You say content, I say asset, they say tactic. Who’s right?

Well, we all are—kind of.

The terms you use to describe how you execute your content strategy simply need to communicate a shared understanding by all the people involved. So which terms you choose to use is a matter of preference. But what happens when you collaborate with another team, an outside consultant, or a vendor who tends to use different terms?

I recently attended a meetup, the Marketing Tech Talks in DC, where Kristin Fallon from GE Power shared her vision for building content operations. You can imagine that content was fundamental to her talk—she’s savvy enough to know there were probably as many definitions of content as people in the room, so she started early with her definition.

She positioned content, specifically as it functions within a content operation, as the way for marketers to tackle fundamental issues in how we approach customer experience. Read up on the Emergent Era to hear exactly what these issues are.

But that doesn’t quite hit at the heart of what I’m talking about today. I want to address the different ways we as marketers—and how top analysts—talk about content. To get started, let me give you a rundown on exactly how this meetup sparked the conversation.

How Content Fits into Marketing Trends

First, it’s fascinating that at a tech talk, both Kristin and the other presenter, Karl Johnson from EXLRT, focused on trends impacting technology—not just the technology itself.

In Kristin’s case, as she began, she first defined what she meant by content: the product of everything marketers and communications professionals do. It encompasses everything from sales, demand generation, social media, PR, or even HR’s recruiting efforts.

Based on the questions from the crowd, her perspective on what constitutes content resonates deeply with some marketers and very little with others. I suspect that many of the folks struggling to connect with her definition of content were simply accustomed to other nomenclatures, like those from Content Marketing Institute, SiriusDecisions, and marketing automation tools like Marketo and Eloqua.

At Kapost, we have our own way of thinking about content as well. As I started with, there’s no single, correct definition. Content is just a label we use in conversation. So, rather than give you the “right” answer, I set out to aggregate some of the most common definitions of key terms around content and map apples to oranges in the hope of more productive conversations between marketers.

SiriusDecisions’s Take

Probably the most robust and well-defined set of definitions comes from our friends at SiriusDecisions—and interestingly it doesn’t include the actual word content. Here’s an abridged version of SiriusDecisions’s hierarchy (priorities being the broadest and assets the most specific):

  • Strategic priorities: what the business needs to accomplish (SD doesn’t include, but they make clear, that the subsequent points are in service of a strategy, not random acts of content)
  • Themes: more marketing messages most likely to serve those priorities
  • Campaigns: integrated marketing initiatives to make themes real
  • Programs: time-bounded “big rocks” within programs, like an event presence, an eBook, or an always-on nurture track
  • Tactics: the emails, web updates or blog posts, social posts, and in-person channels that make up campaigns and deliver assets
  • Assets: the core pieces of digital (or sometimes analog) content that most effectively communicate your message to your audience

In this list, which again clarifies how content assets align to and support marketing strategy and business objectives (or should), content is typically synonymous with assets. The tactics usually serve to direct the audience to or tease the message in the asset. We find this is similar to the definitions we see from Marketo and Eloqua.

According to Marketo

While softer from a definition standpoint, Marketo users share a similar vocabulary, roughly:

  • Program: integrated marketing initiatives, usually with concrete goals in terms of revenue, lead generation, and/or engagement.
  • Campaign: the set of conditional actions that make up campaigns (e.g., if a prospect registers for a webinar, following up with a drip campaign of several emails pointing to similar assets)
  • Tactics: the series of emails, landing pages, nurture and drip cadence, etc. that direct prospects and customers to key assets
  • Assets: the core pieces of digital content marketers would like their customers and prospects to read or view and the actions that really drive the lead score to help determine follow up (usually)

Eloqua’s Insight

Eloqua is arguably the originator of so much of this thinking, so it makes sense that they have a pretty similar definition. Can you spot the difference?

  • Campaign: integrated marketing initiatives, usually with concrete goals in terms of revenue, lead generation, and/or engagement.
  • Program: the set of conditional actions that make up campaigns (e.g., if a prospect registers for a webinar, follow up with a drip campaign of several emails pointing to similar assets)
  • Tactics: the series of emails, landing pages, nurture and drip cadence, etc. that direct prospects and customers to key assets
  • Assets: the core pieces of digital content marketers would like their customers and prospects to read or view; the actions that really drive the lead score to help determine follow up (usually)

Content Marketing Institute

CMI recently published a rundown of all the different ways marketers think about content. The author, Kim Moutsos, settles on, “My definition of content is ‘compelling information that informs, engages, or amuses.’ ”

The article is a good read and teases out how nuanced the topic is. Furthermore, in terms of what different marketers and marketing teams can point as their content products, this definition makes clear that an expansive view is valuable, something that goes well beyond just blog posts, eBooks, and social posts.

What Is Content?

Alright, I said I wasn’t going to give you the answer to what content is, but I will give you my definition.

First, let’s put it in context: Contrast how Kristin is thinking about content with these other definitions. Should marketers think about tactics (in any definition) as content? What about social posts? Web pages and landing pages? Videos and webinars are almost certainly content, but what about the LinkedIn summary post, the SlideShare deck annotations, and the blog that promoted it?

At Kapost, defining content better enables marketers to conceptualize their day-to-day work, as well as the pain points around getting content to their audience—whether that be in planning, creating, distributing, etc. More importantly, a broad definition of content also connects every team within a content operation—marketing, communications, sales, customer success, and more—to have the language to talk about common goals.

So, what’s our broad definition of content?

Content is everything marketers produce (and supporting docs and plans) that a customer or prospect might see, read, visit, or watch.

Input and creative briefs? Check. A white paper or video? Check. The web pages that host it? Check. The emails and social posts that promote it? Check. The customizable sales presentations that pick up on the core themes? Check. The press releases, investor communications, and even CSR reports? Check, check, check.

We also talk about initiatives, which we often describe as campaigns of content linked by strategic purpose.

An initiative could be an event presence, the emails and landing pages for a drip campaign, a new product launch with attendant PR, sales enablement, and digital content, a new eBook or white paper with several derivative assets like social posts, or an internal education and recruiting campaign that includes multiple communications for a variety of digital and in-person channels.

How This Affects All Marketers

As more and more marketers go from thinking about trialing the latest software tool or trend toward thinking more deeply about the processes (often broken processes) by which people use software tools, overly-specific definitions of content (versus tactics, assets, posts, etc.) actually reinforce the operational complexity and silos that sap productivity, fragment messaging, misalign and duplicate work, and ultimately waste resources and sacrifice growth.

The truth is that when different marketing teams have their own language, communication and collaboration get harder. Or as Kurt pointed out at this same meetup, “If you speak to a woman in a language she understands, you connect with her head. If you speak to her in her language, you connect with her heart.”

As marketers our goals are more similar than different: to communicate the truth of our offering impactfully, in ways that build trust and influence the decisions that lead to happy, successful customers.

So, why do these definitions matter? Because when marketers in the same business speak the same language, across all the various teams and channels, it’s easier to create the cohesive customer experiences our buyers deserve.

Brian Busch

About Brian Busch

Brian Busch is the Director of Product Marketing at Kapost. He spends his time on messaging for frequent feature releases, keeping a pulse on the MarTech ecosystem, and running off to the mountains when no one is looking.