The Year of Content Marketing… in Context

If I hear “content is king” one more time… man, I don’t know. We sure heard a lot of it in 2013. Looking back, in 2013 content already was king, but its claim to the throne was legitimized by Google’s Hummingbird update and the “sponsored content” model popularized by BuzzFeed, Forbes and others. 2013 was a big year for content marketing. But content is nothing without context.

Storytelling has always been a powerful agent for connecting brands and customers. That was just as true for Don Draper’s Madison Avenue as it is for online marketers and advertisers today. The most impactful campaigns — Apple’s “1984” Macintosh spot or  Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow” — are those that don’t just deliver great content; they leverage context with a deep understanding of their audience to create moving stories. I like Jon Hamm’s summary in a September 2013 piece for Adweek:

“Stories rely on the intended audience to develop their own imagery and detail to complete and, most importantly, to co-create, whereas content does not. Content is primarily created in the internal mind of the content originator, with no heed to the mind or to the context of the audience.”

Thanks to a renaissance in data collection and analytics technologies, marketers today have more tools available than ever before to develop contextual content, highly personalized and reflective of their audiences. And, thanks to developments in ad tech, social media, marketing automation and more, options for delivering this content are more sophisticated and, well, contextual than ever before.

Yet we should also be cautious in how we apply data and new technologies toward the pursuit of context. In a recent post for The Hub, Ian Lurie highlights the issue:

“When we let data dominate marketing decision making, we treat our customer as an algorithm … Quantitative data and the data we can present with numbers still matters, a lot. But so do qualitative factors like emotional response, gut instinct, peer pressure, and perceived value.”

Context, like the storytelling it powers, is personal.

In 2014, I hope that marketers and advertisers strive to create personal, meaningful connections between brands and their customers. For that to happen, we have to look beyond the “more is more” shotgun approach that too often is mistaken for effective content marketing, and instead focus on context.

Devoid of context, content may be king… but the emperor wears no clothes.