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Content strategists love to tell stories. ConFab 2011 may bill itself as a content strategy conference, but it’s more like a two-day storytelling festival. Stories are content strategists' strongest tool and weakest asset.

Tell Me a Story

Sometimes the best way to effectively explain how best to implement a content strategy is to tell a personal story about how your company failed, found the right words and came back even stronger. This is great marketing for your company, especially if you’re Google, Facebook, or Dell. But what if you’re just a small company? Or an institute of higher education? Or if you have diverse audiences with multiple messages? Well, you’ll soon learn that stories only help so much.

What if you want a tangible process to guide your way? The closest ConFab comes to tangible is Ann Handley of Marketing Profs, who taught us how content can be the soul of your brand. It sounds hippy-dippy, but actually it’s just a fun way to offer up the rules of good content. Handley, author of Content Rules, encourages us to show, not tell; share or solve; re-imagine, not recycle. Yet as clear-cut as these rules seem, they are still aloof and open to interpretation. There are only examples of sites and brands that demonstrate these rules in action, but there is no definitive guide that says, “do this, not that.”

But that’s okay, because we’re strategists, not scientists. We’re not in the business of facts; we’re in the business of creating clarity.

Show Me a Strategy

Melissa Rach, vice president of content strategy at Brain Traffic, put on her professorial hat to teach theories behind marketing strategy to drive home the point that strategy is necessary to defining what you want, how you’re going to get there and what value it will bring.

But let’s not confuse strategy with storytelling. A strategy, whether for design, content or development, must be focused and flexible. Melissa encourages us to develop strategic routines rather than long-term strategies, which she says is the difference between knowing how to make decisions and being told what decisions to make.

Telling the story of content strategy is still open-ended. Ultimately our content strategies aim to help organizations achieve their business goals, but most of the stories we’re told are still evolving -- we don’t know whether our current content strategy is working. It’s the beauty and challenge of content in an emerging enterprise. If you have choice, choose to get lost in the strategy and not the story -- the strategy leads to an outcome.