There's a lot of discussion lately in the content strategy space about branding. So, how relevant is it to an overall content strategy?

If you think about content strategy as simply a publishing lifecycle for your content, that only encompasses process and technology, then perhaps branding is not important. When you reframe content strategy to include the editorial part of your content’s lifecycle branding becomes vital.

What is Your Brand Promise?

Let’s think about it from this perspective: a brand is a promise.A promise to the consumer that they will have a particular experience. While I write this, I am sitting in a Westin. There was a handwritten card waiting on my desk when I arrived. I requested a non-feather bed -- there were no feathers when I arrived in my room. I requested a late checkout; I received a late checkout. The superb customer service I have come to expect at a Westin is delivered every time -- no matter which city. That’s a brand promise -- and it’s why I keep coming back.

Think of a brand as a personality. People have personalities, and we come to expect certain responses from them as we get to know them. Brands are the same way, which is why clear branding guidelines are central to any content strategy. Branding guidelines tell you who the brand is, what it’s about, how they reinforce those attributes, and what they’re prepared to do for their customers.

If content is a conversation, we need to know who we are before we start talking. When you develop content, which is a shared asset in an organization, you need to know who you are, what you represent, and what personality promise you’re making to your customers. Everyone in the organization needs to know it too, so they can create content that centers around those brand values.

Getting back to the Westin -- and no, they didn’t pay me for this endorsement -- when I made my online reservation it took three screens. It is always one of the easiest hotel reservations I've ever made. The digital experience meta-messaged the actual experience for me. As a brand, Westin knows who they are and what they want to communicate to their customers. It shines through on every level of service they can provide.

The Brand / Customer Relationship

Once you know who you are, and what you represent, you need to start listening to who your customers are and what they want you to talk about. That’s where you need to develop customer personas, as well as map the customer experience throughout the sales cycle. That’s the only way you can continue to deliver on the brand promise.

Learning Opportunities

If, on the other hand, you have no clear branding guidelines, and no one at the executive level is willing to make those choices and set the stake in the sand; then it’s going to be very difficult to plan a content strategy that works. Your content performs as the fuel in your sales process. Without knowing the brand identity and what it stands for, you’re stuck. You may have a lot of very important things to say, and questions to answer, but if you don’t know who you are, it won’t really matter.

Start with your branding and make sure you understand how it aligns with your business objectives. Know who you are before you start talking. That is the first real start in any robust content strategy.

Image courtesy of dotshock (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Ahava knows content strategy. To read more of her thoughts, see Content Strategy: 5 Ways to Find Your Voice and Tone