Context Always Mattered, Now It’s Crucial

As the flood of content marketing continues to populate the interwebs, you’re starting to hear context come to the fore. Context was the overriding theme at yesterday’s xPotomac conference with almost every session featuring conversation about the need to provide context.

It’s ironic, because in reality great brand and marketing campaigns have always resonated thanks to context. From the Maytag Man to Oreo’s slam dunk Instagram ad during the Super Bowl, people had an affinity to the creative and message.

Moving back to today, the Internet content of now demands time. Whether it’s a few seconds to absorb a photograph or several minutes to read a thoughtful post, you need to stop paying attention to whatever else you are doing and invest in that content.

Often to get that attention, this content has some sort of tangential context to the customer. Meaning, the content relates to a personal or professional interest. When marketing doesn’t have context, customers simply ignore communications.

That’s why 30 second spots have become less effective over time UNLESS the creative was strong. It’s why earned media became more important in the 90s and 2000s. And why peer-to-peer trust trumped press coverage as people saw fallacies in media coverage.

But now we are in the “bludgeon the Internet pipes with content” period, and are poised to move into a time of wearable computing, context becomes crucial to even getting a chance.

When people wear computing devices and move into a ubiquitous Internet environment, getting that attention will become exponentially harder. Not only will you need context as it’s related to the medium and the stakeholder, now you’ll need to understand their physical whereabouts.

Specifically, you have to understand not only if someone might relate to the product, but also will they care in the moment, where they are specifically located, at that time, and with that particular person. And if you don’t have All of that information, you are in essence flying blind.

Get Contextual or You Will Be Ignored

TechCocktail Co-Founder Jen Consalvo discussed context as it relates to visual content

Big data was the promise of context, being able to source against interest, history and demographical information. Augmented reality adds the physical to the mix. The combination requires contextual impact, or people will simply ignore you.

It seems as time continues, people adapt to every new trick or overuse of a marketing tactic. Now that content is the hot tactic du jour (Influencers, the Sequel coming next!), people are going to ignore more and more of it.

The more mobile and untethered from devices we become, we won’t even notice most marketing distractions.

Context is the only way to gain permission from busy, wary stakeholders. Without relevance, there is nothing.

Of course, content marketers are calling this new realization context marketing. Another unnecessary buzzword.

Why don’t we just call it understanding your customer, and the relatively small place products and services make in the much larger picture of life and media? Embracing context just seems to get that basic level of humility.

What do you think about the need to embrace context?


  • Makes perfect sense. I can’t wait for Influencers, the Sequel, and hope I will be in it….

    • Well, the best way to be influential is to make an impact for those around you. I already see you doing that!

  • I would like to plaster your last paragraph everywhere that “content marketers” convene. Understanding your customer. Yep. That’s the key to being relevant. Funny how few marketers get that.

  • YES! I would expand on being relevant: Too many marketers tell a long twisting story about how their marketing campaign is relevant, and it might be if they were standing there and presenting it to every consumer. However, their audience, with at most a moments time, doesn’t invest the time and mental energy to travel down the same twisting path.

    Relevance, which includes context and more, is a bar that will move higher every year and very few will hit it, IMO.

    • Yeah, I really do think we get stuck in our own bubbles. It’s pretty sad, really. And then worse we believe everyone is like us, fascinated with eddies of messaging and brand elements, when in reality, it’s just boring to most people.

  • As a whole, marketers seem to excel at killing every good marketing tool through thoughtless and innappropriate overuse. If every marketer took the approach of finding ways to help customers instead of message them, I think the tools would last longer.

  • Haven’t we always thought this? That’s why certain brands advertise on Meet The Press, and others advertise on South Park.

    (It one reason why, even though the little radio show I wrote about yesterday — “Business Talks” — won’t ever get big numbers, I think it’s a good investment for the right advertiser.)

    • I prefer South Park myself. I do think scaling with context is a huge issue for brands, and in the era of the micro, it increasingly makes sense to segment and serve unique stakeholder groups wherever possible.

  • Context has always been important I believe and I totally agree about understanding your customers, how they think, feel and behave. Back in the old days of the 80s we commissioned segmentation research to get the insights etc and the studies cost hundreds of thousand of dollars. However once you got those insights everything became simpler regarding marketing, especially communication and context. Today we can get some insights online although they still need interpretation to make sense.

    The one question I have is in some of the comments below when people say marketers. Who are they referring to?

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  • Definitely seeing the new buzzword come to the forefront in all-caps: CONTEXT MARKETING. I do think it becomes a lot more tricky than straight content marketing if you are narrowing down that “time” variable to provide a relevant experience within the context of the current consumer’s environment.

    We already had big data for monitoring brand mentions and doing sentiment analysis. These allows us to perhaps engage within a certain context but only if the consumer initiates the engagement with a brand mention. Now brands have to add location to the mix and be proactive with timely offerings, etc. Will brands even get that “prompt” of a brand mention/check-in, or do we get to the Minority Report world where we provide relevant and contextual content based upon user preferences and locations as they are walking down the street!

    It will be interesting to see how it unfolds both as a consumer and a solution provider.

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