Putting Context In Context

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the 2014 Resolution Summit. The event featured Shar VanBoskirk, vice president/principal analyst at Forrester Research, ever-insightful as the keynote speaker.

The cornerstone of VanBoskirk’s presentation was a new marketing remit: context. Per VanBoskirk, our job as marketers is to bring context to everything we do.

For search marketers, context is something we know all too well, but often take for granted. After all, the context of search is pretty clear: it’s people actively looking for something! To that end, there’s no better context when it comes to reaching an audience and compelling direct action.

But how can we apply context to other marketing tactics? Here are some of the examples VanBoskirk shared to get us (re)thinking life BC and AC.

Before context: campaigns. After context: interactions.



VanBoskirk talked about the various phases of socioeconomic evolution, from the industrial age to the information age to the digital age.  Now we’re in the age of the customer. And with that comes the imperative to think about marketing through the eyes of the customer. We need to shift our language (and mindset) from what we do to how it is perceived. The transition from campaigns to interactions is a great example of this. Campaigns are for selling. Interactions are for, well, interacting. That’s what customers want from brands. So let’s give it to them!

Before context: targeting. After context: engaging.

Behold another elegant twist. Rather than target our audience, let’s engage it. To that end, we should also stop thinking about people as audiences and think of them as just people. How can we find the people most likely to engage with our brand experiences? Sure, keyword queries are a great indicator -- but how can we extend that intent across channels? By taking what we know about people’s context from their search behavior and applying that in other areas (via cookie-matching), we can build more complete profiles and better engage our most valuable customers.

Before context: customer segmentation. After context: customer recognition.

Once we’ve successfully engaged a customer through a planned (or unplanned) interaction, it’s critical to apply everything we know about that person to customize the experience. Not all site visitors (there’s another word we should do away with -- may I propose guests?) should be treated the same way. Marketers must recognize if each person is a current customer and determine what further context can be derived from his or her browsing and purchase history. This has ripple effects on content delivery, merchandising, promotions, etc.

Before context: media schedules. After context: customer moments.

Along with schedules, let’s also toss out plans, flights, and even programs. In the age of the (digitally empowered) customer, it’s all about moments: moments of truth. We must create agile organizations and processes so we can react in real-time to opportunities (aka moments) of potential engagement. A successful media execution architects a series of customer moments to drive desired outcomes. And these executions must be fluid enough to change on a moment’s notice. This is the crux of programmatic media buying, another area of marketing pioneered by search. The notion of picking and choosing certain moments to extend your brand into the context of a customer’s journey is becoming more prevalent (and a privilege!), as all media becomes addressable. 

Before context: messages. After context: utility.

We’ve all heard that the holy grail of marketing is being able to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. But consumers don’t want messages. They want utility. Marketing 101 is focused on benefits not features. Whether it’s writing search copy or creating rich-media ads, having context requires using the customer’s language and making it clear what’s in it for him or her. Don’t make people “search” for meaning. Make them “mean” to search for you.

Before context: transactions. After context: value exchange.

We, search marketers, love us some conversions. And we’re able to drive them better than any other channel. But reporting on conversions, sales, transactions, or other such metrics puts the emphasis on value we’ve created for our organizations, not for our customers. To build sustainable businesses, we must ensure a positive value exchange for our customers. Net promoter score is one way to measure customer satisfaction and it’s also a key performance indicator that can be used to optimize campaigns -- er, interactions. Find the tangible outcome that can best serve as proxies for value exchange with your customers.

The age of the customer is defined by context. Marketers that craft interactions to engage customers at key moments, with clear recognition for providing utility and value exchange, will not only win buzzword bingo, they’ll win boku budgets.

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