Skip to main content

Author’s Note: “Context and Content Strategy: Personal Situational Context” was the third in a four part series I wrote in early 2011 on the importance of understanding context in the practice of content strategy. Unfortunately, the original posts were lost when my database (that was unfortunately not backed up) was deleted by mistake. I have reposted them here for nostalgia and resource sake (at one point there were more than 70 backlinks to these posts).

Context in Content Strategy: Personal Situational Context is the third in a series of five blog posts discussing the need to account for context in the practice of content strategy. Did you miss the first two?

So, we’ve established that context is crucial to content strategy and that personal behaviors play into our capability to comprehend material on a Web site. What’s missing from the equation? I’d argue that it’s a user’s reason for seeking out a site (and its content) in the first place — needs that have arisen from a situation.





















Establishing elements of Personal Situational Context provide a framework for your content’s very existence. Situations can serve as a guidepost for developing an editorial strategy that is shaped by the personas we’ve developed using Personal Behavioral Context. Similarly, when we believe our users are being faced with new situations that require content, we can use the fusion of Personal Behavioral Context and Personal Situational Context to develop new material or revise what already exists.

Establishing Situational Context

What types of situations should we be accounting for? That really depends on what those pesky content and business goals are (we talked about them briefly in the Personal Behavioral Context Post). In the case of Drake Motors Ltd., we’ll examine two (though there are many) potential situations for Kyle Fisher, our fictional buyer we met last post.

Situation A – I want to replace my current SUV with a new vehicle. I’m comparing Drake motors to the competition.

Situation B – I’m beginning the car buying/leasing process and want to explore all of my options.

At face value, one might assume the same content is sufficient to address both situations, but content strategists and information architects know better. When we look at various NEEDS that make up a given situation while content planning, we start to see the subtle differences that apply to each scenario.

In the diagram above, you’ll notice that there are several needs that guide our user’s take on a situation. The individual “TASKS” that spider from the needs are the key points or concepts our content should address. When we have content tasks that address the needs, we’ve provided guidance, and with luck, resolution for the given situation.

Resolved situations result in a happy users. Happy users (in theory) lead to conversion on our site goals, which should lead to real world ROI.

Isn’t it fantastic when everything starts coming together?

Mapping Situations

Now, let’s break down how we start to make it happen.

If we take a second look at the persona developed for the post on Personal Behavioral Context, we can tell that Kyle Fisher is a pretty active guy. He plays a lot of hockey (that’s a lot of equipment), travels with his family often (meaning he needs more than a sedan) and puts about 7,000 to 8,000 more miles on his vehicle annually than the average driver (that’s a lot of gas and money spent).

Based on Kyle’s activities, it’s safe to say he has different requirements for his vehicle than someone who spends the bulk of their non-work life playing chess or building puzzles. Thankfully, Drake Motors has product that fits the bill and (based on our content audit) we have some existing content that will address the needs of his situation. Check out a few of Kyle’s needs and resulting content we can use in our chart for Situation A.

Personal Situational Context for Kyle Fisher

The above are by no means the only things we should be factoring for when it comes to Kyle. That said, analyzing his situational needs give us insight into ways we can organize our content in a unique way.

For example; since we know Kyle is a buyer and not a browser, we should deliver a different type of content and messaging tone based on that information. We should include more sales and incentive messaging along with support information that meet Kyle’s needs (like styling awards, fuel economy, safety and technology features, videos, etc.). Additionally, we can validate this content through third party support material, such as consumer or media reviews. All of this content should be easily accessible via the Model Overview page. Why? Because an individual model is Kyle’s frame of reference for his situation. It follows that this content should be there for him to help support that frame of reference.

The splash page/segmentation strategy for Volkswagen's United Kingdom site.

Segmentation and Choreography

All this talk about optimizing content for a specific situation might beg the question — how do we know Kyle is in market in the first place? One way is to utilize a segmentation strategy. Volkswagen’s UK Site does a great job of this by serving up a one click choice on arrival. Other methods of segmentation can be achieved via navigation, through geo-targeting, browser type, ambient factor or through some sort of survey or web tool.

Now, let’s take high level look at how we’ll serve content up differently for Situation B.

Since Kyle isn’t in market, we won’t focus on selling an individual model and won’t push him towards one right away. Instead, we’ll start trying to figure out what he might be looking for in terms of features and provide him a better overview of everything Drake Motors has to offer based on those interests.

One thing I wish more automotive sites would do is come up with a creative way find out what users “like,” if anything, about their current vehicle and attempt to uncover more about what they want in a new vehicle during browsing process. This knowledge is already top of mind at all times for most buyers who begin browsing or window shopping.

New car buyers tend to covet advanced features that make the vehicle safer, more technologically advance or provide a new aesthetic. So why is it that the majority of automakers slap a vehicle lineup and a host of configurations up on a page and expect it to make people flock showroom? There’s no context for blanket listing of features and reading through packages for a specific vehicle is not how a casual browser is even beginning to shop for a new car. Most, especially female buyers, begin browsing by a specific feature, a price point or vehicle category before they even begin to get down to a specific model and its exclusive content.

I won’t bog down the post by digging into another situational chart, but rest assured that we can begin provide the information Kyle needs for Situation B through direct navigation or a specific site function, such as a “help me choose.” If we’ve utilized a segmentation strategy, we can provide an entirely different web experience or something as simple as an interactive element that allows users to engage with the entire lineup or feature set vs. an individual model.

Ford does a fantastic job of this. The company recognizes that Technology has become such an integral part of their brand story that they separate it from the model overview pages for users visiting their page specifically for SYNC or Ford MyTouch information. I’d argue that more OEMs should start thinking about their early shoppers in this way. By doing so, we add another layer of context that makes what we provide users on a Web site more than “brochureware.”


Now that we’ve framed up Personal Behavioral and Personal Situational Context for Kyle, we can fuse them together to create Situational/Behavioral Context (the basis for content scenario templates). In the next post, I’ll provide an example of one of these templates and what that means, both for what content we have and what still needs to be produced. We’ll also set the stage for a fifth post (I realized I just can’t fit it all into four) that layers in ambient data, which will get a bit scientific thanks to a mashup of Human Computer Interaction theory and cognitive neuroscience. Stay tuned and please comment!

Leave a Reply