Nov 2, 2011

Why content is no longer king (and who’s taking his place)

A few days ago I posted that content marketing, long proclaimed the King in online marketing, was firmly established on its throne based on numerous studies. I would like to refine my position. I just read a very good article (below) on the role of context vs. content. Consumers, even business buyers, are inundated with so much content (much of it impersonal) that they have become bleary-eyed and resistant to the very hard work of discerning the competing details between their buying choices. To increase the human connection, marketers need to provide meaningful context, as Larry Brooks notes below. 

Since the very first blog, written around an ancient campfire somewhere in the moist foothills of Seattle, content has been crowned the undisputed king.The king ruled over all that was written, be they blogs, articles, ads, fiction, or a killer love letter. All that was copy sat at the feet of the king.Nothing succeeded without content. Writing without it was cast from the kingdom, banished as self-serving junk mail and the much-loathed “interruption marketing.”

But the king is dead.

Okay, not exactly dead, just appointed Prime Minister. Content still rules, but it’s from a more evolved perspective.

Long live the new king: context.
Because nothing sells, nothing works, without it.

The inherent power that is context
At the center of every effective piece of content is an agenda, an implied pitch residing at the heart of the content. Content is the license, if you will, to move forward with the pitch. Valuable content gives you the right to go on to sell or promote something. It’s the embodiment of a noble premise — to receive you must first give. You give with the hope that the prospect will stick around and finally buy something. And that is the context behind content marketing. A commercial context doesn’t diminish the value of strong content. In fact, acknowledging your agenda can be a very smart strategy. It’s like saying, Here, I have a gift for you. Stick around. Because there’s even more where that came from.Content creates value, and value builds trust. From trust springs the willingness to part with dollars in return for even more value.

The universal nature of context
Of course, context isn’t something we only find in commercial transactions. It’s the empowering juice of fiction, as well. In the opening scene of Quentin Tarantino’s current flick, Inglourious Basterds, we see what would otherwise be an overly long, annoyingly irrelevant conversation between a Nazi officer and a terrified farmer. Why is the farmer terrified? Why is the viewer hooked? Because of the context of the scene. Beneath every seemingly innocent line is a foreboding sense of dread. Idle chit-chat about milk and neighbors form the content. Fear and unthinkable consequences form the context. Without the context, all you have is a rather dull conversation. We know something really dramatic and truly horrifying is about to happen. Right after Tarantino teases and torments us into a frenzy of anticipation. How does he do that? He has mastered the art of context in his scenes.

We copywriters should take note.

Context as strategy
 Effective context doesn’t happen by accident. We need to consciously create it.
Context comes from the writer’s clarity about her goals, juxtaposed against the expectations and tolerances of the audience. In the context of content marketing, first we deliver valuable content, free and clear. As a gift. As a solution. As narrative bricks and mortar. And in doing so we earn the reader’s trust.
Once we’re trusted, we are now able to expand on our own agenda. We get to talk more about the intended outcome of the piece. That outcome might be a sale, a subscription, or even conversion to a new idea.

In a blog, we set out to deliver value. In an ad, we pitch solutions and overcome objections. In fiction, we infuse scenes with anticipation and emotion. And in each case, when we understand the context we’re working in, we achieve our goal. And so, too, does the reader. Because their context isn’t what you’re selling, but what they’re seeking to take away from what you’ve written.

Long live the new king.