It’s all a matter of context

Content may drive storytelling but context creates impact, writes Gareth Davies, head of Studio D at Waggener Edstrom Communications.


By Gareth Davies, Waggener Edstrom Communications

If 2013 was all about content marketing, then 2014 needs to be about ‘context marketing’.

Why? Because content marketing as we know it needs to evolve in order to remain effective. Without change, we are likely to end up in a situation where brands and organisations are investing heavily in content creation but see little or no return – whether that be a ‘like’, ‘share’, ‘retweet’ or any other action you wish the content to instigate.

However, for brands that have invested so much in content marketing, it is not doom and gloom. In fact, this shift to context marketing will make it a much more exciting place.

In order to best explain the importance of context marketing, we need to look back at one of the biggest trends of 2013 – what I like to call ‘the cult of me’. This trend saw a massive shift in marketers’ focus onto individuals. It was not about brands telling their stories; it was about people like you and me, regardless of background, telling ours and marketers then communicating how 
a brand’s story relates to them.

If this still isn’t making sense, simply think about the rise and rise and rise of the now ubiquitous ‘selfie’ – the phenomenon of people taking pictures of themselves. This was a trend 
that grew so fast that Oxford Dictionaries named it 2013’s Word of the Year.

In my mind, 2013 was also the year when user-generated content (UGC) drove far more views than many a branded video, which probably cost far more to produce and distribute – the Harlem Shake being the most obvious and best known UGC trend of the past 12 months.

And on top of this, if you also look at the changes Google made to its search algorithm, there is now a greater focus on authorship, meaning that those websites with influence and authority will stand a greater chance of ranking higher in search results than a brand’s or organisation’s own pages.

Combined, these forces explain why context marketing is so important. It is about becoming smart with your audience and content choices. Moreover, it is about hyper-targeting content to those individuals who will have the greatest propensity to engage with it in the most positive way. In some ways, content marketing today feels like the early years of social media, when our advice to clients was always to instigate a two-way conversation.

But social media and content trends have shifted away from text-based posts to those led by imagery, and people seem to have lost the desire to respond consistently.

When you look across the world of paid, earned and owned media, hyper-targeting is not something new. The most obvious example is the use of search keywords as a trigger for pay-per-click advertising, or Twitter’s ‘promoted tweets’ mechanic, where you can pay to have your own posts appear once a user that fits your target profile uses a trigger word in their own status updates. However, this type of paid targeting is not always the most effective, nor does it have a strong perception of credibility.

I am not saying that these approaches do not have merit – they do. In the now over-crowded digital and social landscape, brands need mechanics like this to cut through the noise to give them instant visibility. But paid media will have to become more enticing and engaging.

‘Selfies’ show a growing trend for individualism among consumers, meaning branded content must be targeted to be relevant

In fact, for it to deliver return, paid media content will have to not feel like advertising. If anything, the onus will be for this form of content to become more editorial in nature.

But it is in the earned media space where brands and organisations will need to work harder, or should I say ‘smarter’. Earned media is really beginning to show signs of fatigue, partly due to the fact that so many brands are active across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, meaning we are inundated with messages. With so much content being thrown in our faces it is no wonder that we are choosing to engage with it less.

It’s not that brands should not be producing less content, but it needs to be remarkable to connect, excite and delight, and marketers need to look at their overall audience base and segment it far more than they are doing. Once this has been achieved, they can then produce content that may reach a smaller audience but be far more relevant, far more personalised and in turn far more engaging.

This sort of approach can even be applied to owned media, although this practice is not as widespread as it should be. But bearing in mind the flexibility of websites to incorporate mechanics such as Facebook’s developer tools, content within these pages could be adapted and delivered based on the preferences and interests of the person visiting the website in question.

So the rallying cry for marketers is simple: get to know your audience better. Fortunately, in the world of big data in which we live, this should not be such an uphill climb. Lean on audience insight before you commit to any content strategy and do not try to push a ‘one size fits all’ approach to content production. Develop audience persona profiles for each of your key stakeholder groups and ensure you understand how they engage with your brand and competitors, how they engage with the markets and sectors in which you operate, the affinity (or lack thereof) that they hold towards you, as well as a snapshot of the types of platforms and content they use. Media and platform owners offer some insight through their administration tools, Google has a wealth of these to hand, and there is also no end of social media listening and monitoring tools available.

Once this grunt work has been complete you will not only be in a better place to engage with your audience in a far deeper and more meaningful way than ever before, but you will also be able to develop a content strategy intrinsically tuned to the wants and needs of your audience. All of which means – and I have been dying to say this about content – ‘build it and they will come’.

For more information, please contact:

Gareth Davies
Head of Studio D, Waggener Edstrom Communications
020 7632 3800,