Your Content Is Meaningless Without Context. Here’s Why.

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In the creator world, we often hear that content is king. Though, this phrase leaves out a very important piece of the puzzle. Gary Vee coined the phrase “If content is king, then context is God.” The context that surrounds your content is often more important than the actual content you are creating. As content marketers, we must understand that the medium is just as valuable as the message. The way in which you package and position your content anchors your audiences’ perception of you and your value.

While the two are often confused, context and content are distinctly different. The content refers to the product or piece. The context refers to the components that surround it and influence how it is perceived or understood.

The methods of media you choose to communicate significantly impact how your message is delivered and understood. You should be investing just as much time and energy on the “who,” “where,” “when,” “why” and “how” of your message as you do on the “what.” Email marketers don’t just create a campaign and send it out. They consider the conditions and plan accordingly. Creators must do the same.

Related: Bill Gates Said “Content Is King” in 1996. But Is That Still True?

Context over content

One of my favorite examples of context over content is from a social experiment conducted by The Washington Post. Joshua Bell, a world-famous violinist, played in the subway for the daily commuters. He made just $32 in tips with thousands of people walking by, many of whom barely noticed his music. The night before, Bell sold out a music hall in Boston making over $60,000 in the same amount of time. The difference? Context.

The marketing of Bell being a world-famous violinist is what in itself makes him so famous. His team positions and packages his concert in this context, marketing him as a premier violinist. Thus, consumers respect his talent in that way and are happy to pay the $200+ for a ticket. He is dressed up playing in a fancy concert hall, and so the audience considers him a professional.

If you don’t create the right context for yourself, you will be undervalued. Your context is your brand and the media you share. Your brand is the context in which your audience perceives you in their minds when they consume your content. Your value is perception. You in yourself, as a content creator, are a brand and a media company. Just like Bell, you need to package and present yourself in that way.

Related: 6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Content

Know your audience

This begins with knowing your audience and understanding their psychology, preferences and perceptions. Busy subway commuters rushing to work are not the ideal audience for Bell. Despite the acoustics, the subway was definitely not the best medium for sharing his music, and the station is not the appropriate venue for an audience to stay and enjoy a show.

Many commuters likely assumed he was a student or a street performer busking to get by. Time is your audience’s most valued resource. No matter how exceptional the content he shared, the context didn’t make it feel valuable enough to stop and listen.

Social context influences our understanding and associations. The context of one is playing in the subway for tips. The other is a world-class musician playing in a concert hall amongst the greats.

Related: How to Create Stellar Content Your Audience Will Love to Share

Content marketing with context

Content marketing is the greatest strategy in today’s day and age. However, all the work you put into creating incredible content is meaningless if you aren’t considering the context in which it will be consumed. You choose how your audience will view your brand and your business, which influences how they perceive the content you create.

Successful content creators understand the context and align their content accordingly. This means meeting your ideal audience authentically where they are and sharing your content in a way that will effectively reach them. Think about what your users will get out of this experience and what they will get from you — not what you can get from them.

In high school literature class, you may recall your teacher drilling in the textual context in reference to understanding the meaning of what you read. Perhaps your history teacher explained concepts with reference to their historical context. Creators need to strategically anticipate their viewer’s mindset and intentionally choose their platform to build social context around their content.

Everything you share as a creator is connected to the broader context of the brand you are building. You must think with the end in mind. If you know you are an incredible violinist, you need to act and create in the context of the world-renowned violinist that you are. Your audience can easily spot creators who lack confidence or let imposter syndrome get in the way. Meet your audience where they are, and show up as the talented creative that you are.

Are you performing on the subway or in a concert hall? Are you busking for tips, or are you building a brand and a career? Build your brand to position yourself as an authority in your niche, and your audience will follow suit.

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