Contextual Expectations: Decoding the Impact of Relevant Content
Marketers are now challenged, even empowered, to deliver context–that is, content that’s not only relevant but hyper-relevant and aligned against a variety of highly accurate and diverse data. This includes, but isn’t limited to: location, real-time conditions (e.g., weather), sales and promotions (inventory, etc.), product or service performance, customer purchase, transaction and journey history.
Consumers have come to expect contextual communications and experiences, regardless of whether they’re in a bricks-and-mortar location or using a connected device. B2C and B2B brands alike are being held accountable for personalization while simultaneously being responsible for proving the impact of contextual efforts within marketing and beyond. By investigating new technologies and adopting a test-and-learn approach, companies can determine where the benefits and value of contextual marketing lie.
Consider this example from Marantz. The company’s Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled speakers are named by their owners. Marantz saw so many speakers named “Bathroom” that they made a bet: They developed a new line of waterproof speakers and email-marketed them only to the owners of speakers named Bathroom. The results? A 5-7% email purchase rate. The new line sold out immediately. Now the company is developing a line of rugged speakers, which it will market to owners of speakers named “Garage.”
Additionally, Marantz proactively initiates customer service communications when specific criteria are met, for example, when the speakers are turned on and off a number of times in a short period. An email is sent asking if that consumer needs support or troubleshooting advice. Product, service, support and marketing–they’re all there, highly contextual and personal, all in real time.
Brands are just beginning to explore the untapped marketing innovation opportunities catalyzed by contextual content. Foremost, messaging and communications break through the noise to create value. Context shifts marketing to a service/utility function. “Push” and interruptive marketing become invisible. “Pull” means solving a consumer’s immediate need.
Digital content now infuses and surrounds objects. Content is more contextual, more mobile, more omnipresent. Consumer expectations of relevancy and personalization will only rise as technology evolves and brands become more adept at meeting demands along the journey, regardless of time, place or device.
Contextual content experiences bridge the digital and physical worlds. Sometimes termed “phygital,” this term refers to embedded sensors, networked services, mobile and cloud technology. IoT enables any “thing” to have a digital as well as a physical lifecycle. Pervading the physical world are devices like watches and clothes, in-home appliances, entertainment systems, connected cars, fobs, beacons and in-store infrastructure. Tackling the phygital world may require marketers to step outside of their department (especially when considering the myriad backend technologies and interoperability issues) and connect with other business units, breaking down internal silos in order to create a shared agenda and milestones.
Phygital devices enable contextual messaging and campaigns that add numerous additional layers of information and data that must be sorted for value and tied to business impact. These campaigns create seamless omni-channel experiences comprised of the three Cs: Content, Context and Consistency.
- Content is the driver. It’s the atomic particle of all marketing and the unifying element of how brands manifest across all touchpoints, on all channels, media and platforms, online or off.
- Consistency must be maintained in brand outreach, tone, look, feel and voice. Communication among expanded touchpoints must be consistent and unified, or it quickly becomes cacophony.
- Context is the antidote to endless, noisy, interruptive media proliferation. It springs from the data that helps companies to understand customers individually, based on signals that are personal, historical, behavioral, time- and location-based, social, cultural, technological and more.
The social platforms have evolved from starting with community, then also content, and then advertising, and then commerce. Thus playing effectively as a brand both today and well into tomorrow means being able to do ALL of those things, with a sense of context, nuance and brand authenticity across all channels.
Marisa Thalberg, Global Chief Brand Officer, Taco Bell
Clearly, contextual campaigns are both innovative and impactful. Where’s the accountability?
More targeted, relevant, timely and useful marketing results in greater effectiveness and much clearer attribution. These impacts span functions, holding the entire organization accountable for proving results. Businesses may see increased loyalty, differentiation from competitors, and better collection of customer data that leads to more effective campaigns.
Customer segmentation also increases in accuracy as a result of contextual content. Car dealerships, for example, are now targeting consumers based on where they go in the facility using beacons: service or the sales floor. Clearly, the messages to each discrete group of consumers should be very different.
Even the supply chain and the environment can benefit from more context. The world’s largest transnational food company is enthusiastic about smart packaging that will direct its global fleet of delivery vans to deliver product, for example, only to freezers in stores that are low on ice cream. Not only does this save the company time and money; it removes unnecessary traffic from roads and streets.
Getting to the point of being able to successfully run and manage contextual campaigns is not without real challenges to the enterprise. Requirements, just for starters, are a solid content strategy, fluid data integration, training multiple teams, an understanding of your customer journey, the right technology and partnerships in the ecosystem that can help select the right tools and building processes to create contextual content at scale. It’s critical to execute ethically and non-invasively.
Set a clear strategy and start slowly
Knowing what you want to achieve as an organization with your contextual campaign will help guide the process. Content strategy must be linked to product strategy for many contextual initiatives and must also address design and user experience to higher degrees than in other marketing scenarios.
When starting out, follow a few key guidelines:
- Have a Vision: How will you innovate while reaching heightened standards of accountability to customers, employees and the ecosystem at large? Think creatively, beyond technology, to the Big Idea and keep all stakeholders in mind.
- Start Slowly: Pilot simple initiatives first, learn, then go larger while simultaneously developing processes, people and teams. Consider ripple effects, such as potentially overwhelming a logistics provider in terms of shipping.
Leverage your data thoughtfully
Understand and incorporate data into campaigns by first considering the desired data outputs: What data are required to close an offer loop, making it so relevant and targeted that the deal is clinched? How do you recognize high-value customers? How will you make the leap from knowing who a customer is to knowing where that individual is and, perhaps most importantly, why? As you implement your data strategy, make sure to:
- Regularly Evaluate KPIs: Marketers are responsible for selecting achievable, measurable goals at the outset and building those learnings going forward. Creating unique offers and communications in different channels can aid in the tracking process.
- Share Data: Insights, trends and intelligence gleaned from contextual campaigns can have value that far exceeds marketing’s reach. Pilot multiple projects in varying functions, sharing relevant data among product development, supply chain, customer service and more.
- Triangulate Multiple Data Sources: Crunch internal data, such as CRM and past interaction history, with external sources such as Experian, Equifax and Transunion, as well as social media, to build stories of the people who actually interact with products. Outside partners can help decipher the right data to collect and analyze for greatest impact if your company doesn’t have the skill sets internally.
Adapt Within Your Organization
- Teams: For pilot projects, initiatives can often start with one line of business then spread through the organization. Education, knowledge sharing, agility and empowerment are essential to spark thought and experimentation.
- Anticipate and Script Responses: The real-time nature of contextual campaigns requires outbound and inbound scenario mapping then scripting content to address numerous potential situations and reactions.
- Permission and Opt-In: Permission is a critical component of the brand/consumer dialogue surrounding accountability, as is an opt-out mechanism, especially for brands leveraging data across domains (e.g., in-home, -car, -store).
- Ecosystem of Internal & External Partners: Consider new partnerships, internally and externally, including technology vendors. Contextual campaigns touch areas beyond marketing, and the data inputs and outputs can be of value for a broad variety of stakeholders. This value should be used as a justification of spend.
The result of highly contextual content and campaigns is far-reaching value for brands, as well as for their customers and prospects. Benefits include greater ROI, rich customer experiences and better, more attributable data. And the benefits go far beyond marketing, supporting customer service, supply chain distribution, CRM, product development, innovation, operations and even finance. Marketing is about to become highly contextual, and therefore much more meaningful, for consumers and organizations alike. The time to commit to context is now.
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