Where Are We? Content in the Age of Context

By Tim Brunelle  |  October 15, 2013

Where are we

Marketing innovator Tim Brunelle explains content creators should perhaps be called context creators. Here’s why they need to look to highly specified strategy now more than ever before.

The biggest challenge facing content is context.

And the appropriate response isn’t code, it’s strategy.

Since the dawn of the Internet, content creators have lost more and more control of precisely where and how audiences receive and engage with content. Witness the record or publishing industries. The point here isn’t to debate distribution or compensation or copyright. Instead, the move to mobile computing asks us to think differently and deeply about the various circumstances and motivations affecting where and why people choose to engage — and strategize accordingly.

Why are you viewing specific content at specific times, in specific locations on specific devices? In other words, how can your content be better tuned to address the motivations and aspirations of your audiences?

Context is a huge opportunity. Gartner predicts a 9 percent increase in total desktop, tablet and mobile device sales in 2013, equaling 2.4 billion units. But within that number exists a 7.6 percent decline in desktop (PC) sales. The growth is very clearly in mobile devices. Which is no doubt why people like Mark Zuckerberg are funding Internet.org, a group dedicated to helping those not yet online to get online. “The plan envisions most people getting online via mobile phones,” note the editors at Bloomberg. comScore’s recent mobile study notes, “Consumer habits are changing and changing fast in favor of mobile.”

The move to mobile presents content strategists, designers and developers with the opportunity to engage audiences more specifically than ever.

Consider recipes. How you’d prioritize and present ingredients, directions and related images should be different depending on whether your audience is brainstorming, shopping, cooking or sharing; as well as where they’re engaging in these tasks and on what device. Imagine one recipe being presented in three or four completely different formats to better serve diverse audience motivations. We have but to try.

Much of the “responsive design” approach solves context issues through automation. Design grids change; copy gets reduced. But generally, it’s a Band-Aid solution that doesn’t address the context of the audience so much as the realities of screen size.

Responsive design is a necessary step in the right direction. But it’s not nearly the final step. We should back up. What’s needed is thorough strategy earlier. Strategy that recognizes how audiences use content based on context. We should demand greater insight into which devices our audiences use and when, look deeper into existing content analytics and provide richer creative briefing.

Back to recipes. A lunch entrée displayed for the first time to a smartphone at 11:38 p.m. suggests the viewer is doing research or preparation — not cooking or shopping. So content should be optimized to present images and descriptive text (i.e. persuasion) ahead of ingredients and directions (i.e. transaction). That same recipe, displayed for a second time to a tablet at 8 a.m., should be re-prioritized to favor ingredients and directions, as the viewer is likely about to take action.

Similar types of content segmentation should exist for retail locations, event content and product FAQs. Consider how content might look before, during or after a process is completed and display accordingly.

This is the future of successful content in the age of context.

Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?

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