I write this post fresh off of watching each of the three endings that await players of the popular Mass Effect 3 video game. All three feature your typical video game-ending fare; there's shooting, music lifted from the "Inception" soundtrack, and of course explosions; really large, cataclysmic explosions. (Additionally, each climax has the rest of the Internet and more importantly, the developer's consumers, filled with vitriol for the ending and the company.)
It was all extremely well done. The graphics were incredible, the action was perfectly synced with each musical note, the copy was well written. It had all of the bells and whistles, although I have never much enjoyed bells or whistles, let alone paired together. However, looking back, it didn't much matter. I have never played Mass Effect 1, 2 or 3. I had no context to the content that I had subjected myself to. Of course, these endings were not created to be cut into six-minute clips to be uploaded to YouTube, but they shine a light on how digital strategy and content strategy should be approached.
You don't have to look far for a non-gaming analogy to express context vs. content; imagine finally watching "The Sopranos." For first time, you sit down, catch an episode midway through, and you immediately discover a female, Meadow Soprano, is awful at parallel parking and is into Journey. (Non-Sopranos fans note: this takes place in the final episode.) It would be awful and you're not going to want to hop on Amazon and buy all six seasons.
Both franchises are chock full of great content, but without context it's all worthless. If your content makes folks feel as if they walked into the middle of a film, you're doing it wrong. As nearly every market is saturated with new media messaging, most won't wait around for your brand's backstory, or microsite, to clear things up.
I have read more than a few blogs outlining "perfect" content strategies; many list goals as a strategy or use the word "leverage" a lot. This isn't a strategy. So few mention the context in which a piece of content is created. So few address and ask difficult questions. What makes our solution relevant to our brand's and our competitor's customers? Simply, why should anyone care?
Today, the best writing, art, and creative direction combined in a digital piece will inspire clicks, likes, and retweets, but many will fade without action. (Note: these are not viral. Viral is not a thing. It's a person who is ill and sneezes on you. Please stop using it to describe something that brings others enjoyment.)
Each piece of content, from irreverent to political, that comes from your agency or your brand requires coherence and planning. Our job is to create useful things that are worth not only our fans, but all users in the category's time. If not, then your campaign could blow up, in a really large, cataclysmic explosion.