“Great marketers don’t make stuff. They make meaning.”
– Seth Godin
If great marketers make meaning, then it stands to reason that a marketer’s best friend is context. After all, context sets the stage so that meaning exists at all. It provides the setting in which a brand or product lives. If a marketer doesn’t set the stage properly, the product has to work extra hard to show a customer why it’s indispensable in their lives.
So how do marketers provide ‘context’?
By producing content that does three things:
1. Tells a story.
Where the brand comes from, what problem it solves.
2. Conveys relevant info.
The kind that’s useful and targeted
to the right audience.
3. Builds trust.
Makes the customer feel like they “know” the brand.
Why’s content so important?
Nowadays, customers find you via content on the web. So out of all the information out there, your content must stand out. It must feel like it can only come from you. But this doesn’t mean just having great copy on your website (although that’s a piece of the puzzle). It means you need to carry your message consistently and persuasively across multiple touch points and content repositories: your blog, your Twitter feed, email communications and even your dashboard or app.
Recently, Ben Chestnut, CEO of MailChimp, gave us an inside look at how his team produced an email for the launch of the company’s SMS app, Gather. If you’ve ever wanted a real-world example of how to provide context via your content, this is an awesome one. Let’s take a cue from Ben’s post and explore the relationship between context and content using the three points mentioned above.
Content provides context—and thus, meaning—when it does the following:
1 – Tells a story
What do stories have to do with context?
A story puts your brand or product into context immediately by revealing to the prospective customer its origin and/or specific application. The more realistic and relatable this is, the better.
While your overarching brand story will be fairly fixed, your product story should be more organic. This is largely where your content will come from and it’ll require regular tweaking because your customers’ needs will change. But it’s really simple: Listen to your customers. See how they use your product. Then write things about your product that you think will help them address their on-going challenges.
Storytelling doesn’t need to be an involved process. For example, in Ben Chestnut’s piece, he tells a story in roughly three sentences. It gives us all we need to know about Gather:
“Once upon a time, MailChimp’s CEO got lost on the way to an event and had no way of contacting the event organizers for help. He didn’t have their phone numbers, and it was too late to send them an email. His frustration led to the idea for Gather…”
Beautiful. Done. Onward.
2- Conveys relevant info
So you’ve got your brand or product story. What’s next?
In Ben’s post, he describes how he narrowed down the group of recipients for the announcement about Gather. He could’ve sent the email to a huge list of people, but he didn’t. Why? Because good content has to be useful. So it’s got to go to the right people, at the right time.
Remember: More is not always more.
3- Builds trust
Content isn’t useful if people don’t trust what you’re saying. And the quickest way to undermine your customer’s trust is by spamming them with content that’s irrelevant or, just as bad, being inconsistent across channels. How you talk on your blog should be the same as how you talk in an email to customers. The copy on your interface should feel like it came from your brand. Little things do matter.
And the same goes for other aspects of content like design and UX, since they also contribute to providing all-important context for users. As Braden Kowitz, Partner at Google Ventures, aptly put it: Trust increases when we get the details right. If your brand is all about making people happy and providing a seamless interaction, then you’ve got to do more than just write great copy—you’ve got to create a great experience. When it all ties together, trust will grow.
The importance of meaning and context
I agree with Seth Godin: Good marketers don’t make stuff. They make meaning. And the best way to make meaning is by using content as a vehicle for your brand and product. But good content requires the kind of context that only storytelling, relevance and trust provide. It’s then—and only then—that your brand and product will cut through the clutter and connect with customers.