Content Marketers: You’re Dead Wrong About Context

“Content isn’t king, context is”, “If content is king, context is queen” and “Content is king and context is god” are things you’ve probably seen on marketing blogs. Everyone is saying some variation of this now. HubSpot, Gary Vaynerchuk, even I said it back in 2011 (I guess I’m the hipster of context marketing). Here’s the problem: it’s absolutely wrong.

If you search for “context marketing” you’ll find definitions that say something along the lines of “giving the right content to the right people at the time”. The issue with this definition is that it limits context to the universe of content marketing. When I read Gary V’s post on medium last year, I realized the major error that most marketers make. I replied: “It is a misconception that context is a subset of content marketing. It is the other way around…think bigger. Consider context before content.”

Context is not a consideration of content. Content is a consideration of context.

Believe me, I get that content marketing is important. I’m currently the Head of Content Strategy at Avi Networks. My point is that context is important in every aspect of marketing, not just content. We tend to assume that content is the answer, and then apply context to our content. But what if content isn’t the answer? A narrow view of context forces you to market the wrong way.

Context marketing means having a deep understanding and mindfulness of your customer, your business, and the industry at large. Then, after considering these contexts, develop strategies and tactics to grow your business (for more on this see my article “3 Contexts Marketing Need to Understand (But Don’t”).

One of the most memorable examples of context marketing has absolutely nothing to do with content. A few years ago a local pizza company stopped by the office of a previous startup of mine and delivered 2 pizzas and said they wanted to cater lunches for local startups. One of the pizzas was gluten free (I’m celiac) and it tasted delicious. They were heroes in my mind. We immediately began catering lunches from that pizza company twice a month and it still is the local go-to joint for my family when we are in the mood for a few slices. This company understood context. Bay Area startups often cater meals. Pizza is a popular meal. People have dietary restrictions. Make great pizza that follows dietary restrictions. Home run!

Unfortunately, most marketers do a poor job of understanding the broader context. For example, a big trend over the last years has been for businesses to use Instagram and SnapChat. Dozens of thought leaders are encouraging individuals and brands to focus their energies on these platforms — a guest on a popular marketing podcast even said “if you are in marketing and still aren’t sure about Snapchat, you’re stupid and should quit your job and never work in marketing or social media ever again”. That was verbatim. And I completely disagree. Snapchat and Instagram may be great for some brands, but it isn’t a proven platform for all businesses. Consider the context of your customer — is your audience on SnapChat and Instagram? Consider your company — does your offering lend itself to these platforms? Context is why my marketing team consciously does not invest in building our brand on these channels.

Many of these “experts” have found success building their personal brands, and now make their living sharing the tactics that made them a social media star. This is copy/paste marketing. The danger of copy/paste marketing is that it doesn’t consider context, at all.

Big ideas that aren’t grounded in context can lead marketing organizations astray. I’ve had countless conversations with clients and employers about “growing followers on [insert social channel here]” or “writing a viral whitepaper” (this really happened) or “getting on the front page of the WSJ”. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these goals. However, given the context of the business, the customer, and the medium, these goals were often unrealistic and would have an extremely limited impact on revenue or customer engagement. They weren’t the right focus for the marketing team.

Context is too big and too critical to be viewed as a subset of content marketing or email marketing or Snapchat marketing. Context and content shouldn’t even be considered on the same plane of existence. Content is a tactic, context is the strategy. Context is paramount and should be considered before, during and after every marketing activity. The more aware you are of your customer, your business, and your industry, the more effective you will be.

Originally published at