What Can Chess Tell Us About Developing A Content Strategy?


Saturday, 9.12pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I used to attack because it was the only thing I knew. Now I attack because I know it works best. – Garry Kasparov

Saturday mornings are a time to go to the library and browse for surprises.

Today, however, I had a definite aim in mind.

The elder youngster and I had played a game of chess earlier – something I don’t really do much.

After a false start, confused by the picture on the cover that showed a chessboard that just happened to be set up wrong, we played a couple of games.

So I thought it might be a good idea to have a look and see if there were any books that might help a younger audience (and me) with our game.

After some searching I found a book called Tips for young players which, confusingly, does not have the word Chess anywhere in the title or on the spine – one assumes the authors wanted to keep it secret.

Leafing through the pages I learned there are four concepts you must understand to win – and interestingly they are four concepts that you can apply to many other things in life.

Like developing a content strategy.

I thought of content strategy mainly because I’d been talking to a friend about content and was musing on the kind of model that might help – and this one came along so let’s see if it’s any use…

1. Control or occupy the centre ground

You want your pieces to be in the centre of the board.

A bishop in the centre can reach 13 places. One in a corner can only get to seven.

The content marketing equivalent of this is to ask whether you’re in control of the space you want to play in or whether you’re on the fringes.

If you’re trying and failing to break into a crowded and noisy market maybe there’s a quiet space where you can be heard better?

Sometimes this means getting more specific about what you do.

If you’re a marketing consultant, for example, and want to stand out from the other marketing consultants out there what space would make sense for you to occupy?

The real point here is that you have to make a decision about which battlefield you are going to fight on – one that you control or one that you need to fight your way onto in the first place.

That decision could make the difference between success and failure.

2. Protect the king

As the game opens up your king gets more exposed so it’s important to move the piece to safety – to the edges as soon as possible by castling – crossing over the king and the rook.

The equivalent of this is protecting your most important asset – whatever that might be.

When it comes to content that might be your process, your writers or your research material.

Or, more importantly, it’s probably your time.

If you’re in charge of creating content you need to set time aside to do it – and you need to protect that time.

It’s almost impossible to do creative work ad-hoc.

The best way is to make it routine – to sit down at the same time and do the work – and that won’t happen unless you protect and shield that time from everyone – bosses, families and distractions.

3. Rapid development

In Chess pawns play a very important part.

Despite being the weakest pieces on the board their ability to attack and the reluctance of your opponent to sacrifice valuable pieces in exchange for a pawn let you charge forward.

And to get that charge underway you want to move pieces quickly.

Rather than doing multiple moves with one piece get them all into play.

The equivalent of a pawn in your content strategy is perhaps a blog post – something short that you can get out every day but that over time builds into a solid library of content that leads your charge.

Putting something out every week helps create a more receptive environment for the larger material you send out every few months.

Your mix of content can be likened to your mix of pieces – some short and expendable and some long, complex or expensive to create and use.

What you want to do, however, is get your content in play because the more you have the more likely it is that you’ll give the competition a “Content Shock” where they see the amount of stuff you have out there and decide that it’s easier to go and compete with someone else.

4. Take the initiative

Finally, if you’re now creating content you can’t sit back and wait for people to find you.

In Chess, once your pieces are on the board you need to take the initiative – press the attack and force your opponent to react to your moves rather than reacting to theirs.

With content that means reaching out and helping put your material in front of people – using social media and the other means at your disposal to get your message out there.

The fact is that there is much more stuff out there than people will ever have a chance to get around to looking at.

For a while – maybe a long time – you’ll need to work on recruiting people to look at your content – maybe directly, maybe through advertisements.

But you have to do something – and take the initiative or you could be waiting a long time


These four rules seem quite simple but it’s quite likely that if you look at your own content strategy you could do better on one or more of them.

Perhaps you’re creating content that’s too much like everything else out there.

Maybe you’d like to do more but just haven’t protected the time.

Or you’re a perfectionist and it just takes you a couple of months to get everything right instead of putting something out every day or week.

Or you’ve got a great content creation machine – but no one knows about it because you haven’t told them.

But when you boil all this down I’m reminded of something a friend of mine who played competitive chess once told me.

Just attack.


Karthik Suresh

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