As it Turns Out, It’s a Sprint, Not a Marathon

Content may be king these days, but the “king” is dead if there’s no context surrounding your content.

During the years I spent “on the inside” as an on-staff corporate marketer/communicator, there were a few constants one could count on: annual performance reviews, the holiday parties, and of course, the periodic declaration by organizational leaders that we’d be embarking on a product rollout of sorts, otherwise known as “a launch.” It’s safe to say that all three of these traditions evoked varying degrees of dread, although the biggest offender was undoubtedly “the launch.”

It wasn’t so much that a product/fund/portfolio strategy/whatever launch was a huge undertaking demanding long hours and imposing stressful deadlines. After all, long hours and deadlines have long been a part of my life. Looking back, what triggered the collective groans among us on the team was the fact that product launches, in general, took forever to see to completion. They can be, very simply, a marathon.

Thankfully, recent trends in marcomm have promised a shift from the marathon paradigm to a more exciting, shorter-term proposition, and have forced content to share the stage with a somewhat strange bedfellow: Context. What we say to consumers is no longer the only focus; we need to deliver messages within the proper context. In short, marcomm has become less about finding a perfect tagline and more about finding a way to deliver the tagline at the right time, and in the right place.

I say “thankfully,” because by nature, this trend will inevitably shorten marcomm tactics from a marathon to a sprint. Meaning, marcomm efforts will need to be shorter-term, condensed, and delivered much more rapidly to a variety of channels. The channel, or conduit, will be more important in capturing a receptive buyer than perhaps the content itself. And the days of the marathon, 2-year marketing campaign will inevitably be numbered, soon replaced by shorter-term, delivery-specific and much narrower endeavors.

Think about it: the very nature of the 1990s/2000s product launch was about gathering countless heads of various departments to collaborate (or at least sign-off on) on the proper messaging. Did the message accurately describe the offering? Does it align with corporate branding overall? Will it cannibalize customers from within? Will it pass through Legal?  It was pretty much all about the “what,” and very little about “how,” because the delivery mechanisms were fairly static: Brochures, letters, fact sheets, ads, and yes, eventually, web site content, although in its infancy, web content was fairly static as well. Today, it’s about inserting your brand into the consumer’s life. Catching the buyer at a moment in time when s/he is already contemplating a purchase. Positioning your product/service in a way that is visual, see-able, and relevant to that consumer’s daily life. It’s become about timing, and settling for the right moment in time as opposed to a stationary billboard that sits, and sits, and sits…hoping by virtue of persistence, it will prompt a consumer to action.

Although I detest it, reality television is related to why context marketing works. I know full-well that reality tv shows are scripted and fake, and reveal very little about the characters’ actual, daily lives. Yet, they have captivated viewers, in droves. Why? Because the lure of watching the daily ins-and-outs of a purportedly “real person” is intriguing. It’s personal (or appears to be), it’s a peek behind a curtain of sorts, and whether we admit it or not, we all want to see what goes on behind closed–even if they are scripted–doors.

Context marketing takes this into account. It is a method of reaching consumers based on a quasi reality-tv premise: that by gaining insight into the individual consumer’s day (through data analytics, and other means), the savvy marketer can “place” the message in such a way as to reach the consumer at the ideal point in his/her day, week or life. And by doing so, it solidifies the consumer’s experience. In short, the consumer no longer has to see the brand as important; the brand now reaches out to the consumer, and says, “Your day is important, and we want to be part of this episode. We’re coming to you.”

If this sounds too theoretical or abstract, think about the last time you shopped online. Wasn’t it weird (or just plain creepy) that after you purchased that amazing wine decanter for your niece’s bridal shower present ads hawking online wine sales from Napa popped up? That’s what context marketing is about. It’s narrow, it’s detailed, it’s fast and it’s about the when/how, not so much the “what.”

Content will always be king, in my book, because I believe that messaging still shapes a brand and stamps it in consumers’ consciousness, individual and collective. But no longer can content plug along at a snail’s pace to a finish line sitting miles away. To effectively reach consumers today, it’s about speed, agility, and timing. Turns out, it’s a sprint after all.

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