The New 'Sherpa' of Content Marketing: The Content Strategist

Consumers are hungry for engaging content and marketers are creating more content than ever before. In response to this shift, we are seeing an increase in the number of positions dedicated to content creation within both client and agency marketing teams.  And one of the most important positions within these teams is the content strategist. 

For many marketing teams, this is a new position, and with any new position there is often confusion in regards to job responsibilities, roles, deliverables, etc. Given this confusion, I thought it appropriate to add some clarity to the role, laying out the five key areas of focus for today’s content strategist. 

Think like a publisher. First and foremost, content strategists put the customer at the center of everything they do.  They think more like a publisher than a marketer, who too often focuses on short-lived campaigns.  The publisher perspective is important, as it lends itself to a more egalitarian balance between a consumer and marketer’s goals and needs.



Understand the consumer journey from all sides. Content strategists are expert at understanding the consumer’s journey and the informational needs that consumers have at each phase of their journey.  They know which channels and devices their target audience prefers to get this information from.  And they understand how to measure content performance, as it relates to engagement, at each point in the journey.  

Deliver engagement briefs. Traditional communication strategists author creative briefs for the creative team to start the ideation process.  Content strategists, however, deliver an engagement brief, an important distinction.  Consumer engagement is the ultimate goal of any piece of content. Content consumption habits and preferences are highly varied among generations, life stages and cultural backgrounds.  An effective Content Strategist must continually update their understanding of their target audience, especially in today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Balance long- and short-term planning. Content Strategists must balance both long and short-term planning.  They work on long-term strategy by creating content roadmaps and content architectures, which act as a filter for all content creation to ensure that it aligns with a brand's core values and achieves business objectives.  They also help to shape content for short-term campaigns, including seasonal promotions and product launches.  In short, they are a “Sherpa” of sorts for all things relating to content strategy, planning and ideation. 

Never lose sight of the content ecosystem as a whole. Finally, a content strategist understands how to build an effective content ecosystem.  Yes, they create content for specific campaigns and always-on channels, but they never lose sight of the ecosystem as a whole.  They have a meta-view of content within multiple channels, such as social, owned websites, paid media, mobile applications, syndicated content, etc. They know how to look beyond the silo-ed organizational structure that is inherent to most marketing organizations. 

In short, content strategists know how to look at this from the consumer’s perspective.  And it is this perspective that allows them to create a content ecosystem by design and not by default. A great content strategist sets the foundation, organizes the chaos and coordinates efforts for maximum results.


5 comments about "The New 'Sherpa' of Content Marketing: The Content Strategist".
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  1. Neil Ascher from The Midas Exchange, October 17, 2014 at 11:01 a.m.

    Thanks for the very clear and succinct description of the role. Best one I've seen so far.

  2. Matt Ruzz from Hiring? Let's talk!, October 17, 2014 at 11:07 a.m.

    Perfect summary from the team that literally wrote the book on content strategy

  3. Doug Schumacher from Zuum, October 17, 2014 at 12:09 p.m.


    Fully agree with Neil and Matt's comments.

    The idea of an engagement brief is particularly interesting to me. For the traditional creative briefs you mentioned -- most I've seen (and I've seen a few) strive to be clear, simple, one-page guidelines. I'm curious what form your preferred engagement brief takes. Do you include data or content samples, or keep it at a very high level description?


  4. Alan Coon from Review HELPER, October 17, 2014 at 1:48 p.m.

    Are consumers really "hungry for content," as though there's some great dearth of content out there, just waiting to be marketers? Or is this wishful thinking? Reminds of another popular mantra: "Consumers want a relationship with your brand." Creating content that consumers really do want to engage is difficult enough for the most seasoned professionals. Rather than trying to train marketers to be compelling content creators/strategists ("think like a publisher," "understand the consumer journey"), why not hire pros from Hollywood and the publishing world, and train them to think like a marketer? A lot of producers and writers are looking for work. It won't be easy, though. They'll understand "ideation," but they may have trouble never losing sight of the whole ecosystem and looking beyond the organizational silos.

  5. Jane Greenstein from Consultant, October 20, 2014 at 5:18 p.m.

    Commenting on Doug's question, on a large project a content audit is usually conducted, which can give birth to a more substantial content strategy document that includes analytics and examples of current and recommended content--an overall assessment of the client's content and ideas for the direction it should take in the future. The engagement brief I believe comes in the Discovery phase as Steve writes, but the heavy lifting regarding content recommendations is usually done after the audit has occurred.

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