The marketing industry loves buzzwords. We can’t get enough of ‘em. The world of social media didn’t invent them either. Internet buzzwords have been around since the very beginning. The dot com world loved them. E-This. E-That. “Transformative.” “Disruptive.”

The problem with buzzwords is they become so overused that we forget, or never take the time to actually consider, what they really mean. Even the really important ones.

Perhaps the oldest of them all is content. “CONTENT IS KING!” “It’s not you. It’s your content.” Content 2.0. Content 3.0. Viral content. Content management. Dynamic content. Content farm. Content architecture. Content strategy. Oh yes. Content strategy.

The words get thrown around so much, but what exactly do they mean? And specifically, what is content?

Let’s be super simplistic about this. Content includes words, images, video, and physical stuff. That’s pretty much it. When I look around organizations, I see a lot of it. Content is everywhere. In law firms, it’s in boxes. In architectural firms, it’s made from balsa wood or CAD drawings. At my firm, it’s often in people’s heads.

So, cool. We have lots of content. Why the fuss?

Because we don’t often know what it’s for or what to do with it. There’s no difference between a web site and content. Why do you have a web site? What’s it for? Or that mobile site? Or that app?

Content is singular in its purpose: to achieve a desired result for as many relevant people as possible. Each of those words is completely loaded, so let me explain:

Achieve: This means that you are actually measuring content against an accountable outcome.

Desire: This desire is not specific to a department, rather one that is shared ultimately by the organization as a whole. Content must serve to satiate an organizational desire.

Result: Each company or organization has an ultimate result — a sale, marketshare, a new customer, a new insight, a new product, etc. Too often the achievement we measure for content is for the content itself — a Like, a share, an open, a click. But those metrics are simply a means to an end, not the end in and of itself.

Relevant People: Ah, finally. The show stopper — actual, real, living people. As marketers, none of our personal or organizational desires, measures of achievement, or incremental “results” mean anything if the people who matter — customers — don’t share in those exact desires and results. My having content means nothing if it’s not the content they desire to make a decision. The result I want — achieving a sale, for example — means nothing if my content doesn’t tell them how my product or service solves their problem. As a consumer, I don’t care if your product solves X problem if I don’t experience X problem too. Which leads to…

Marketing in general and digital in particular is a practice of achieving maximum potential from the fewest resources necessary. In my 23 years in the marketing field, I have yet to find an overfunded marketing department. Frugality and optimization are inherent to our daily work as marketers. As such, our challenge is to create, discover, and assemble content in highly efficient ways (Internal subject matter experts? Customer stories and feedback? External research?) which can be delivered to as many people as possible who will freely take action that achieves both their and our desired outcomes.

“As possible” doesn’t mean the world. Blowing the doors off your Facebook or Twitter follower counts means nothing if you’re attracting the wrong people. In fact, amassing huge numbers of the wrong people may make your short-term numbers look good, but quickly they’ll put you and your organization in a world of hurt when those people suck up your time and resources being nobodies to you or anyone else in your business, little less each other.

So content is something. It’s huge but needs to go through the serious gauntlet to be worthwhile and investment worthy. Don’t start with what you have. Start with what you need to produce the desired outcomes everyone relevant to you wants, including you and your customers, then move advantageously and smartly through the hard work of sustaining a true content strategy.

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