Content Strategy as Competitive Advantage

Colin Parker
Content Strategy as Competitive Advantage - Creating value through content - Portent

One of the fundamental concepts of formal business strategy is how to create sustained competitive advantage. Today, we wanted to look at how that relates to content strategy and content marketing.

My hope after you read this post: You think really, really hard before you take shortcuts on your content. I want to leave you inspired to put in the time and energy to create value through content, and to do it in a way that sustains and pays dividends for years.


To that end, a quick refresher or primer on competitive advantage: The firm (aka “your business”) creates a competitive advantage in large part by offering something or some set of things that are Valuable, Rare, Inimitable, and by being sufficiently Organized, ready, and able to capitalize on the big ideas and big resources behind your company doors.

“Competitive advantage” to “Content Strategy” shouldn’t be a shocking leap if you’re even marginally familiar with Portent. We spend a lot of time waving the banner for investment in quality content, building a content production system that you can actually sustain, and being willing to produce “10x Content” from time to time that’s both attention-worthy and tough for competitors to imitate.

Remember: V.R.I.O.

So, how does content and content strategy relate to each of the V.R.I.O. elements?

“Valuable Content”

Do you or someone at your company know a lot about something that’s valuable to your target customer? I hope so, otherwise I’d be a tad worried. Let’s write about it.

“Rare Content”

Do you know more about this topic or have a unique perspective that your target market hasn’t heard before? I hope so, otherwise you’re going to be spending a whole lot of money to try and differentiate yourself from the pack by sheer repetition and volume.

”Inimitable Content”

This is where things start getting interesting, and where the decisions you make about whether to invest your team’s time can have a huge impact.

Part 1: Do you and your team have a perspective that’s informed through A) your unique set of experiences and B) any innovations that go into making your business awesome, which would be tough for competitors to copy? I’d be willing to bet that you do.

Part 2: Are you willing to make the investment in getting that knowledge out of your team’s head and sharing it with both current and prospective customers in a way that screams

  • “We understand you!”
  • “We care enough to translate this subject matter into something you can understand!”
  • “We care enough to present these ideas to you with enough production value and quality that you can tell we actually spent time on this!”

Oooh. Now we start to see the tradeoff.

The lion’s share of the web is full of the same generic, crap blog posts, heavily concentrated around topics or products that businesses are trying to sell.

At best, this is an artifact of bygone days when Google would simply look at the number of times you used a keyword in a web page, and presto, you “ranked”. For a while.

At worst, it’s a sign that too many marketers still think that chumming the waters of the internet with keyword-dense blog posts will do anything for their brand, their prospective customers, or their organic search rankings.

You will not be successful in creating value and ultimately in being discovered and loved by more customers if you are producing the same pulp that already exists in overabundant supply.

There are over 4.5 billion web pages in existence at last count. Hacking out the 1,500th blog post on “How to change a flat tire” to sell tire irons is not going to work. This is not inimitable.

By contrast: Creating an amazing interactive visual with a unique take on the best ways to change a tire in specific conditions, might get closer. Better still, anticipate additional customer questions by virtue of your experience in the field of tire change-ry and weave in those thoughtful answers at the exact right moment. Your uniquely amazing approach to the work, or product, or service, becomes the “Inimitable” part of your content.

And before you even think it, this is not unique to simple products or services. It holds just as true for cloud computing services, technical consulting, or any other enterprise that’s profitable enough to draw in new or incumbent competitors.

A brief rant on growth hacking

Before we get any further, I have a confession and a rant that’s important to this idea. I hate the term “growth hacking”.

Not because the practice of an iterative approach to marketing when you’re in uncharted waters lacks merit. Not at all. It’s because the statement “we’re into growth hacking” always seems to precede arguments about why paying a pittance to strangers to create blog posts, or exclusively curating other people’s content, or some other shortcut, is somehow a better idea than putting pen to paper and sharing your unique and valuable perspective on the thing you supposedly do.

Putting that rant aside, let’s talk about being Organized.

“Organized Content”

Content Strategy” is perhaps one of the most sought after yet least understood practices I’ve seen marketers chase in the last few years. Everyone wants to be “strategic.” I get that. Plan the work, and work the plan.

Most marketers (who haven’t been under a rock for a decade) also know that content is important. It’s a key part of the Marketing Stack. Frankly, if you don’t have content in your marketing, what do you have? A blank ad? A home page that says nothing? An empty Facebook account? You get the idea. Content is everything you do and say. It’s not just your blog.

Where people tend to get lost is in conflating “Content Marketing” and brainstorming what they could write about with “Content Strategy.”

Content Strategy does include elements of brainstorming, topic research, user journey mapping, etc. You have to know what your audience cares about and when to nurture them with the next piece of valuable information.

But Content Strategy (capital “C” capital “S”) also includes two heaping scoops of planning: editorial process and governance. By definition, Content Strategy is “a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website development project [or other large marketing endeavor].”

Without this step of planning how to sustain the work that must be done, that big shiny idea sputters out. Whether you’re planning out what it will take to create two colossal pieces of content, or two years’ worth of editorial calendar, organization creates the inertia and structure for you to be successful both immediately and longer-term.

Where to from here?

There is so much more to be said about both Inimitable and Organized that we’ll likely do a follow up post or two.

For now, I hope I’ve convinced you to think very hard before you reach out to a “content mill” or any other stranger promising “Quality content for low, low-prices.”

Content marketing is an extension of your firm’s competitive advantage, and it simply cannot be as good or effective if it’s not heavily infused with what makes your company and your people great in the first place.


If you’re looking for more on sustainable (and frankly awesome) approaches to content, I recommend Kristina Halvorson’s book Content Strategy for the Web, 2nd Edition. Portent released an exhaustive ebook for “content teams of one” called Lean Content. Also, special thanks to distinguished Portent alum Misty Weaver, without whose love of pure Content Strategy and sustainable process I would surely have perished under a pile of overdue blog posts.

Colin Parker
Director of Marketing

Colin is a lifelong learner, a graduate of the University of Washington, and is pursuing an MBA at the Foster School of Business. He gets wound up about marketing, new technology, and business strategy. Colin also acts as the managing editor of the Portent blog, and chief Portent content wrangler. Outside the office you can find him playing soccer, reading Seth Godin, or cheering the UW Huskies.

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