We’ve all had the saying “content is king” thrown at us by some marketing guru’s blog, e-book or webinar series. The phrase originated in an essay by Bill Gates in 1996, where he explained that content will make the majority of money on the internet, just as it did in previous forms of broadcasting.
Since then, the phrase has dictated the behaviour of brands and marketers online like a religious text.
(I wonder whether it would have if someone other than Gates had made the claim?)
While he was certainly correct in his statement, content is now not the only driving force in successful branding and marketing.
People have caught on to the content game, so something else is now needed to distinguish excellent branding from average marketing. This is particularly true for brands trying to engage younger people on social media.
That “thing” is context.
Context mediates content in a way that can turn an average piece of marketing into a sensational one. Context is becoming just as important as content in such a way that the two together will rule the marketing world for the foreseeable future. Its importance stems from the merging of culture with entrepreneurship, business, and marketing, locally and globally.
Get the context right, and it’s so much easier to write engaging content.
What Do You Mean by Context?
By context I mean tapping into consumer culture in a way that makes content relevant and therefore engaging to your particular audience.
Lidl provides us with a great example of this. After John Lewis’s highly anticipated Christmas ad (which tapped into music culture itself), Lidl hijacked the music culture theme and put it in the context of an everyday parent who can’t afford an expensive piano. What’s more, the discount supermarket chain even included their name in a riff off Elton John’s lyrics from the song.
This was such a significant move because of the influence of Christmas ads in the UK—in particular the John Lewis ads, which are renowned for being emotionally compelling. Imagine ripping off a Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial.
Remember the ad?
Elton John’s music will probably have played a large role in the lives of those likely to buy a piano as a present for their child. Many would love their children to be the next Elton John but can’t afford £872 pianos.
The ad has context, culture, and humor. And this can teach us, as content marketers, a valuable lesson.
Sure, we still have to write excellent content. But the content cannot be our sole focus.
Placing great content in the context of your audience’s cultural interests is an extremely effective practice. And if you still don’t believe me, here is a Facebook page that posts the same photo every day but has over 5,500 followers.
It’s not even an interesting photo.
OK, 5,500 followers isn’t exactly going viral, but what would you do for that many extra followers, potential customers, or clients?
What this page does is tap into the meme culture with teens and schoolchildren. Memes are humorous forms of media, typically entertaining for their absurdity, that are spread rapidly via the internet. Yes, the page is absolutely ridiculous, but that’s what memes are often meant to be.
If this isn’t evidence that content is no longer everything, I don’t know what is.
Context has become so important partly because of the amount of great content online.
In 1996, there was neither the quality nor the quantity of content online that there is today. Now the wealth of content means that something else has to distinguish good marketing from average marketing.
Enter: Cultural context.
Culture drives values, opinions, and decisions.
Placing a product in a particular context can make an audience more inclined to buy it, since it fits in with their values and interests.
Its effectiveness stems from the merging of culture into wider aspects of business and entrepreneurship.
For example, a music streaming site’s content marketing should focus on long-form content rather than short-form content. Why? Because there is a huge culture developing around knowing the ins and outs of a particular song, artist, or album. Longer, more complex articles about an artist’s motive for an album will provide far more engagement than a 500-word piece.
Conversely, a gaming business should focus on short-form, informational content. Gamers will likely resort to their content for quick explanations of in-game features so they can get back to playing. Articles topping 1,000 words may bore the reader, who might then resort to another blog for a quicker fix—a potential customer lost. If blogs can be relied upon for quick, informative explanations consistently, they will build loyalty and find selling to their readers far easier.
Content has to be integrated with wider culture like music, gaming, sport, and fashion if it is to be successful.
What this means for brands is that implementing context into content campaigns is now vital. It’s another dimension of the marketing field that brands should consider, particularly startups and brands targeting young people.
This can be done by hijacking other themes within your industry, as Lidl did very cleverly. Or it can be done by being original, innovative, and savvy. This requires listening to audience interests and industry trends and then framing great content inside them.
There are a number of ways to do this. For example, hiring guest writers from the audience itself, who will essentially be creating content for themselves. They are part of the culture you are trying to tap into, so they will get the context down to a T.
Alternatively, you can simply spend your time becoming part of your audience. Have you ever wondered why so many YouTubers have such huge influence? It’s because they were initially part of the audience they are trying to reach. They know the culture inside and out because they helped create it. You can emulate that by immersing yourself in the activities your target audience enjoys.
It doesn’t matter what technique you use, as long as you can create content with a clear picture of your audience’s culture in mind. Listen to their feedback, and adapt the context around it.
The Bottom Line
Brands cannot assume they know what their audience is interested in. They have to become immersed in their audience’s culture and really identify where their true interests lie.
If this requires investment of time, people, and money, then invest. This might be sending an employee to a convention or event, hiring influential figures within the industry to create content with you, or spending time becoming your own audience.
Context is now just as important as content. Without it, content won’t interest or engage your audience. Context is tapping into your audience’s culture in a way that builds rapport, trust, and loyalty. It’s the difference between wasted content and effective branding.
Great marketing in 2019 will marry the two together.