Why I Know Content Strategy is Hard

content strategy: Getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

Sounds pretty simple. It is a simple concept. But like most simple concepts, as soon as you start to do it, it quickly becomes complex. For nearly 20 years, I've been helping businesses (yes, that includes you too, non-profits!) with their web content strategy. I've never pretended it was easy. But it was only after I became a business owner that I discovered how hard it can be to get the formula right. My business is now my client. It can be very difficult to be your own client.

As a content strategist, I am quite good at asking questions. For the last year I've had to both ask and answer them. It's easier to ask the questions than to answer them. I've found some answers with the help of my business coach, who has asked me the same questions I ask my clients. Here's a glimpse into my journey to develop Tanzen's content strategy, which isn't so far off of business strategy.

The Right People

Defining a content trategy starts with people. Who are the right people? Wrong answer every time: anyone who wants to know more about this subject.

We need to define a specific set of people. Sometimes it's better to start with who it is not. I live in Washington, DC. The US federal government is the biggest employer by far. Many businesses in this area have the government as their primary audience. Yet I specifically eliminated them from my target audience for many reasons, not least because of the federal contracting process. This is not to say I would never do work for the government, in fact, one of my favorite clients has been a government office. But I'm not targeting them. Remember, I'm looking for my people.

Same goes for associations, where I spent a good part of my career. Also not large enterprises. It was pretty easy to eliminate some big sets of audiences. Initially I settled on international non-profits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This combined my passions and my professional experience.

After some trials and errors and research, I've found that this audience in not quite ready for my kind of help. There needs to be more education on the value of content strategy before they are ready to buy. Back to the drawing board.

That "failure" forced me to think about what my clients had in common. I settled on "small and mid-size businesses," which includes non-profits, which are running a business just not for a profit. My people are organizations that are ready to solve their web and content management problems. And within that type of company (I am B2B), directors of marketing, communications, UX, and IT. None of this means another role or another type of business won't value my content, just that I'm not picturing them as I create content, products, and services.

The Right Information

Without identifying the right people, you cannot possibly know what the right information is. And the right information is not just whatever I feel like telling people. It has to be what my people want to know, what they want to learn, what will help them solve the problems they have.

This also takes time to figure out. So far I've mostly done it by experimenting. What blog posts get the most reads, shares, and comments? More like that. What tweets get the most engagement? More of those type. What topics am I invited to speak or write about? More about that thing. This is just a start. Because we have to start somewhere.

What I really need to do is talk to my people. I'll be doing that soon. Through interviews, conversations, and surveys, I will narrow down what to offer my people. I can discover their pain points, challenges, and goals. Then I can understand what information will help them overcome the problems and achieve the goals. From there I will measure and iterate some more. Because we all know that what people say they will do and what they actually do are often not the same.

It's okay to fail by creating something that hardly anyone wants. Failure is input. It means it's time to do something else. The important thing is to get something published so I can find out if it works.

The Right Time

Once I know who and what, I have to figure out when. When isn't just what day of the week to publish my blog post or send my newsletter, or what time to schedule a tweet. It's about educating and serving my people with information they need at each steps in their journeys. If someone knows they need a digital writing workshop, they might post in a forum asking for a recommendation. I can respond with information about my workshop. That is the right time for that information.

But if someone knows they are going to be redesigning their website in six months, they need to know that one way to prepare for that is to hold a writing workshop for their authors and editors. Until coming across my blog post about doing content before redesign when researching where to start, they might not have known that was an option.

To know what the right time is for the right information, I have to know my customer's journey. Mapping the content to that journey helps identify what content serves my people best at each step. This, in turn, informs what is the "right information." And the cycle continues.

I am still coming to terms with the right people and am now working on the right time and the right information. It will come in time. But not having all the pieces put together in the right way isn't stopping me from doing something! I've learned to stop waiting for the perfect time to put the perfect content into the world. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Strategy Statement

Here is my first second* draft of a content strategy statement (get a template):

Tanzen offers practical content and tools to create more effective digital communication to educate and support directors of communication, marketing, UX, and IT at small and mid-size businesses making them feel knowledgeable and confident to make decisions about content management, convincing them to try a different way of designing a website or implementing a content management system.

Doing this exercise with your stakeholders is one of the best things you can do to start delivering the right information to the right people at the right time.


I could never have gotten this far on my own. In addition to business coaching, I've talked with other business owners and peers in my quest to help me define what Tanzen does, who it does it for, and what they need to know. I keep learning, keep failing, keep trying new things. Content strategy isn't a one and done thing. It's an iterative process to make sure the formula keeps working with changing variables. If you are ready for help making content strategy part of your process, let's talk

\* Updated March 8, 2017 following input from readers and a shift in positioning to training people who communicate online.