Why context is digital marketing’s next frontier
Once upon a time, personalizing content was the ultimate in marketing sophistication. No more, says columnist Rebecca Lieb, who urges marketers to think deeply about why, how and where customers seek out their brands.
Since the dawn of digital marketing, practitioners have hailed personalization as the ultimate in sophistication.
Calling customers by their names and knowing a lot about them — their ages, genders, birthdates, interests, purchase histories — enables marketers to deliver more relevant, meaningful content that helps win new conversions and engender their long-time loyalty.
Beyond one-to-one marketing
But personalization is no longer the be-all and end-all, as it’s now being overtaken by technologies that allow for the establishment of even more profound relevance and connection — both in marketing and in the overall customer experience.
These technologies provide marketers with insight into context — a largely untapped element that can provide such an in-depth understanding of customers that marketers may then begin to anticipate people’s needs, wants, affinities and expectations. These insights — which may take into account the device in use, the channel, the location and the particular brand — can then be put to work to power improved marketing in every situation.
Context, in other words, takes into account not only the Who, but also the When, Where, Why and How. Simply put, it’s deeper targeting and more on-point messaging.
It’s about so much more than just who
My soon-to-be-published current research looks at marketing beyond the right message, to the right person at the right time. Contextual marketing goes further by considering a variety of factors: the platform consumers are using; their physical location (perhaps, using beacon technology, down to the store-shelf level); real-time information such as atmospheric conditions (Is it raining?), or even geospatial movement (whether they are in a vehicle, and if that vehicle is stopped at a red light, for instance).
These types of campaigns aren’t just fantasy, they’re reality. Maille Dijon mustard used beacons to target customers who had food-related apps installed on their phones in supermarkets. Waze teamed with Taco Bell to send a coupon to drivers who were near a restaurant, but only when drivers were stopped at a red light (safety first!).
I recently talked to an audio technology manufacturer using Internet of Things (IoT) data to target offers to their customers based on the data related to how those customers actually use the product. That company boasts a five- to seven-percent conversion rate from its email marketing campaigns. This when email open rates often run in the minus-one-percentile range.
How to think about context
Contextual marketing raises questions around contextual content. What type of coupon should a customer receive? When, and for what offer? MGM Resorts makes these determinations contextually — sending offers to guests’ smartphones based on where they are on the resort property (which restaurant, shop, show or casino), as well as in the context of their individual loyalty member status, past purchase history and stated interests.
Context can also drive the strategy behind information and other types of content, whether it’s via smart packaging (Think nutritional information, which one CPG giant is looking into) or apps that are content-centric and location-aware, such as REI’s smartphone app that provides a brand-relevant concierge service for American National Parks.
Context in marketing can only be employed with the use of powerful integrated technologies. Its components range from semantic technologies to machine learning and predictive analytics, customer data, product/service data, flexible, dynamic content and journey-mapping.
Without a doubt, context is complex. Moreover, it is growing in importance, not only because it’s increasingly technologically feasible and effective, but also because newer technologies (the IoT and beacons, for example) will enable additional layers of context to meet consumers’ growing expectations for contextually relevant experiences and messaging from the brands they interact with in an increasingly digital world.
Start with baby steps
How best to get started in contextual marketing? Think small, say the overwhelming number of executives I’ve interviewed for my research. Begin with small pilot projects. Think about the data you have and how to leverage it. Often, brands find partners to team up with: retail outlets, cinemas, dealerships or other physical locations.
These partnerships, or even solo campaigns, can require a lot of back-end platform integration to join up disparate data sources — CRM, location, content and myriad other campaign elements — but, when planned effectively, the ROI can be great, and it can arrive very quickly. An entertainment conglomerate that teamed with a theater chain to send video offers to moviegoers saw ROI in only three months, and that after a significant platform build.
Teams, technology, privacy and permission concerns are other significant factors in contextual campaigns, as is a solid foundation in content strategy. But there’s perhaps nothing more important that creating a value exchange, especially given that you’re asking a customer to let you engage with them anywhere at any time. Without your offering consumers something of value — monetary, convenience, information, experiential — there’s no reason for them to listen. Or participate.
The time to consider contextual campaigns is now. Already, brands like Disney, Nestlé, GE and Unilever are developing programs. Consumers will soon expect brands to be there when they’re needed, not just in cyberspace, but increasingly in the “phygital” world we now inhabit.