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Be a Storyteller: Add Context to Your Content
Posted on August 13th 2014
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of how context fits into the content marketing puzzle, we should probably take a look at what context actually is. To do this, it’s best to sidetrack to the advertising industry for just a moment.
Imagine you’re looking at an ad that features a watch, with only a white background. On its own, the watch may be beautiful and appealing to the eye. But, if you add context, for example – by creating an ad of a celebrity wearing the watch, this changes the whole story. In many cases, the celebrities wearing the watch have little to do with the product itself, but what they stand for can often make the watch much more attractive to those looking at the ad.
During a recent Oktopost customer-hosted webinar, Marni Mandell, Head of Business Development at Roojoom, provided this example, and emphasized that context is all about who you are, who you want to be, and who you want to associate yourself with. Essentially, adding context can help create a whole new world – or story – out of a single product.
If we shift away from the advertising industry, and switch to content marketing, then it’s crucial to think of context as the space that surrounds the intersection between content and readers. Now, as much as we’re all experts in writing content itself – whether it’s a blog post, landing page or tweet – do we know if people are actually reading it? Even if they are, is there a way to make it infinitely more relevant for them?
Before Context, Think Value
Adding context to your content can make it more relevant, but it can’t serve as a substitute for value. Prior to considering factors such as time of day or geographic location, first and foremost, your writing needs to benefit those who are reading it. This isn’t always an easy task to accomplish. As writers, we often feel that we have something to say – and in many cases, the desire to express it can get in the way of writing content based on what our audience wants.
For those who need a bit of a refresher on how to create valuable content, here’s a review of fundamental guidelines.
Bring a New Perspective
There’s no point in fooling yourself. In the world of content marketing, it seems downright impossible to write about something “new.” Chances are, your awesome idea has already been covered. However, this shouldn’t discourage from writing your own unique take it on it – not at all. When talking about content creation during the webinar, Marni aptly noted that, “The fact is, even if it’s been covered before – it hasn’t been covered by you.”
So then the question becomes: What new element are you adding to the conversation? How are you looking at it a little bit differently? How have your life situations contributed to your understanding of the topic? When readers look at your content, even if it’s a topic they’re already familiar with, you want their response to be “I’ve never really thought of it that way.”
You Better Be Solving a Problem
You’ve heard it countless times before. Valuable content must solve a problem that your audience is encountering. If there’s nothing in it for the reader, you might as well just stop writing. First, talk to colleagues from different divisions in your company – such as sales and customer service. Then, write a list of questions you think your readers are asking themselves or pain points that they’re most likely encountering. Use this information as a basis for your content, and offer actionable and easy tips that can be implemented to overcome the issue at hand.
Tell Your Readers What to Do
Just because it’s obvious to you, doesn’t mean it’s obvious to them. Regardless of what you want your readers to do next – sign up for a webinar, download a white paper, read more relevant content – spell it out for them. This can be as simple as including a hyperlink, actionable advice, or even a call-to-action button. Never leave content hanging with just a vague idea, and always explain what the next steps are for putting your ideas content into action.
Value? We’ve Got That. Now it’s Time for Context…
To find the right context to add to your content, there are three questions you should be asking: Who is your audience? What do they care about? What kind of knowledge do they already have about what you’re saying? Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to determine what the larger conversation at play is. Basically, this is where you connect what you’re writing about to something larger, such as time of day, demographics, personal experiences or even device type.
Segmenting Your Readers
As marketers, any strategy we create must start off with a solid understanding of who our readers are. The first assumption is that you know who your target audience is – industry, business size, position, demographics. Of course any of these elements can be used to add context, but one that’s crucial to keep in mind is stage in the sales funnel.
Marni referred to this in the webinar as the “potential user situation” that relates to the business or product. In other words, you need to figure out what part of the sales funnel you’re creating the content for, so that regardless of the stage your reader has reached, he or she will be able to find suitable content.
For example, if your writing is aimed at readers in the awareness stage at the top of the funnel, then your content needs to educate them on your industry and trends at large. However, if it’s for readers in the evaluation stage, at the bottom of the funnel, the content you write should be designed to get them to better understand the unique value proposition of your product and why it’s better than what your competitors are offering. All of these “potential user situations” signify context, and should be considered before you even start writing.
One of easiest ways make your content more contextual is by incorporating personal background. For example, during the webinar, Marni mentioned that her colleague Yael Kochman wrote an article entitled,“5 Reasons Moms Make Great Entrepreneurs.” Rather than add to the hundreds of other generic articles out there on how to be a better entrepreneur, she drew on her personal experiences of motherhood to frame the story she was writing.
In this example, Yael wrote about how being a parent helps improves your ability to work under pressure, negotiate, and even crowd source. Adopting a personal stance made it easier for her to incorporate her experiences into the content, making it much more relatable for mothers reading it. The context also made it extremely easy to select the most relevant channels for distribution. For instance, Facebook and LinkedIn Groups pertaining to mothers in the workplace and female entrepreneurs were a perfect choice for this type of content.
Including personal experiences in your writing isn’t always relevant, or even possible. However, when you have the chance, attach some part of yourself to the content, and this may just make it easier for readers to relate to.
Considering Ambient Data
When it comes to ambient data, the list is never-ending. This kind of information can range from time of day, to device type, weather conditions, geographic location or even level of education. It’s the ability to take this data into consideration that can often make your content more personalized, and make readers feel as if was written just for them.
Example 1: Time of Day
When you think about content, your main focus is usually the writing itself, and not the actual hour at which it will be read. Taking time of day into account can be a great way to engage your audience, especially when it comes to publishing blogs, posting to social media, or sending out an email.
For example, if you’re publishing a blog post at an early hour –6 am, for example, try to include an anecdote or reference to waking up, morning routines or even commutes. Likewise, if you’re sending out an e-mail on a Friday afternoon, you can add context by referring to the end of the week, weekend plans and so forth. Even a minor mention to the time of day can make your content resonate more with readers and humanize your writing.
Example 2: Device Type
Have you considered what device your audience is consuming your content on? Is it a laptop, tablet or a smart phone? If you know that many of your readers are constantly on-the-go or are avid tablet users, apply this knowledge to your content. For instance, if you’re creating an infographic, make sure it appears in the right proportions on smart phones. Same goes for blog posts or e-mails – it’s crucial to check what they actually look like on multiple devices. More than that, ensure that any elements such as call-to-action buttons and interactive media are optimized and responsive.
Think about the last time you were reading a great story, and the context you read it in – were you on a beach, on vacation, or on your way to work? Any great story can become even greater because of the context that you’re in. That story – putting the context with the content, is what makes that content much more powerful.