CSI’s Strategic Content Strategy Canvas

Content strategy canvas

How to complete the canvas

View the Strategic Content Strategy Canvas now.

Before using the Strategic Content Strategy Canvas, you may want to read a general overview of how to put more strategy into your content strategy or get some ideas about how to use the canvas in your content strategy work.

This article explains how to work through the details of the canvas, which has three main sections: Findings & Foundation, Guiding Focus, and Action Plan.

Findings & Foundation

This is where you gather the key insights from your discovery activities.

The “Business needs and working environment” section refers to the business or functional goals that the content strategy is intended to achieve, as well as the workplace culture and systems that will impact, or be impacted by, the content strategy.

Under “High-stakes challenge”, be as specific as possible and limit the challenges to a maximum of three. We’ll use an example in which the challenge is to reduce the volume of customer support calls from people who have visited the self-service area of our website.

Business goals and objectives

The remainder of this section is framed as a “SWOT”, which is a strategic analysis technique for identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, or Threats within a specific context. Developed in the mid-1960s by Albert Humphrey of Stanford University, there’s a plethora of information about this technique online if you want to learn more about it. Still widely used today, the technique is not without its detractors. However, I find it a useful tool to make sure I’ve investigated different aspects of a problem, and it’s a framework that’s familiar to almost all of the business stakeholders I’ve worked with. Below are the basic parts of a SWOT (as defined by Wikipedia), as well as examples of each based on our challenge above:

  • Strengths: characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others.
  • Weaknesses: characteristics of the business that place the business or project at a disadvantage relative to others.
  • Opportunities: elements in the environment that the business or project could exploit to its advantage.
  • Threats: elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project.

Business SWOT
When completing the SWOT in the “Business needs and working environment” section of the canvas, remember that it will be within the context of developing a content strategy to achieve the identified high-stakes challenge.

The “Audience needs and environment” section refers, unsurprisingly, to your intended audience. I recommend you use a different content strategy canvas for each target audience so that it remains clear who is being served by the strategy.

Audience insights should always be research-based. If your organization does not currently have the research you need to ground the strategy in evidence, then do your best to conduct new research. Remember, the research should be done within the context of developing a content strategy to achieve the identified high-stakes challenge. You probably don’t need to know what your audience eats for breakfast. You may, however, need to know what they read while they eat their breakfast, and on which device.

In our example, let’s say our target audience is website visitors looking for self-serve content, and that we’ve developed the following persona:

Audience needs and environment
The remainder of the “Audience needs and environment section” includes the following:

  • Goals and needs: priority reasons that drive your audience to need or interact with your business or content.
  • Challenges and pain points: the main frustrations that your audience currently faces when trying to achieve the goals above.
  • Opportunities: elements in the environment that the business or project could exploit to its advantage.
  • Threats: elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project.

Audience SWOT

The “Content considerations” section is where we content strategists and in-house content people are often most comfortable spending our time. It’s important to complete this work after you’ve already completed your audience needs and environment section, as the content should be reviewed in context of both audience needs and the high-stakes challenge.

The first thing you need to do is define the content scope. Scope refers to the depth and breadth of content that you can impact as part of your project. In our example, the scope could be all content within the “Support” section of the website. Or, it could be all customer self-service support content across all channels.

Content considerations scope
The remainder of the Content considerations section of the canvas follows the same SWOT model (with the same definitions of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) as previously discussed in the Business needs and environment section. Here are some examples of what they may look like within the context of content considerations:


Content SWOT

Guiding focus

This is where you paint a picture of what the future-state of your content will look like, and why. Again, it’s grounded in the specific high-stakes challenge and audience needs identified earlier.

The “Content strategy statement” section contains just that. We’ve written previously on how to craft an effective content strategy statement, and Meghan Casey has a great overview and templates for content strategy statements over on the Content Marketing Institute’s blog. So, enough said. Put your content strategy statement in this section.

Content strategy statement
The “Content strategy vision” section speaks broadly to the outcomes of the strategy—the goals it will achieve and the environment that it supports or creates. You’re not going to boil down a whole vision into a single sentence, or even two. You can provide the broader content strategy vision through another format that works for you, your stakeholders, and your content. But here, you’ll distill and communicate only the most important parts, using present-tense so that people get a sense that the vision is real.

Here’s the content strategy vision for our customer-support content strategy example:

Content strategy vision
The “Guiding principles” section speaks to the key strategic pillars on which decisions will be made and prioritized regarding the content. Often, these principles can be directly related to the content strategy statement, expanding on an element within the statement. Or, they can speak to a broader or more political issue within the organization that people will need to be reminded about.


Remember that these guiding principles are a realistic representation of what can be achieved within the timeframe you’ve set out for the project and the resources available, not a blue-sky best practice dream of what should be in a perfect world. Kristina Halvorson wrote a great article on content strategy priorities that provides an overview of what I refer to here as guiding principles.

Using our customer-support content strategy as an example, one of the guiding principle may be:

Guiding principles
If you have more than one guiding principle, which is usually the case, you will only include the high-level principles on the canvas (“Customer self-serve content is user-focused”) and communicate the details of what that means elsewhere.

The “Rationale” section is a way to remind your stakeholders of the research and reasoning that supported the decision-making and priorities that went into crafting the content strategy.

In our example, we may include something like:


Action plan

This is where you communicate the plan for achieving the content strategy, at a high level. Distilled from a content strategy roadmap, you include only the main items of interest on the canvas.

The “Who”, “What”, and “When” sections are pretty straightforward. The trick is to not get lost in the details, and keep it high level. The roadmap is the place for details!

For example, we might include this information in the Action Plan column of our canvas:

Action plan - Who
Action plan - What
Action plan - When
Finally, the “References and resources” section is a place for you to list, or link to, your key documents that provide more detail.

References and resources
Whew, that’s a lot of work to put into one little strategy snapshot! Like anything else, it’s usually more work to be concise than wordy, but oh so worth it.

If you use the Strategic Content Strategy Canvas, please let us know how it worked for you and your teams.

View a blank Strategic Content Strategy Canvas now.

See a sample Strategic Content Strategy Canvas using the customer-support content strategy example.