Exploring The Context Hierarchy (Within Content Marketing)
Mar 25, 2016
Starting with a humble brag…
Way back in 2012, we made a video about “how we help you succeed with content marketing” that ended with the kicker: Context is king. Content is the kingdom. And based on the presentations and panels from the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit a bit over a week ago, it’s safe to say that the idea has “all of a sudden” taken full hold of the content marketing world.
Despite the time between then and now, it got me thinking in more detail about what context (in regard to content and marketing) really means, and how marketers can better plan for it…and use it. Let’s explore context in the form of a hierarchy:
There’s the context of topic – which is the broadest, shallowest form of providing context. You really don’t have to know a thing about the specific content being engaged with or the details of the user. You can probably just assume that if someone has come to a site about, for instance, televisions, they are interested in at-home entertainment options. And you can add context in the form of additional information about that topic within the page, site or experience.
There’s the context of related content – which takes us one step deeper than “topic.” You’re now thinking about what additional detailed content is most logically related to the content that is the central point of the page (if you’re experiencing content on a website). You can, and should, also be providing related content within social channels, within printed pieces, or at events and so on. But while this is more specific than topic related info, it’s still a simplistic form of providing additional context…of tuning an experience through context.
There’s the context of use – in which you dynamically adjust content served up to people based on the selections they are making, or the paths they are following through a channel or experience. Again, in the construct of a website, the click of a link on a page let’s you know enough about what a visitor is interested in to think even more deeply about what to serve them next. Now we are starting to understand something about how to customize content or an experience through highly specific context.
And there’s the context of the user – in which you have gathered some seriously focused information on the specific person engaging with us, and you use that knowledge to personalize content based on context; based on both content use, and also understanding of what’s driving specific use due to the demographics and psychographics of the user. This is a much more specific way to customize context. And it’s also the most difficult, in terms of having — and using! — the right information at the right time to create a personalized experience…a personalized experience that’s still on the right side of “the creep line.” (Hat tip to Gina Pensiero for that terminology.)
Now…what to do with this hierarchy?
First, simply being aware that context is important is helpful in planning your content use. Knowing is half the battle. Seriously. It’s shocking how many times you’ll be on a brand website, or news website, or within a forum on LinkedIn in which there seems to be no consideration of topic taken into account. Posts feel like a series of non sequiturs. People’s brains, while often illogical, still tend to work in streams of relevance…in which one thing leads to another like thing. So don’t just plan content based on what you want people to read. Think about how different content areas on a webpage relate to each other by topic. Create a thread between your consecutive tweets. Build connections for your audience by planning for topic-based context.
Second, start thinking in terms of context hierarchy. Start thinking about how the actions sparked by one context tier will allow you to move to the next, more specific tier. If you plan your content by topic, and you find time on page is going up, then use that contextual information to better tune the content experience. If visitors naturally tend to choose contextual piece of content “A” over contextual piece of content “B”, what are the details of “A” that are better connecting with your audience? How can you use that information to move from “topic context” to “related content context”?
Third, start to use content (in context) as both marketing and market research. What I mean by this is to start putting some context-relevant conversion tests in place that allow you to get personal with your content. If both “X” and “Y” pieces of content drive great traffic to your site, which one leads to more conversions (registrations) on gated piece of content “Z”? Not only will you learn which piece of content drives more conversions, you’ll learn more about the type of people converting…what company they work for, what their role is, and what they’re most interested in. And then you’ll be able to personalize context for “like people” with greater confidence.
And, fourth, with this new found awareness, understanding and ideas for action around “context,” you too can join the debate about who’s really the king: content, context…Elvis, Michael Jackson or other!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Twitter: @johnvlane.
Watching TV as a kid, I used to run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials. Those days launched me down a path that included layout and writing for the college paper; communications strategy for political campaigns; marketing strategy and graphic design for Gensler (a global design and architecture firm); and the implementation of new programming, animation and design techniques for Centerline. Today I specialize in content marketing strategy and building digital deliverables to execute those strategies. But it’s about more than just creating killer digital content. At Centerline, we help clients succeed in the digital marketplace using a three-pronged approach: strategic (message creation, brand strategy), tactical (design, development), and analytical (measurement and adaptation). This experience-tested approach allows me to build campaigns that are both well-designed and effective for clients like IBM, GE and National Instruments.