Giving a story impact: why context is everything

‘What makes a good story?’ As communicators, it’s a question we’re often asked by our clients. And the truth is that ‘a good story’ is dictated more by personal taste than theory. While that may sound like I’m talking myself out of a job, the reality is that how we approach storytelling has intrinsically changed.

Now, we need to focus more of our time having one-to-one conversations with our clients’ stakeholders, rather than trying to get our clients’ content seen by as many people as possible.

But, for a brand with hundreds, thousands, and even millions of customers, the idea of one-to-one conversations may seem like an impossible scenario – and it kind of is. This is the reason context marketing has become so important.

The easiest way for me to explain ‘context marketing’ is to use your Facebook News Feed as an example. Log into Facebook and you’ll be presented with a wealth of stories: half from your friends, the other half most likely from the brands, organisations and groups you have ‘liked’. How many of you spend time reading, let alone responding, to every post being thrown at you? Not many, I predict.

Our content consumption choices are based on our own personal preferences and interests. For instance, I love all of my close friends dearly, but I’m reluctant to engage with the unnecessary amount of new-born baby photos they post. Why? Because it doesn’t interest me – just like they’re unlikely to engage with the unnecessary amounts of photos I post of my pet dog, Mylo.

Now imagine that my friends are an organisation which has paid for me to see their content. They have assumed that because we are connected via social media we have something in common and that I will happily consume all they push my way. Absolutely not.

Is it any wonder then that sites like Twitter and Facebook are seeing non-paid-for engagement fall through the roof? There is hope, however – and that hope lies in brands driving content that has greater context for their target audiences. In short, we need to rethink how we develop content strategies and content-centric campaigns.

First and foremost, insight is key to context marketing. Creating a detailed profile of your target audience is the first and most important step you should take. This isn’t a generic sounding profile though: in the world of context marketing you need to go deeper.

Let me use myself as an example: I have a one-hour train journey to work each day – I immediately switch on my laptop but, before I begin working, I log onto Twitter and Mashable to keep abreast of the latest in social media, sharing any relevant or enticing stories. During my lunch break, I’m likely to be at the gym, where I’ll browse and comment on my friends’ Facebook status updates while on an exercise bike. Then, when I’m travelling home, I’m online again – either working, moaning about my fellow passengers’ poor behaviour on Facebook, or both.

As you can see from just a brief snapshot into my daily social media engagement, at different times I’m more susceptible to certain types of content than others. In the morning I’m news hungry, at lunch I want fitness tips, and on my journey home, if South-eastern trains reached out to me with humorous travel-related content, they’d get my retweet.

While this is a very simple explanation of context marketing, it demonstrates the thinking communicators need to be mindful of. Social and digital media are no longer about amassing fans; they’re about the engagement your communications receive. This means that your budget spent on content creation wasn’t wasted and, more importantly, bear in mind that a more engaged fan is far more likely to purchase your product or service and recommend your brand or organisation. Now that’s what I call impact.

Gareth Davies, UK Head of Studio D at Waggener Edstrom

If you are interested in this subject and you are an in-house communicator then we are holding a free ‘From Content to Context’ conference on Thursday 13th March. You can get your ticket here.

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