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What’s the Difference Between Content Strategy vs Content Marketing

11 min read

Content marketing and content strategy are often considered synonymous. But there’s a clear split. In fact, Content Marketing Institute’s Robert Rose wrote that they were separate but connected way back in 2013. 

Still, confusion abounds. Worse, senior management doesn’t always understand the distinctions – so in some companies a content manager is expected to do both strategy and content marketing. 

The goal in this piece is to explore content strategy vs content marketing so you can set goals and objectives with management and stakeholders. A side benefit is you can see where your skills really line up – and chart a career growth path for yourself. 

Comparing Content Marketing vs Content Strategy

First, let’s explore the relationship and differences between these two areas. They’re parts of each other, and part of the same greater whole. BUT, just like the cheese, meat, or bread alone don’t make a sandwich, content marketing isn’t strategy, and strategy isn’t specifically marketing. Let’s break it down.

Content strategy is an organization-wide approach to content creation. The presumption is that content, of any kind, is a business asset. As Kristina Halverson, founder and CEO of Brain Traffic, says, the content strategist guides the creation, distribution, and governance of all content within the organization. ​​

The content strategy encompasses thinking in terms of “how” content will be used when addressing different target audiences. Do you need different content types if it is for a prospect vs a customer? Or an investor vs a recruit? When will you use video? How important will a company blog be? Should assets be gated or ungated? Should all emails – regardless of audience, be from an individual? If people move between channels, are brand guidelines met? What do you do with existing content that is no longer relevant? 

The content strategist is thinking through what makes great content to address overall business goals. The strategy forms a guide for any content creator through content lifecycles and governance. 

Content marketing is a marketing-specific function. The content marketer comes up with content tactics to meet specific marketing objectives. Examples of different tactics include:  

  • Blog posts and long-form articles that drive organic traffic
  • Ebooks that can be used in digital marketing campaigns
  • Email marketing for lead generation
  • Social media posts for brand awareness and lead generation
  • Bylined articles for media placement
  • Guest blog posts for to facilitate influencers or improve partner relations

The goals of content marketing tend to be narrower and more specific — smaller pieces of the larger overall organizational goals. Simply put, it’s the use of content for marketing purposes (and hopefully part of, and aligned with an overarching strategy) — content created for targeted audiences aiming at specific goals. 

If the content strategist determines the organizational blog is critical to meeting overall business goals, it’s on the content marketer to create a content calendar. 

You can see how content strategy informs content marketing. 

What are the main components of content strategy and content marketing?

Now that we’ve looked at a high-level comparison of the two practices, let’s break things down further and dig into the components of each to more deeply understand how they’re related and why they are distinctly different.

The components of content marketing vs content strategy

For content marketing, the basic process includes:

  1. Plan and Create the content assets
  2. Distribute to the intended audience across appropriate and desired channels
  3. Promote to your audience via social media, paid ads, etc.
  4. Measure engagement 

The process of content marketing is very targeted. Effective content marketing requires both creative skills and a functional understanding of content distribution, promotion, and engagement with customers. Being able to leverage selected channels to their maximum potential is truly a skill‌.

In comparison, the components of a content strategy are more numerous and encompass the entire content lifecycle. These include:

  1. Define your customer personas, brand voice, and messaging, content goals, and target KPIs
  2. Research, including SEO keyword research, and optimal formats, and channels
  3. Develop a content calendar and content assets
  4. Analyze the results of campaigns 
  5. Optimize based on data and feedback to continue to iteratively improve your strategy and content

While we list this process as linear, in truth, it’s a continuous process and cycle — the results of the analysis flow back in to allow for refinement and tuning of the strategic model. 

Nuances to Content Strategy and Content Marketing 

As a marketer, you need to get information about your product, service, brand, etc out in front of potential customers. Content marketing is the vehicle to make that happen. It’s important not only because it can make customers aware of you, but also allows for direct engagement and relationship-building. And this is key to building reputation, trust, and ultimately, customer loyalty.

But like any business asset, content can start to pile up over time. Content strategy is important not only to create cohesion across all of your content, but also to manage it all as it grows and evolves in an effective way. It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that content strategy only addresses how marketing uses content, but that is demonstrably untrue! 

Content strategy allows the organization to treat content like a business asset and utilize it across all pillars and avoid “siloing”. How frustrating is it when you go to collaborate with another department only to learn that the left hand has no clue what the right hand is doing?!

Content strategy, and ultimately content governance, allows the assets to be shared across the business but created, used, and managed in a structured way — whether it’s coming from the newsroom, the sales team, or even C-suite executives. An effective strategy allows for preservation of its key components no matter where or how the content is being used. 

Content Goals vs Content Marketing Goals

Let’s dig in a bit deeper to understand how and why the goals for content strategy vs content marketing are often related, but distinctly different.

As I mentioned, content strategy sits at the organizational level — and thus is tied to overarching organizational goals. Think BIG picture, here. Just as a note, if you find yourself being a 30-thousand-foot view kind of thinker, then this is likely your happy place! The questions being asked at this level are directly tied to business trajectory and span all lines of business and market segments.

On the other hand, content marketing goals are far more targeted. These goals are tied to specific (and hopefully measurable) outcomes, such as a 5% increase in overall sales or a 20% increase in website traffic. If the organizational goal was to cross a river, then content marketing goals would be stepping stones that help pave the way. If you are a down-in-the-trenches doer or love creative, imaginative thinking, then content marketing is likely where your skills will shine the most.

In smaller companies, you may find you are navigating both roles. It isn’t easy to do that. If you are a content marketer, operating without a content strategist, you’ll need to fill those shoes, before you can develop your content marketing plan.  

Here are some key questions and considerations you should be considering when building your content strategy:

  • What is the current business trajectory? (new business, land and expand, reduce customer churn, decrease 
  • What are our long-term goals? KPIs?
  • How do we want to sound or be perceived?
  • Who are our customers — what are their challenges, wants/desires, what do they need? How do they shop? What information is useful to them?
  • How do we want to position ourselves in the market?

And conversely, here are the key considerations for content marketing:

  • What are our short-term goals?
  • What is the goal for this specific campaign?
  • What channels do we want to utilize in this campaign?
  • What kinds of content does our audience want/need? What are they most likely to engage with?

Content Strategy vs Content Marketing Tools and Technologies 

While content strategy and content marketing sit at different levels in your organization, there are some tools in the tech stack that will directly influence both, especially when it comes to gathering and analyzing data. There are hundreds of tools on the market, and what stack you use will often depend on your organization’s size and maturity. Let’s look at some types of tools (with examples) and assess how they are leveraged at the strategy vs campaign level.

Content creation and management tools

The first category we’ll look at are tools for creating and managing content. This can range from graphic design tools and platforms (e.g. Adobe Creative Cloud and Canva), Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress, to collaboration (e.g. Google docs, MS Teams), and project management tools (e.g. Trello, Asana). 

While most of these types of tools will be most used in content marketing, content strategy will inform the lifecycle and governance of content assets — including when assets should be updated or retired. 

Content distribution and promotion tools

This next group are tools used to distribute your content to intended channels and funnel your potential audience to it. What formats and channels you use will be heavily influenced by your customer personas, as defined in your content strategy, as well as any existing data and feedback you have collected. Your content marketing team will then leverage the appropriate tools to engage with your target audience. 

Content distribution and promotion tools will vary depending on your channels, including email, social media, or audio/video. Your tool choices should consider what levels of segmentation and automation you want. Tools like MailChimp and Constant Contact for email marketing, Hootsuite and SproutSocial for social media; and any number of various hosting and distribution platforms for videos and podcasts.

Content analytics and optimization tools

As we’ve repeatedly demonstrated, data informs every aspect of strategy and execution — it allows us to see how well content is performing in the wild (e.g. views, engagement) as well as whether it’s helping meet its intended goals (e.g. conversions). Your content strategy will ingest this data to better define and understand your customers  — who they are, how to find them, and what they find truly useful. This in turn will influence your content marketing campaigns — what content you create and where/how you distribute it. 

These tools include SEO research tools like MarketMuse, SEMrush, and Moz; web analytics tools like Google Analytics, as well as social media analytics — often from some of the same tools used to distribute content, like SproutSocial, or directly via platforms like Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), etc.

Best practices for integrating content strategy and content marketing

Now that we really understand the difference between content strategy vs content marketing, let’s look at how they work together and the best practices for integrating them. 


Firstly, your strategy should reflect your overall business goals. Each content marketing campaign should serve to achieve those goals.


Your content strategy helps you define who your likely customers are, their unique challenges, and should also shine a light on what content channels they’re most likely to engage with. Your content marketing needs to understand these personas and use segmentation and the appropriate channels to connect effectively.


Your strategy will help you define your brand voice and overall messaging, including value propositions and competitive differentiators. All of your content marketing assets should remain aligned with your brand voice to maintain consistency across content types and channels. Your content will also draw on strategic elements to understand what will be most relevant and valuable to your intended audience to maintain content quality. 

Feedback and Optimization

Your content strategy should always be responding to data you collect to more effectively work towards your goals. The evolution of the content strategy will in turn influence your content marketing — the content itself as well as distribution channels should adjust accordingly.

In short, your content marketing will always be looking upwards to your overarching content strategy to define and refine campaigns that help your organization produce high-quality content that helps meet organizational goals. 

A content strategy, then, is an organization-wide approach to content creation. It shouldn’t live in isolation, buried in marketing. It’s dictated by organizational goals, objectives, and resources. The right content for the wrong purpose won’t drive consistent results. Further, a strategy should incorporate a service level agreement (SLA) across departments. To succeed, you need to have ‌buy-in from different groups and subject matter experts across the organization.

Whether you are a high-level thinker (strategist) or a creative “doer” (marketer), you now have the information you need to understand the differences and relationship between content strategy vs content marketing. Using the tools and best practices discussed above, you can maintain a deep alignment of your content assets with the strategy that governs them. 

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Diane Burley has three decades experience creating high-impact content at scale. As a published author and seasoned technologist, she translates complex concepts into clear, engaging messaging that connects with audiences. She can help you build a content factory that drives results.