mind-blowing statistics that will change your mind:

  • 48% of a website’s words are read when they’re 111 words or less.
  • 17% of people spend 4 seconds or less on websites. 4% spend 10 minutes.
  • Our overall attention span was a paltry 8 seconds in 2013, down from 12 seconds in 2000. For comparison, a goldfish can last 9.

So what should you do with these statistics? Stop talking so much. Stop thinking that the more words you throw at your audience, the more they’ll listen.

What you need is the right content, boiled down and condensed to it’s thick goopy goodness. Hire a talented content professional who can tease out that solid message, who can break up your walls of grey text into easily digestible bits of information. Your audience, and their attention spans, will love you for it.

3 Ways to Get Content and Design to Collaborate


I’ve worked with more than a dozen designers, both visual and interactive, over the past 20 years. These relationships haven’t always been of the simpatico kind, which is a real shame. If anyone should be joined at the hip at work, it’s the content person and the designer.

When these two disciplines effectively collaborate, they’re unstoppable. When they don’t, it’s like watching two whiny toddlers wrestle over a sippy cup. No one wins, including your business.

Let’s explore three simple but effective things you can do to facilitate a great working relationship for your UX pros.

1. Play matchmaker

When it comes to building a high-performing UX team, leaders should focus on personality fit just as much as they do skills. If you’re lucky enough to have a pool of content designers and visual/interactive designers to choose from, you’ll need to sharpen your matchmaking abilities.

Pair people together who compliment and challenge one another effectively. They don’t just have to produce results, but results that solve a real customer problem, are innovative, and surpass or meet business expectations. You can only get these results if you have people who respect one another enough to push each other’s boundaries and thinking effectively together.

Here are a few great pairings:

  • Doers and thinkers: You’ll keep the doers from moving too quickly, but push the thinkers into action.
  • Strategists and tacticians: You’ll have someone who’s looking at the big picture, while the other who’s focused on the steps it’ll take to get there.
  • Artisans and experimenters: These two will strike a great balance between “good enough” and “pixel perfect.”

2. Keep their focus

Just like any other discipline on your teams, UX needs to know what they’re doing, why, and what are the expected outcomes. That’s easy enough.

The real challenge comes when they produce an experience that doesn’t follow any of those guidelines and goals. This can be baffling for managers and leaders, but it’s really quite easy once you get to the heart of what makes UX tick.

Creative thinking is at the heart of what they do.

These people are trained to think creatively. They get their energy and passion by thinking creatively. They are hired and paid to think creatively. And sometimes as a result, creativity in itself can become more important than strategy and outcomes. Thus, they produce work that is fulfilling to them, but not to your business.

So what are you to do? Keep them laser focused. I have a few simple ideas that really work. To keep your time and sanity in check, a project or program manager can implement these for you (although I recommend that you’re present for work reviews):

  • Create a constant reminder: Post the project goals for everyone to see and begin every meeting with this summary. Every person on your team should hear these goals so often that they can recite them in their sleep. It’s hard to deviate from strategy when it’s repeated day after day.
  • Have frequent and public reviews: Establish project share-out timelines where all work is reviewed, allowing ample time to course-correct. And post the project’s progress on a massive wall for everyone to see. You’d be surprised how quickly a project gets back on track when it’s shared publicly.
  • Hold them accountable for outcomes: Annual goals, reviews, and bonuses can help employees understand the connection between what they do and how they are rewarded. Frank and frequent conversations about how well their doing can help you avoid any unpleasant surprises.

3. Enforce cooperation and collaboration

I’ve witnessed too many interaction designers develop a complete experience all by themselves, and then ask content folks to ‘fill in the gaps.’ If this behavior is left unchecked, you’re looking at many, many dire consequences. The biggest one being that you’ll get one narrow solution. And when content designers are reduced to a proofreader level, you’re leaving a huge gap in resource efficiencies.

Here are a few things you can do to facilitate a great working relationship:

  • Set expectations early: Without telling them how to do it, let them know that you expect their relationship to be mutual respectful and productive.
  • Get them happy together: Physically move them so they’re sitting side by side. Ideally, all UX in your group should sit together and share a collaborative space.
  • Hear both sides of the story: Ask them to give joint presentations during reviews. If one of them is doing all the talking, you may have a steamroller on your hands.