The Modern Content Strategist’s Formula for Excellence

Sorab Ghaswalla
8 min readAug 13, 2023

Skillfully manages multiple roles to ensure successful content projects.

The content strategist of today differs greatly from the professional who emerged post the digital Big Bang. As technology progressed and content demand surged, expectations quietly evolved, expanding their scope without fanfare.

Few in the content sphere, myself included, realized how the job description had subtly transformed until the day artificial intelligence (AI), particularly generative AI, entered the scene. Suddenly, we found ourselves reevaluating our array of tasks and responsibilities.

While the core duties remain intact, the role of a content strategist has undergone a profound shift — one that persists.

Modern content strategists don multiple hats: creator, data scientist, tech expert, advertiser, and marketer. This versatility empowers them to craft resonant content.

And there are two more unique attributes required of them:

(1) The ability to straddle two worlds — the client as well as the target audience. He/she has to deliver to his client as well as the reader/audience/lead/buyer (I am not even talking of the other stakeholders involved). And believe me, that’s some tightrope walking.

(2) Have a generalist mindset — they must be ready to adapt, and be poised to formulate strategies for businesses even without an in-depth understanding of the specific industry. While some have chosen to specialize, focusing solely on sectors like tech or e-commerce, the role often demands a versatile approach.

Before we dive in, let’s address a common issue. I’ve noticed that some clients still confuse or are unaware of the distinction between content creators/developers and content strategists. Or perhaps, they choose not to distinguish? This confusion arises because these terms are often used interchangeably.

Here’s the crucial point: THESE TWO TERMS ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE. If you’re a client who isn’t concerned, it might be time to reconsider your content deployment strategy. CARING IS ESSENTIAL.

They Are Like Architects

The best way to explain it is to compare a content strategist to an architect. Both create plans that guide the creation of something. Architects create plans for buildings, while content strategists make plans for content (There are pillars involved in both, concrete pillars and pillar content). Both, content strategists and architects have to understand the needs of their clients or users, and they need to be able to create plans that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing (I’ve used the word “plan” loosely here, but strategy and plan do not mean the same).

A content writer or creator, on the other hand, is like the building contractor who erects the building based on the architect’s design. A creator implements the content plan that stems out of the strategy, using different content collaterals.

While a content strategist can also be a content creator, it cannot be the other way around. A strategist requires many more skills in addition to that of creation. But a creator can become a successful strategist after acquiring some years of experience.

The Role Kept Getting Bigger Over the Years

Earlier, in the dinosaur age of content, strategists were focused mainly on crafting and overseeing content intended for a company’s website and a few marketing platforms. Let’s call this content-Neanderthal “CS1”. However, in the current landscape marked by the proliferation of digital content and the heightened intricacy of technology, content strategists (let’s call this lot “CS15”) find themselves shouldering a far more extensive array of duties and obligations.

I have identified three significant distinctions between CS1 and CS15. (I welcome a debate on these points, so I encourage readers to share their valuable feedback and comments below.)

In the present day, a proficient content strategist MUST possess a functional understanding of data analysis, a comprehensive grasp of the technological tools facilitating content creation and dissemination, and must have a much higher level of creativity compared to their predecessors.

There is no one secret sauce that makes a good content strategist, but there are a few key ingredients that are essential for success.

Data-Driven Evolution: Content strategists from the past prioritized crafting content that was both informative and engaging. In contrast, decisions by contemporary content strategists need to be led by data, leveraging insights to shape their content choices. They must utilize data to understand their target audience intricately, gauge content performance, and quantify the returns on investment in their content marketing endeavors.

Unleashing Creativity: Yesterday’s content strategists honed their skills in producing informative and captivating content. They kept it simple, mostly because of a lack of marketing channels. Today’s counterparts need to take creativity to new heights, and employ imaginative approaches to storytelling and audience engagement. For example, they must recognize the paramount importance of visual content, adorning their creations with infographics, videos, and other visually enriching elements, thus elevating the engagement quotient.

Mastering Technical Terrain: The content strategists of yore possessed a less pronounced technical acumen compared to their modern-day counterparts. Simply because ConTech (tech for content and marketing) just did not exist. You had your basic website, a nascent search engine, and a couple of social media channels.

Today’s practitioners, however, have to navigate a diverse array of content generation and distribution tools, including content management systems, analytical instruments, and project management software. Adeptness in SEO and other technical aspects of content marketing has also become a staple requirement.

Communication Skills: A very crucial requirement. A good content strategist needs to be able to communicate effectively with a variety of stakeholders, including clients, writers, designers, and developers. They need to be able to clearly articulate their vision for the content strategy and get everyone on the same page.

Collaborative Dynamics: Where yesterday’s content strategists often operated in isolated spheres, contemporary professionals HAVE TO collaborate. They must synergize with multifarious departments, such as marketing, sales, and product development, fostering a harmonious interplay. Skillfully managing an array of stakeholders — clients, writers, designers, and developers — is now a pivotal facet of their role.

Lead From the Front or Plan at the Back?

There are generally two main strategists: front-end and back-end. These call for distinct mindsets. Acquiring skills in both areas is crucial, yet most content strategists tend to specialize in one.

Front-end content strategy centers on user experience and the user’s journey. This entails shaping the appearance and sensation of content for the audience or customers. It involves delving into personas, addressing user requirements, and devising a consistent approach to delivering content that fulfills those needs.

On the other hand, the back-end content strategy is more technically oriented. It revolves around viewing content as data. This involves considerations about how content is organized, expanded, stored, and retrieved, and entails offering recommendations on optimizing technological utilization.

Addition of Artificial Intelligence to ConTech Stack

From November 2022, strategists have got an assistant in the form of AI. This tech is now playing a major role in the creation, distribution, and measurement of content. This then makes it imperative for content strategists to become familiar with AI tools and techniques in order to use them effectively. Which, in turn, means more research, more study. Groan.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Here are some specific examples of how AI is being used by content strategists today:

* AI-powered tools are used to automate tasks such as keyword research, content optimization, and social media scheduling. This frees up content strategists to focus on more strategic work, such as developing content strategy and creating high-quality content.

* AI can be used to analyze data and identify trends that can be used to inform content strategy. For example, AI can be used to track which content is performing well on social media, which keywords are driving traffic to a website, and which demographics are most interested in a particular product or service. This information can then be used to create content that is more likely to resonate with target audiences.

*AI can be used to create personalized content that is tailored to individual users. For example, AI-powered chatbots can be used to answer customer questions, recommend products, and provide support. AI can also be used to create personalized email campaigns and social media content.

A Case Study

To help readers understand the job of a content strategist even better, I shall use a hypothetical example using “Brand X”, a cybersecurity software company, and how the content strategist worked for it:

Understand target audience

The target audience for X brand’s content marketing campaign is businesses of all sizes that are looking for cybersecurity software. The content will be tailored to the specific needs of these businesses, such as the size of their business, the industry they are in, and their budget.

Setting the goals

The goals of X brand’s content marketing campaign are to:

Increase brand awareness: X brand wants to be known as the leading provider of cybersecurity software.

Generate leads: X brand wants to generate leads from businesses that are interested in their products and services.

Drive sales: X brand wants to drive sales of their cybersecurity software.

Content: The content created by X brand will be informative, engaging, and relevant to the target audience. It will also be optimized for search engines.

Setting up the content calendar

X brand’s content calendar will include a variety of content types, such as:

Blog posts: X brand will publish blog posts that provide tips on cybersecurity and how to protect businesses from cyberattacks.

Whitepapers: X brand will publish whitepapers that provide in-depth analysis of cybersecurity topics.

Case studies: X brand will publish case studies that highlight how their products and services have helped businesses protect themselves from cyberattacks.

Webinars: X brand will host webinars that provide training on cybersecurity topics.

Infographics: X brand will create infographics that visualize cybersecurity data.

Distribution

X brand will distribute its content through a variety of channels, such as:

  1. The company’s website and blog
  2. Social media
  3. Email marketing
  4. Partner websites

Measurement

X brand will measure the results of its content marketing campaign by tracking website traffic, leads, and sales.

Skills Required

A content strategist must:

  • Be a good writer, including copywriting, and also be great at editing
  • Have good communication skills
  • Be creative
  • Be aware of applicable technology and their use
  • Be a team player
  • Have analytical skills
  • Know of marketing
  • Be able to take feedback/criticism
  • Be knowledgeable of industry best practices
  • Also be knowledgeable of various industries
  • Know how to use generative AI tools

Potential Pitfalls

Here are some of the potential weak points a content strategist must be aware of:

#Not always familiar with the latest trends in content marketing: May not always be up-to-date on the latest trends in content marketing. This could lead to ineffective content creation.

#Too focused on data and analytics: Sometimes get so focused on the numbers that you forget about the human element of content marketing. It is important to create content that is both informative and engaging.

#Be a bit of a perfectionist: In your drive to create the best content possible, you sometimes spend too much time on a single piece of content. This can lead to me missing deadlines.

I end with this thought: The role of a content strategist will continue to change as AI evolves. While the tech cannot completely replace the human content strategist, the repetitive tasks can best be left to it, while the human concentrates on adding a higher degree of creativity.

(A confession: Some help was taken from a machine to write/re-write bits and portions of this newsletter.)

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Sorab Ghaswalla

An AI Communicator, tech buff, futurist & marketing bro. Certified in artificial intelligence from the Univs of Oxford & Edinburgh. Ex old-world journalist.