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Context Marketing is the New Content Marketing: Are You Ready?

By Karen TaylorDec 7, 2015

context vs content marketingJust as you’re beginning to feel like you’ve nailed content marketing, a new form of marketing is pushing the king off of its throne—context marketing. The rapid rise of context marketing is driven by three marketing trends: today’s consumers are receiving too many messages, they’re getting marketing messages that don’t relate to them, and they’re receiving them at the wrong time.

This explains why the general definition of context marketing is this: It’s the art and science of delivering the right content to the right customer at the right moment. In this way, context marketing goes beyond content that merely delivers educational or useful information to the marketplace at large without much consideration for the context.

To understand context marketing, let’s look at an elementary (literally) example. When contestants in spelling bees ask the moderators to use the word in a sentence, what they are requesting is for the word to be put into context. Just as hearing the word used in a sentence will improve the bee participants’ chances of correctly spelling it, so, too, will putting marketing messages in context help consumers understand how a specific product or service will impact their lives.

Although the stakes are high for serious spelling bee contestants, they are even higher for today’s marketers. Consumers are receiving more marketing messages than ever before—and they are ignoring most of them.

Your Content is Being Ignored

“One estimate posits that, on average, we each see roughly 5,000 ad messages per day,” according to Fast Company magazine. Contrast that to the 1970s, when consumers were exposed to about 500 ads a day (and we thought that was high), and it’s easy to see why marketing must become sharper, more focused and better timed to engage and influence today’s consumers.

Marketers who ignore this message face dire consequences. As consumers are bombarded by more messages, they are increasingly disconnecting from the companies sending them. A UK marketing study by the Aimia Institute found that consumer attitudes have grown more resistant to marketing over the past three years.

Consumers have developed a tough set of coping mechanisms to deal with a growing volume of irrelevant messages from retailers, including closing their accounts, ending subscriptions and “unfriending” companies. Here are some stats:

  • 69 percent of consumers are unfollowing brands on social channels
  • 69 percent are closing accounts and subscriptions because they don’t like the communications they’re receiving
  • 58 percent are opting out of the majority of email communications
  • 55 percent are deleting apps because of push notifications

Is there a company out there that can withstand such a direct disconnection from consumers? No wonder nearly every marketing pundit points to context as a critical evolutionary step in content marketing. For example, a Forrester white paper, The Power of Customer Context, states:

“Consumers don’t trust your ads. While you know how to tune campaigns to help hit your numbers, they’re no longer sufficient. For all the activity you try to catalyze through campaigns, individuals more commonly interact with your brand outside of campaigns. The context of all those interactions determines whether they will engage with your brand again.”

How Context Makes Content Marketing Work Better

So how will you incorporate context into your content marketing? Let’s break down the basic definition to find the answer using examples from Forrester’s white paper.

The Right Content

It goes without saying that everything starts with the right content. Although you are likely producing great content now, you’ll want to do a deeper dive to ensure your content is truly speaking to your buyer personas, including the nuances of their desires, emotions—and taste buds.

What could be more nuanced for a customer than allowing them to tell a website what cooking ingredients they have on hand and receiving back recipe recommendations? McCormick & Co. provides this content exchange with customers. Since launching its FlavorPrint site, the company has experienced significant results, including doubled repeat usage, a nine-fold increase in time spent on the site, and double-digit growth in spice purchases by these customers.

The Right Prospect

In content marketing, the key to successful communications depends on how well marketers know the people to whom they’re talking, including their needs, lifestyles and motivations. With context marketing, you need to go a bit deeper to not only connect with customers, but also to engage with and influence them—such as when they’re exercising in your sneakers.

Nike achieved this goal when it began nudging health-conscious consumers to its digital platform, Nike Plus, by using data from consumers’ health devices. The platform uses social sharing and fitness contests to generate more interactions, creating scale that rivals paid media. Within a couple of years, Nike Plus had 18 million members, with 15,000 more joining each day.

The Right Time

With content marketing, it’s hard to determine the exact right time to engage with consumers. But with context marketing, you can home in on consumers at the very moments they will likely be most interested in your messages—such as driving in the vehicles they purchased from you.

Mini USA invests more than 40 percent of its total budget on digital and social marketing. While it uses some brand campaigns, its main marketing focus is on driving customer dialogue and interactions through digital before, during and even after their purchase, when customers are “motoring” across the country in its cars.

6 Ways to Make a Context Marketing Mindset Shift

Doing context marketing correctly requires a mindset shift even further away from old-school marketing than content marketing achieved. To gain an advantage in the new world of context marketing, companies must recognize that the customer is in control and begin to understand them at a deeper level.

Here are six ways to shift your perspective from merely doing content marketing to doing context marketing.

  • Instead of Campaigns, Think Interactions. Context marketing demands that marketers see the world through customers’ eyes. This requires a transition from campaigns to interactions. Campaigns are for selling. Interactions are for interacting. And interactions are what consumers want from companies.
  • Instead of Targeting, Engage. Determine what content you can deliver in a way that engages your target audience, such as the McCormick’s recipes, Nike Plus’s social sharing on health and exercise, and Mini’s consumer dialogues while motoring.
  • Instead of Customer Segmentation, Use Customer Recognition. Every visitor to your site is different. As a result, they should not be treated in the same way. After a potential customer enters your site, it’s critical to apply everything you know about them to customize their experience. For example, derive added context from their browsing and purchasing histories to determine what actions to take today.
  • Instead of Media Schedules, Seek Customer Moments. Doing context marketing right means reacting in real time to opportunities of potential engagement or sales. The goal is to craft a series of customer moments that drive desired outcomes, and adjust based on new incoming data.
  • Instead of Messages, Share Utility. Consumers today don’t want mere marketing messages. They want useful information. This means delivering valuable content and making it clear what’s in it for them.
  • Instead of Transactions, Look for Value Exchange. Of course, conversions are the ultimate goal. But the journey can’t be focused solely on this outcome. You need other key performance indicators that deliver a shared value exchange for both your company and your customers.

Leveraging the Power of Context Marketing

So where should you start incorporating context marketing into your marketing efforts? Three great starting points are personas, journeys and data. Here’s some insight on each:

Buyer Personas. Context marketing requires that you dig deeper into your buyer personas than you have before. Rather than just demographic and location data, contextualized personas need to feature the characteristics, attributes and interests of your target customers, as well. Your personas should uncover the true emotions that drive their needs, spark their interests and influence their decisions.

Buyer Journeys. Today’s consumers are active buyers, participating in the shopping process. They expect brands to provide the information they need at the most relevant times in their journey. Use the buyer’s journey framework to develop the touch points where your audience engages with your brand. These touch points should influence your media channels, your content, your tactics and your design.

Contextual Data. Once you know your personas and journeys, you can use new incoming data to find opportunities to influence how consumers engage with your brand across their journeys. From the SEO keywords you choose to geo-location targeting, use the data to make informed decisions across your site.

Marketing has been in a state of constant change for the past several years. Now it’s time to transition again. But you don’t have to think of context marketing as a whole new animal. Instead, think of it as an evolutionary step toward more focused, timely and effective marketing.

First, change your mindset to a new level of customer targeting. Then produce marketing that has the precision, focus and timeliness to reach the right customer with the right content at the right time—every time.PIVOTING YOUR PLAN with Inbound Marketing

Additional Topics: Content and Design
Karen Taylor
The Author

Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor is a professional content marketing writer with experience writing for over 100 companies and publications. Her experience includes the full range of content marketing projects — from blogs, to white papers, to ebooks. She has a particular knack for creating content that clarifies and strengthens a company’s marketing message, and delivers optimum impact and maximum results. Learn more at KarenTaylorWrites.com.
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