Build Context, Not Just Content

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

Why, in spite of providing ever-better service and quality, do we see customers suddenly change their demands, and often their loyalty? An answer is that customers will move to suppliers who offer context in addition to content.

What is Content, and what is Context?

Content is the expertise or knowledge implicit in your product or service. For example, content is the experience, reputation and education offered by attorneys and consultants and the formulations, shipping, training, and usage sheets which chemical companies that provide.

Context is how you apply your content to fulfill the needs of your customers. It is more than customization or consultative selling. Context demonstrates your empathy with the marketplace, and how your services provide a breakthrough solution. If you can create a context that is based on your firm’s best and highest use, others cannot match you. Examples include Michael Dell, who took traditional direct marketing methods to sell customized computers on-line and Hallmark, who created "Bosses Day" to introduce personal relationship products into the work place.

In an episode of Seinfeld, the character of George Costanza unknowingly described context as "when worlds collide." When this happens, instant context is created.

Is Your Business Content-Dependent?

The Internet has been called the world’s largest copy machine and turns content into a commodity. Even if your company’s information is protected by a copyright, patent, or secrecy agreement, your information is only a copier, scanner or "send button" away from worldwide availability. Despite your attorney’s valiant and costly efforts to the contrary, your secrets cannot be the sole source of your competitive advantage.

Three examples of content-dependent businesses are:

  • Distributors whose suppliers are leapfrogging over them to establish direct relationships with customers. Customer databases and years of relationships are no longer absolute barriers to competition.
  • Copycat websites appearing overnight and challenging successful web marketers have eliminated any advantage of being ’first in’, or an incumbent player.
  • Professional services previously sold by the hour are now unbundled. Some are taken in-house, and what is outsourced is bargained down to a fixed price.

Three Ways to Offer Context

Here’s the bottom line: If the success of your business rests on proprietary content, the power to control that information may be slipping away from you and into the hands of your customers and competitors. Here are three ways to build context around your content.

  • Provide local, personal, or event-specific information, such as showing your customers how they can make money using your services on Valentine’s Day.
  • Recognize how your customers really use your products and create custom versions for them. Instructions, warranties and pricing can all be customized to fit the context of the customer.
  • Distribute and market your products directly to decision makers, not leaders. As an example, the receptionist/secretary in the smaller firm usually buys goods and services for the whole company.


Providing context is a matter of survival. Appealing to your customers as the ’low cost supplier’ as your single point of difference is out of the question and niche marketing alone won’t do it. Be more nimble and smarter, by applying your content in your customer’s context. The old adage is so true: people buy holes, not shovels!

Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at  (412) 973-2080, by email at, or on the web at

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