How to Develop a CONTEXTUAL Content Strategy

There are lots of arguments about what creativity means but when it comes to advertising, one thing is for sure – creativity without purpose is pretty pointless!

Because it’s not enough to do something just because you can, because it’s the newest ‘thing’, because it’s #trending or just looks damn cool. Great work needs to have a defined purpose and a specific set of tangible goals. So, naturally, when we talk about ‘creativity with purpose’, ‘content with purpose’ also falls under that umbrella.

One Strategy to Rule them All?

There has also been an awful lot of hoopla over the last few years about how ‘content is king’. And yes, content is really, really important. However, we live in a time when the biggest content providers in the world, don’t actually produce any of the stuff themselves. A world in which the old models of advertising are dying and the old paths to consumption have become lost in the undergrowth. A time when brands are becoming media platforms and media platforms are becoming brands. So, what would make us think an updated brand marketing solution is as simple as ‘OK, lets go do some content!’?

Don’t get me wrong. If you’ve recognized one of the hundred of reasons why your brand needs to start creating content, that is really super. But erm, unfortunately it’s not all as simple as that.
You see, not all content is created equal…


Jumping on a #TGIF hashtag does not an epic content strategy make – no matter how many social platforms you pollute. Yes, I’m calling the vacuous, tedious, obscure, pushy and/or downright insulting content similar to the above pollution. Because that’s what it is. Nobody cares about your ‘Happy Friday!’ brand updates. Hell, even your mum hates it, and she’s crazy about you!

And furthermore, when it comes to content, it’s not just about how great your content is in relation to your consumer… it’s how great it is in comparison to every single other thing on the internet.

Bummer. I know.

Take this little experiment for example… Tomorrow morning, when you wake up and check your phone, take note of all the items awaiting you. Write them down. Now, guesstimate how long it would take you to actually get through them all. Now think carefully about the other items of content you want to ‘get around to’ today (online and off). Write them down to. It will give you some perspective on just how hard cut through is.

I did this last Monday. There was a whopping 4.2 hours of content and awesome and personal updates from my favourite places, that would took priority over any ‘random’ content to be stumbled upon during that day. This – by the way – excludes work email, music, TV (don’t have one), radio (don’t listen), Facebook (quit) and of course, the obligatory Game of Thrones episode on a Monday night.

And the point of all this?

Well, the point is to illustrate that just because your brand has decided to embark on making content – particularly, but not exclusively social or digital – does not mean that your war is won. Because as Brand X, you are not only competing with your old arch-nemesis Brand Y, but in the world of digital you are now also competing with Brand 新闻 from China, and in the world of content, the latest breaking headline, cats dressed as sharks, the latest Kardashian twitter update and the bloomin’ BBC. That’s an awful lot of noise…

All is not lost however, thanks to the one true king and rightful air to the throne of digital… context.


Content in Context

Why is context so important? Well, it alone is the singular thing that – once all contextual elements are correctly considered – guarantees a winning marketing strategy for your brand. And far from being just your only ‘line of defence’ it is also the singular all-powerful weapon you have against your competitors, big and small.

As Littlefinger from GoT famously says…


You should look upon this crazy time in marketing, media and communications as the ultimate opportunity for your brand. Context is that opportunity admist the chaos that allows small local brands to play with the big boys, for ‘anyone’ to become a media giant, commanding millions of followers, for your consumers to feel individually cared for and for brands to matter more to people beyond just the function of their product than ever before. Further more, when it comes to niche target audiences, it allows brands to play the central roll those communities together in truly useful and engaging ways.

The Internet of Ideas

The great news is, to apply a contextual content strategy, you don’t need to be a social media, SEO or digital ‘guru’ (shudder). But you do have to go back to basics on brand strategy, and work that strategy really hard. Because if that isn’t right, then your content sure isn’t going to be either. Yes, there is something ironic that in an age obsessed with ‘the internet of things’ the reason behind them, the contextual idea that has formed from a solid strategy, is the single greatest determinater of a brand or a campaigns success. But it really is time for brands to get back to what I like to call ‘the internet of ideas‘.

So, here are the first 3 starter steps to follow in order to create great contextual content:

Overarching Strategy

1. Your Brand Truths

What can you honestly say about your brand, business or product that is the 100% absolute truth. This should be a list of BS-free points about your brand that people really can’t disagree with. ‘It’s awesome and all the cool kids like it‘ for example, is not a brand truth. Brand truths can be found in facts about the production process – something that makes it unique perhaps? History. Heritage. Or in what a brand ultimately stands for. ‘Our brand is fun‘, again is not ‘standing for something’, it’s just some pointless vacuous statement. The list can be as long as your arm or just a party of one – both are ok, as long as it’s honest.

This part of the process is a great way to re-acquaint yourself with your business and maybe even find out a few surprising facts. Don’t just use your own limited perspective – even if you are the CEO – all resources available should be utilised as best possible. Talk to everyone from product conception, to on the ground customer service. You will be surprised…

2. Your Consumer Truths 

Now find out as much as possible about your consumer. Presume nothing.  Revisit old research and conduct new research both primary and secondary where possible. When it comes to limits on money and time, this is often where a business will try and spend as little as possible…more on that here. However, if you consider the amount you are going to dedicate to content and perhaps media spend, not putting a percentage towards seeing it its the right content, reaching the right people with the right message is incredibly stupid. It really isn’t right if the thousands of Euro of company money you spend on any marketing campaign get less research then the holiday you’ve planned the week after launch, is it?!

Remember, consumer truths are not the ‘what’ people are doing, but the ‘why’. A common pitfall here is that people will concentrate on platforms. I suspect this is partly do to impatience and partly to do with our current obsession about getting to grips with them. The great news is a truly great content strategy has not need to concern itself with platforms until the very end. Because great ideas, are not determined by mechanics or platforms.

3. Your Cultural Truths 

This is the final element, in which you need to list important issues, events, ideas and ideologies that are particular in the place in which your brand and audience find themselves. This may be topical news – like a referendum. It may be the season. It may be an economic, religious, political or social reality. Do not worry about any of this fits in with your brand until you have this list pulled together.

Finally, pull the three elements together and figure out which points ‘speak to one another’. This is your sweet spot for contextual content, that you and only you can own.

Below is an example for Dove. Of course this is just a quick and very rough list I’ve come up with myself but what’s important to note here is how sometimes brand ‘negatives’ actually are central to creating a positively awesome content marketing strategy…

Dove’s Brand Truths:

  • Dove is not a ‘high glamour’ brand – its packaging is simple and ‘honest’ looking.
  • However, when consumer use Dove products they report feeling like they have ‘taken care of / treated’ themselves. They feel good in Dove.
  • Dove does not use any technologies or ingredients that would majorly distinguish it in an overcrowded market.

Dove’s Consumer Truths:

  • Only 4%* of women consider themselves beautiful
  • Ultimately, women choose their beauty products by navigating what those products promise – specifically, how they will make them feel about themselves.

Dove’s Cultural Truths:

  • Women are bombarded with images of ‘perfect beauty’ by media every day.


Ours will be the champion for changing public and industry perceptions of what beauty is and in doing so, make the other 96% of our target audience feel better about themselves and our product. 

Dove will campaign for Real Beauty.

Example content result: 

What’s important to note about this is that the essence of your brand positioning, marketing and content strategy are no different. This is about having be a unified proposition that every aspect of your business can get behind.

It should not be tied to a platform, a format, a time, a partnership or a singular campaign output. Remember what we said earlier – that real ideas are something removed of mechanics?! The real issue behind content strategies is that they often scare marketers because they shake and test every aspect of your brand positioning for soundness. I mean – sure you can waffle about your brand key for a few minutes in a presentation, but does it actually give you a spring board to come up with new content material every single day? A tone and personality to respond to your consumers? A brand perspective for trends, topics and events? So yes, a content strategy that can throw up a lot of hidden challenges and even internal politics for a business but is ultimately be an extremely rewarding process. And I don’t mean in a fluffy ‘we all grew up a little bit that Summer‘ way… I mean in a changing the bottom line way.

Further details on this (now ten year strong) campaign below – which, incidentally, doubled Dove’s product sales in the first year. If that’s not a compelling reason why you need to consider your content contextually, I don’t know what is!

*Reblogged from my piece on the SZ blog.

*There is a contradiction as to whether it is 2 or 4% by even Dove sources but the sentiment is what it is!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. M. says:

    Reblogged this on Marilyn Grando.



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