Why Marketers Need to Consider Context — Not Just Audience

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StreetFight_Skyhook_RCDEIf desktop advertising was built on audiences, mobile marketing is shaped around context. On mobile, a moment — a walk home from work or a sunday stroll — says as much about our needs as consumers as our psychographic personas do.

In a Street Fight webinar Tuesday sponsored by Skyhook Wireless, Aaron Strout of marketing agency W20 Group and Skyhook’s Mike Schneider discussed the growing role of contextual targeting, and outlined a few steps that brands can use to create meaningful mobile experiences. Click here to watch.

Skyhook, which got its start as a wi-fi positioning service, is one of a handful of vendors that create platforms through which marketers can start to bring together location data with other bits of information to start to tailor messaging to the context of mobile users. Earlier this week, the company rolled out a series of tools for developers to create geo-fences and store profiles of a user’s location history.

“Somewhere in the last century the focus shifted from the consumer to mass growth, scale and monetization,” said Strout. “Now there are these opportunities for advertisers to come together and create a more beneficial experience for both parties. But consumers have more or less stopped paying attention to advertising.”

On mobile, the problem is even more distinct. In interfering with a device that consumers use to complete tasks, an intrusive advertisement could actually become a liability for a brand. That’s why it’s critical for marketers to make sure the content does not just speak to an individual, but is empathetic to the goings-on of their day-to-day life.

“We know that as much as people don’t pay attention paid ads, they are still a very important tool in the marketer’s toolbox” said Schneider. “It requires marketers to be more strategic in the way they message the consumer. The key difference between intrusive ads and relevant content is context.”

In order to understand context, marketers need to consider data about a user’s surroundings, says Schneider. That means bringing location, weather, demographics and other information into the messaging strategy.

But the applications for contextual data extend beyond simply targeting an ad. Schneider says that contextual data can help create responsive mobile experience in which the user interface adapts to the given context of a user. For instance, a retailer might develop a store mode within an application that presents an entirely separate interface based on whether a user is shopping at home or at a location.

However, contextual targeting, like other improvements in personalization, require marketers to handle more sensitive consumer information. Schneider says that marketers can avoid infringing on consumer privacy building anonymized profiles, and, most importantly, planning around the data they collect.

“The data that’s coming from web browsers, mobile phones and even companies own properties is becoming more and more important,” said Stout. “What’s critical is to develop a plan for those data, and understand not only hot to use it but  how you’re collecting and organizing that information as well.”

To an extent, contextual targeting is the logical next step in the evolution of personalization techniques used by marketers for decades. But the addition of time and space adds a challenging problem to the existing audience-driven thinking that has dominated the way media is bought and sold online for years.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.