Context vs. Content Marketing: And the Fallacy of the Debate

By Toby Reed

So I was on a plane. I was below 10,000 feet and had no WiFi so felt a little like a member of Gilligan’s Island. Stranded without any connection to the outside world…the internet. And that got me to thinking about how we communicate with one another today. More specifically, how businesses market themselves to their customers as the digital landscape continues to change the way we look at those relationships and the way we interact with customers. Fundamentally, I am thinking about a marketing question. Is Context now more important than Content in today’s marketing landscape?

Let me set the debate. All of the marketing world is a buzz with Inbound Marketing. The concept is that in the new on-line marketing landscape the goal is to pull in your customers by generating intriguing content as opposed to pushing your marketing message outbound through traditional channels. Inbound Marketing is such a hot topic now that Content creation and management now claims the second-largest share of digital marketing budgets according to KAPOST

So the question really isn’t whether Inbound is an effective method to attract and market in today’s digital world, but really HOW does a company go about it? Some say develop rich, intriguing content that educates and entertains your customers, thus increasing your brand strength and creating more customers. While others say marketers need to put their content marketing into “context” and be more precise about who/what/when/ and where you are targeting to effectively reach your target customer.

The Argument for Content

The camp for Content Marketing has been growing steadily for years. “Content is King” has been the mantra when it comes to the internet and driving inbound traffic. And there is good reason for the rally cry. Statistics show that video, Infographics and pictures draw eyeballs and increase conversions. The popularity of YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, SnapChat, Twitter, LinkedIn and other online sites filled with original content bears proof of that. As the results of Incite’s “The State of Marketing 2016” white paper relays, 53% of respondents feel content marketing is the most important marketing issue for them in 2016 and beyond. And why not? Content marketing has been the driving force with inbound marketers to pull potential customers to their online storefronts and websites for years. With most striving to be more ‘disruptive’ than ‘interruptive’ (see my post on the difference here) in their acquisition model, hoping to educate and inform their new customer. The idea? That their published content will help initiate a relationship with new customers who will engage with the marketer’s brand and ultimately be converted and retained as a long term customer.

The Argument for Context

Context marketing, or “Storytelling”, is more the art of making content marketing relatable and delivering that content to a more targeted group during precise moments of a buyer’s journey. You see context marketing was born from an overwhelming amount of online content marketing. According to the same Incite white paper referenced above “customers receive over 500 marketing messages a day and retain less than 1% of them”. Clearly with the internet littered with so many marketing messages, standing out becomes a challenge for the marketer. Context marketers argue that content generated as broad informational appeals broadcast to a wide, poorly targeted, and uninterested market incurs the same problem that many of the more traditional outbound marketing channels have. Relevancy. So the task of generating marketing relevant to select groups, like millennials, has been the focus of context marketers. Nearly 79% of respondents in Incite’s survey said that “Creating high quality, relevant content” was the most essential issue to them with respect to Content marketing. The group realizes that many people, including the coveted ‘millennial’ generation, want their experiences to be personal and meaningful. Combine that preference with the overwhelming amount of digital content being thrust upon web crawlers and the rise of Context marketing and Storytelling make a lot of sense.

The Real Verdict

In truth, the fallacy of this debate it that both Content and Context are important and go hand in hand. Without good Content you have nothing meaningful to provide to your customers to gain their attention. Without Context you are not able to relate or reach your customers with that message.

But here is the rub. Despite some sentiment to the contrary, Context and Content marketing strategies should not only live in an Online Inbound Marketing world. The best strategies need to live in inbound and outbound marketing channels, online and offline just like our customers.  An “Allbound Marketing” approach, as some have coined it, needs to be employed. Just look at the results in lead and revenue generation between inbound and outbound marketing channels in this study of 131 Mid-Size B2B Firms conducted by Act On Software.

Clearly the respondents of this survey found that both Inbound and Outbound channels delivered not only leads but revenue. And nearly half, 48% of the respondents' marketing budget is still allocated to outbound channels. Further, when detailing the channel's importance to their overall marketing success, Inbound and Outbound marketing were separated by a mere tenth of a point, 7.4 to 7.3 respectively.

Direct Mail's Strong ROI

Likewise, according to the survey above conducted initially by the Direct Marketing Association, Direct Mail (offline) gets the same or better return on investment as Social Media, Mobile, Paid Search, and Internet Display (all online).  Meaning the world of offline media continues to drive revenue results with customers. Therefore, the moral of the story here is that it is essential for the successful marketer to not only find ways to engage their customers online, but reach them offline as well.

Targeted and timely omni-channel marketing experiences that blend outbound offline channels, like direct mail, with inbound online marketing channels should be the marketer’s focus. The integration of these mediums and channels provides the marketer the opportunity to develop a relationship that is uniquely relevant, tangible and sought after by the customer.

The New Marketing Frontier

The truth is our customers demand us to be more than a one trick pony. There is no silver bullet when it comes to successfully navigating this new and continually changing marketing frontier. As marketers we need to live in the channels our customers live in, online and offline. We need to continue to create content that is both engaging and contextually appropriate for our target audience. And most importantly, we cannot just simply push product. The conversation you are having with your customer should be educational and engaging, not a product dump worthy of an adblock. Remember, the customer of today is ultimately seeking a personal long term relationship. Aren’t you?



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