3 Contexts Marketers Need to Understand (But Don't)

3 Contexts Marketers Need to Understand (But Don't)

Content is not king. Context is. Unfortunately, most marketers suck at context.

Most people have a pretty good sense of social context—do NOT point and stare, do NOT cut in line, DO hold the door open, DO smile when you greet somebody. These are unwritten rules. And we follow these rules because we want others to follow these rules when they interact with us. If only it were the same in business and marketing.

A Marketer at the Bar

Here is an analogy I often use to highlight how bad marketers are at understanding context. Imagine you’re looking to meet new people at a bar. As social context-savvy individuals, we survey the room. What is the general mood of the room? How loud is the room? How many people are there? What are they drinking? Are there open seats? Did we make eye contact with anybody? Is anybody sitting alone looking for somebody to talk to?

If we see somebody who seems nice and open to conversation, perhaps we walk up to them and start a conversation about them. What is your name? What do you do? Do you come here often? How is your day going? A genuine conversation starts that could turn into friendship, a date, or whatever it is you were looking for.

Now apply your average marketer tactics to the bar story. Before even arriving at the bar the marketer buys advertising on the TV screens and posters in the bar—mostly pushing content about themselves. The marketer bursts into the bar and starts shouting statements about themselves, using phrases like “cutting edge”, “thought leader”, and “game changer”. The marketer walks up to EVERY person at the bar to hands them a white paper and a business card before heading home to wait for interested people to call.


Marketers focus on selling, instead of helping customers buy. A stronger understanding of context can help you better connect and engage with your customers. There are 3 primary contexts that all marketers need to know.

#1 The Context of Your Customer

Many advocate for greater understanding of the customer, though few even make the effort to do it. Understanding the context of the customer means you become an advocate for the customer. If you know the context of your customer, you should be able to easily answer the following:

  • Who are you you trying to connect with?

  • What do they care about?

  • Do they care about you?

  • Why should they care about you?

  • How do they learn and prefer to receive information?

  • How do they buy?

  • Why do they buy that way?

Now go back through your answers and make them more specific. Here are a couple of examples:

  1. You aren’t trying to connect with parents—you are trying to connect with middle-class professional mothers with children aged 1-5.

  2. You aren’t trying to connect with IT organizations—you are trying to connect with backend developers who work for financial services companies in the New York City.

Narrow your scope so you can focus your efforts and get better feedback. If you don’t, you’ll end up relying on data that truly isn’t representative of your customer.

The more you understand your customer, the more you’ll be greeted with open arms when you do get the chance to engage. And better yet, businesses positioned to address customer pain will be sought after—you won’t interrupt a customer’s day to sell, they’ll interrupt your day to buy.

#2 The Context of Your Company

Understanding the context of your company is critical, especially since this is the only context that you can directly control. That means you control the answers and the answers can (and should) change if it means happier customers and a better business.

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are you an expert in?

  • What are the products and services you offer?

  • Why do you offer those products and services?

  • What products or services would your customers want you to offer?

    • Do you offer those products and services?

      • If so, why are you reading this article instead of taking your mountain of cash to the bank?

      • If not, why not?

  • How do you sell?

  • Why do you sell that way?

If you founded your business, it’s likely because it addressed a personal pain or a passion (or both). This is a good thing. Your story is real, relatable, and human. But just because your business addressed your pain or passion doesn’t mean it will address your customer’s. Marketing to yourself is one of the greatest mistakes you can make.

Think broadly about your context in the marketplace. And be willing to adjust. Should your offering be sold as a product or a service? Maybe instead of selling (inter)nationally, you focus on a target region. Be flexible and have an open mind. Your go-to-market strategy has to connect the dots between your context and your customer’s context.

#3 The Context of Your Competition

Many of the businesses I’ve worked with fall into one of two extremes (and often bounce back and forth). Either, they don’t care at all about their competitors or they become completely transfixed about every move the competition makes. Neither extreme is safe. Strike balance by exploring the following:

  • Who are your competitors?

  • What products and services do they offer?

  • Why are you products and services different/better?

  • How do they sell?

  • Are they leading the market or a segment of the market?

  • Why/how are they leading?

  • Why aren’t you leading?

  • What are you going to do about it?

You’ll notice that I shifted the questions from the competition back to you. This is important. You need to be strategic and proactive about your approach to earning market share—stay ahead where you’re winning and catch up where you’re behind.

You can’t be reactive to every move your competitors make. For example, if a competitor launches a SnapChat account, many businesses would respond by quickly cobbling together their own SnapChat account to check the “me too” box. The danger of this mentality is you can spend resources (time, money, energy) without understanding the strategy or plan behind the program, and without considering if SnapChat can even help drive growth for your business.

Alternatively, many businesses become dismissive with the competition. There needs to be a healthy amount of respect for the competition. Remember, you’re trying to convince your customer, not your competitor, that you’re better. Learn as best you can about your competitor’s relationship with the customers you’re trying to win. What are they messaging? What are they offering? How well is it received? They’re doing something right and earning dollars that could have been in your pocket.

The most effective marketers have an understanding of these 3 contexts and develop strategies and tactics that take these contexts into consideration. Challenge yourself before your next campaign or program to explore the context behind what you're doing. Will it draw your customers closer to you? And if so, do you know why?

Content Marketers: You’re Dead Wrong About Context

Content Marketers: You’re Dead Wrong About Context