Your guide to content strategy maturity models

I can tell that the science of content strategy is maturing. Why? Because I’m seeing more and more maturity models.

This week’s inbox contains a link to Suite Solutions’ Knowledge Value Maturity Model, which  describes levels of Lagging, Performing, and World Class for 10 aspects, or “tracks,” of content.

Click any image to see a larger version.

The Knowledge Value Maturity Model

The Knowledge Value Maturity Model by Suite Solutions (source: Center for Information-Development Management)

For me the Suite Solutions model falls short because it doesn’t crisply differentiate between content and corporate knowledge. Content refers to published matter, for both internal and external consumption; knowledge is (or ought to be) much broader, encompassing processes, business intelligence, and so forth.

Also, some of the tracks are way less relevant than others. Display format, for example, defines the World Class maturity level as “wearables and glasses” — where, in fact, the best display format is simply the one that best meets the needs of the audience.

I can’t help comparing the Knowledge Value Maturity Model with the Content Maturity Model published last month by Kathy Wagner of Content Strategy, Inc. I think this one is closer to the mark — for starters, because it focuses on content rather than on the broader knowledge.

Content Maturity Model

Content Maturity Model (source: Content Strategy, Inc.)

Wagner’s Content Maturity Model presents 5 levels of maturity instead of just 3. Yet it still manages to be appealingly succinct. Finally, the real differentiator: it proffers advice on how to advance from each level to the next.

2011 Content Strategy Maturity Model

Rahel Bailie’s 2011 Content Strategy Maturity Model (source: Intentional Design Inc.)

The Content Maturity Model builds nicely upon a leaner maturity model that Rahel Bailie published in 2011. Bailie’s model also has 5 levels: they have different labels, but they’re similar in nature.

Bailie’s model is a great starting point for someone who’s getting their feet wet. It’s also one of the earliest maturity models for content strategy that I know of, along with one published by Christine Thompson in 2011 and updated in 2013.

Thompson’s model defines key metrics (tracks, to use Suite Solutions’ term) but it doesn’t say what each maturity level looks like. It also emphasizes marketing content over other types of content — which limits its overall usefulness.

Content Strategy for Marketing Maturity Model

Content Strategy for Marketing Maturity Model (source: Christine Thompson)

Last but not least, there are the hierarchy diagrams from Hilary Marsh and Sarah O’Keefe, each of which uses a pyramid to classify content in 5 levels. (Marsh’s top level is labeled Strategic; O’Keefe’s is labeled Intelligent.) Like the Suite Solutions model, these models focus on the content itself and not so much on the processes used to develop it.

Taken together, all of these models contribute to the science of content strategy by codifying the key factors and the key measurements in developing an effective strategy. I especially notice a couple of things:

  • Most of the models have 5 levels, which seems about right. If you have fewer than 5, it’s hard for an organization to chart its course from the bottom levels to the top. The steps are too big.
  • There’s good consensus about the kinds of things that are needed to move up the levels — for example, the use of metadata to create “smart” content and the need to break down silos within the organization.

Each model is useful. But for me, the blue ribbon goes to Kathy Wagner’s Content Maturity Model. It’s the one I’d turn to first when creating a content strategy.

Take a look and tell me what you think of them all.

Do you know of a content strategy maturity model that I missed? Let me know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Your guide to content strategy maturity models

  1. techwriterkai

    Hi, Larry,

    I’ve been inspired by a few older maturity models which cover some of the same ground as the ones you’ve presented:

    – The “Documentation Process Maturity Model” by Marcello Visconti and Curtis R. Cook on page 3 of from 2000.

    – JoAnn Hackos’ “Information Process-Maturity Model”, originally conceived in 1977, described in in 2000 and updated in in 2004.

    – The “DITA Maturity Model” by Michael Priestley and Amber Swope described in in 2008.

    1. Larry Kunz Post author

      Thanks, Kai. While they’re not “content strategy” maturity models per se, all of those maturity models have stood the test of time and offer a lot in the way of developing and managing content. Thanks especially for introducing me to the Visconti-Cook document, which I hadn’t seen before.

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