We hear all the time that “content is king.” But is it? Content is important, but perhaps making it sovereign is going a bit too far. This was part of what Tyler Thoreson, editor at Gilt Groupe, had to say in his talk at Fuse 2014.

In fact, in his estimation, “Content is 2011. Context is more important.” Perhaps the question on your mind is, “what’s the difference?” It’s a good question to ask, and the truth is that while these two words are similar in construction, they’re separate, but related terms. And to Thoreson, Gilt has shaped its presence to look beyond content itself, and think a little bigger.

Content is a significant part of how marketers are spending their money these days, mostly because they’ve realized that broadcasting a message is often less interesting than creating something with which people can engage. Broad-based, nebulous “awareness” just isn’t enough anymore; moving people to act is the goal. And content development is becoming de rigueur for those marketers looking to make a connection beyond their product offering. In a recent article in Forbes, Sophie Kelly, CEO of The Barbarian Group said “…people don’t consume things that aren’t interesting.” And Jeff Chapman, global director of brand communications at Schick Wilkinson Sword, brought up the tricky part about marketers jumping on the content bandwagon by asking the question “Well, what does that content do for the sale of brands?”*

Which brings us back to the difference between content and context. While content needs to be disruptive, engaging, and interesting, without context, it can’t be relevant – and relevance is what helps shoppers make choices.

Shopping as Media Experience

The Gilt Groupe, had been creating content for years, but how they evolved was by focusing on an editorial approach that creates context for shoppers. Thoreson and the Gilt team realized that offering up products with no sense of context leaves the experience decidedly less meaningful. If Gilt were going to move beyond product selection and product information, they were going to have to commit to something bigger. What they settled on was committing to being packagers, curators, and storytellers; they committed to a point of view. And this point of view would provide a blend of utility and inspiration that would resonate with their audience. Their vision was “to open a window every day to the exceptional.” Ambitious for a fashion website. That meant that editorial intent was paired with product selection, which manifested itself in the Gilt MANual a style site that was developed, in Thoreson’s words, to “help the children of the fashion rejectors to find themselves.” The Gilt MANual was really an effort to move from mere instruction to inspiration; not merely ecommerce, and not just a magazine, the Gilt MANual inspires, educates, and in some ways reframes fashion, creating a context in which men can feel that they have control over their sense of style. Oh, and they can buy while they’re at it.

What does this mean for shopper marketing? Most of what we do is about driving commerce by creating contexts in which brands can be relevant. Too often brands focus on their own equity, expecting retailers to set aside their own in the process. Our task is to understand retailers’ equities and strategic intent and balance them with those of the brands. Without this balance, we expect too much from shoppers. We must recognize that even interesting content must be correct for the given context in order to make the right connection – the one that results in the choice we need shoppers to make.

Next up: we’ll try to wrap our heads around Douglas Rushkoff and “Present Shock.” As Kairos gives way to Chronos, how can we get out of the now? Exactly.


References in this post came from: *http://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferrooney/2014/04/16/annual-effies-survey-content-is-king/