How to create a digital content strategy for the digital-first era

I work with a lot of new customers at Contentful and one thing that surprises me is how many companies don’t have a formal digital content strategy. Their content infrastructure and operations have evolved from a print or web-based content marketing strategy and haven't been updated to fully encompass content across all their digital channels.

It’s like buying a new house and hanging onto the furniture from your first apartment — it might work, but it could use an update.

This isn’t unique to our customers. The Content Marketing Institute found that only 43% of B2B marketers had a documented content marketing strategy. Even among the most successful B2B marketers, only 60% had a documented strategy, according to CMI’s Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends 11th Annual Insights for 2021 report.

Building a digital content strategy for all the channels companies engage in can seem daunting, but like anything else, it can be broken into smaller steps. In this post we’ll show you how to create a strong digital content strategy step by step and provide additional resources that will help you optimize your content strategy for different types of content.

What is a digital content strategy?

A digital content strategy describes how a company produces high-quality content for their target audiences and personas in a repeatable way that produces consistent experiences throughout the buyer journey and across digital channels. It helps define workflows, inform the content model, and unify content operations across the business for more efficient content creation and distribution.

What are the benefits of a formal digital content strategy?

Modernizing content operations is a vital component of a good digital transformation strategy. And a critical component of smooth content operations is a strong digital content strategy.

Your digital content strategy is the thread that weaves together a vast amount of digital content into a unified plan. It breaks down silos and connects all different types of content — blog posts, video content, webinars, infographics, landing pages, online tutorials, social media platforms, ecommerce sites, podcasts, mobile, voice, IoT, digital billboards, etc. — to produce seamless user experiences.

Taking the time to update and document your content strategy for the digital-first era frees you from the constraints of what came before. It empowers you to take a fresh look at your content infrastructure and operations and streamline them to deliver new digital experiences, faster.

This is especially important when you invest in new technology. No one wants to limit their return on investment by tying next-generation tools to outdated strategies.

A documented content strategy accelerates new projects by putting the information that will inform project scope and requirements right at your fingertips. For example, when companies implement our content platform their digital content strategy helps determine space size, the number of content types they need, how many locales they will start with, what custom roles and permissions will best support their workflows, and how they will measure success.

What is the difference between a digital-first content strategy and just adding digital to an existing content strategy?

While the digital content strategy may be part of a larger content marketing strategy, it’s important to keep in mind that a modern content strategy is digital-first.

This image shows a side-by-side comparison between a content strategy with digital add-ons vs a true digital-first content strategy. A content strategy with digital add-ons has content created and managed in different silos for each channel, which leads to convoluted and redundant workflows that makes it difficult to deliver consistent digital experiences across channels. A true digital-first content strategy has unified content and structure for use across digital channels, which leads to workflows and integrations that pull from a single source of truth leading to a seamless, connected experience across digital channels.

What are the components of a digital content strategy?

Before we dive into how to create a digital content strategy, it’s helpful to think about what a content strategy includes.

  • Business goals: Are you trying to increase brand awareness or conversion rates, optimize content to rank higher in search engines, or focus on lead generation? Your business goals will help determine what types of content you need and what metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) you will use to measure success.

  • Target audience and personas: Who are your potential customers, what are their needs and pain points, and where do those overlap with your business goals? Understanding your customer demographics and buyer personas will help ensure that each piece of content is relevant to the user.

Contentful integrates with best-in-class tools for localization and personalization, making it easy to extend your content to global audiences.

  • Content plan: What foundational content and supporting content do you need to support your goals? The content plan covers things like messaging guidelines, content journeys, target keywords, priority topics, how decisions about format are made, how content will be promoted, and what channels you want to prioritize.

  • Content operations and workflows: How are you producing, managing and publishing content? Content operations define the workflows that take content from a new idea to a published piece of content. This can include editorial calendars, approval processes, campaign coordination, roles, permissions, and content governance.

Contentful offers many features that streamline content operations, these include the Compose and Launch capabilities, both part of our Studio app, which empower editors to manage content workflows, add SEO data, and schedule releases without relying on developers.

  • Content infrastructure: What tools and technology do you need to support a digital-first content strategy? These include your content solution, localization and translation tools, PIMs, DAMs, personalization, analytics, tracking tools, and your content model.

With Contentful’s API-first content platform you can integrate your preferred tools into a custom tech stack that tightly aligns with your business goals.

How to create a strong digital content strategy

Before you start building a digital content strategy, it’s helpful to remember that the ultimate goal is to create content experiences that increase brand awareness, loyalty, and engagement. Keeping the four pillars of memorable content experiences in mind throughout the process can help stakeholders stay focused and aligned on the big picture.

  • Relevance: Customers seek personalized content and they want it to be available on their favorite channels. Brands must be able to target content by device, location, and user preference to create effective personalized experiences.

  • Consistency: Each brand touchpoint should build on a customer’s overall experience with the brand. Those visiting a website, mobile app, or ecommerce storefront don’t care who manages products, localizes content, or manages delivery. They expect a unified voice and clear brand identity with every encounter.

  • Creativity: Attention spans are short. To keep customers engaged, brands must imagine, build, and deliver experiences that are unique, and perhaps unexpected.

  • Speed: Customers are trend-hungry — they’re always looking for the next big thing. If a brand can’t deliver on what’s up and coming in its industry, another will. Their teams need workflows and tools that allow them to quickly respond to market trends and customer desires.

Six steps to create a digital content strategy

Most companies have some components of their digital strategy already in place. These steps will help you identify and unify the content strategies you already have, fill in any gaps, and produce a digital content strategy that takes advantage of modern technologies.

  1. Identify and align on high-level goals. Identify your potential customers, markets, and buyer personas. Align on business priorities, value proposition, and metrics for success. This will inform the business goals and target audience components of your strategy.

  2. Conduct a content audit. Review existing content to identify your most effective content, channels, and formats. Do keyword research, look for content gaps, and brainstorm new content ideas that you want to support. This will help you to develop a content plan that extends the reach and reusability of your high-quality content and supports development of new content types. If you’re replatforming, use your content audit to identify the content you want to migrate and content that can be sunsetted.

  3. Streamline content operations. Look at your existing workflows and governance. What are your biggest challenges and bottlenecks? A unified content hub and shared content calendar can help break down silos and align teams around the current business priorities. Don’t be afraid to reimagine workflows that will be more efficient for editors and developers.

  4. Match your infrastructure to your priorities. Choose a content platform that is able to deliver to any digital channel and can integrate easily with the tools you want to use. Identify what tools you have, which ones you want to add or replace, and what your timeline for change looks like. Contentful integrates with both legacy tools and new technology enabling teams to transition to new tools at their own pace.

  5. Align team structure and roles with your digital content strategy. Look at how your marketing team, content creators, and engineers can work more efficiently together. Implementing a content platform like Contentful, facilitates new ways of working. Learn more about the people, roles, and skills that make up world-class digital teams.

  6. Measure results and evolve your strategy. Your digital content strategy isn’t static. Use SEO performance, conversion rates, data from Google analytics, and other tools to measure performance. Keep refining your strategy for continued gains and let it evolve as business priorities change and new channels emerge.

Content strategies for specific content types

Building a new digital content strategy from scratch takes time, but it doesn’t have to be done perfectly all at once to add value. Companies that already have some components in place — business goals, personas — can accelerate progress by implementing digital-first strategies for high-impact content types or use cases.

One of the highest value strategies is to increase the reach of existing content by making content reusable across channels. The key to content reusability is structured content. Instead of organizing content based on where it is used — web page, mobile app, digital signage — content is organized into individual components that can be referenced and reused anywhere. No copy-pasting required. Learn how to structure content for an effective content reusability strategy.

Structuring content for reusability provides a good foundation for additional digital content strategies, including omnichannel content, agile ecommerce, and knowledge base content strategies. These resources can help you get started:

Need more help building a digital content strategy? Download our content strategy guide.

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