The New King: Context!

We’ve all heard the much bandied about catch-phrase “Content is king!” to describe what was driving the media landscape a few years ago. Then, as the landscape shifted to a more niche approach to reaching stakeholders, a new buzz phrase was added to the vernacular: “The consumer is king!” Now, the commoditization of content – the sheer volume available and its incredible ease of creation, distribution and consumption – is making way for a new driver of the media landscape: context.

Woman using laptop in internet cafe
Howard Kingsnorth | Photodisc | Getty Images
Woman using laptop in internet cafe

Creating engaging content is still critical, and brands should certainly view themselves as content creators. But content also has become a table stake. Now more than ever, context is taking center stage and brands need to embrace this reality.

Simply put, context is what makes a piece of content relevant to an individual. And it can take many forms and fashions relative to the content it represents. Using a slight variation of the five ‘W’s we learned in grade school, if content is the “what” then context is the “who”, “why”, “when” and “how.”

The discussion around the idea that “context is king” has covered many topics – from online video consumption to The Future Laboratory’s recent report on context’s role in the future media landscape. Location-based services are a prime example of being able to add context to content. A person’s location at a given time can determine what type of information they would accept being “pushed” to them. For example, an individual in Midtown Manhattan could be interested in seeing a list of five Italian restaurants in the area and the most “liked” desserts at each. At LeWeb ’10 Marissa Meyer of Google talked about location as context and coupling that with a focus on people’s browsing habits (for example, Italian food and desserts) and proactively “pushing” relevant info to individuals. She described it as“contextual discovery.” As futurist Ross Dawson noted recently there are also other examples of context– ranging from weather to time to mood – that could be taken into account by information discovery engines.

Providing context, and thereby relevance, offers brands an authentic opportunity to connect with stakeholders on the stakeholder’s terms. It also enables the customization of messages to reflect the context. In today’s media environment, it’s crucial for brands to ask themselves how they are adding value to a piece of content through either the distribution or consumption of that content.

Said another way, does the brand show consumers they understand their world; what is important to them; and what they want to read, watch, and listen to? In addition to creating content that answers these and other similar questions, brands that create content that is tailored, for example, via distribution channel, location, or time of the month will have a leg up on others in cracking the “context” code and connecting with their stakeholders with authenticity and relevancy.

Nicholas Scibetta is a Partner, Global Director at Ketchum Public Relations. He is director of Ketchum’s Global Media Network, consisting of over 300 media strategists worldwide, and a self-professed soccer fanatic.