The Context for Contextual Marketing Is Changing

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Like most people I know, I assume different personas depending on where I am and what I am doing. When I’m out with my family watching a Cubs baseball game on a Saturday afternoon, I’m in “Family Mode.” But if I am hosting a client at a Cubs game on a Wednesday evening, I’m in “Professional Mode.”

The advertisers that try to reach out to me when I’m in Professional Mode need to understand that I’m going to be open to different products than when I’m in Family Mode. When I’m with my kids, I am thinking cotton candy during the 7th-inning stretch. When I’m with my clients, the cotton-candy vendor isn’t getting any of my attention. But I wonder how many marketers understand the dynamic nature of my persona? The question, I think, points to the complicated nature of contextual marketing at a local level.

Contextual marketing is all about tailoring content to someone based on their changing circumstances. The idea behind contextual marketing makes a lot of sense: the Starbucks app should tell me about the great-tasting pumpkin spice lattes in the fall and offer me a free coffee on my birthday based on what the app knows about who I am and what I buy. But in practice, contextual marketing is getting pretty hairy, especially for location-based marketing. That’s because context is getting more complicated.

There are many ways, or contexts, in which a business can know me. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Where You Are
For enterprises that operate multiple locations, customizing offers based on location at first sounds like a gimme. A department store chain with locations in New York and Chicago must vary its location-based and seasonal specials for these two different markets and even more so across urban and suburban areas.

But with consumers empowered with mobile devices and wearables, contextual marketing is becoming more of a matter of where the consumer is. Companies like Skyhook is making location-based services embedded in wearables more of a reality. It’s not difficult to imagine consumers opting into branded services that provide utility-based information that builds goodwill for your local stores.

Who You Are
I hinted at the “who” of contextual marketing with my baseball game example. Understanding who you are means more than understanding your different personas. Contextual marketers can also vary their content based what they know about your lifestyle stages. A local gym that I frequent year after year might vary its offers to me quite differently when I’m an active single guy in my 20s versus a dad in my 30s and perhaps a desk-bound executive in my 40s.

I really like the way Under Armour is using data collected from wearables to make its entire product line more relevant to customers as their lifestyles or fitness levels change. Under Armour provides not only fitness products for active users but health-management solutions for customers as they become more conscious of managing their health more proactively, which typically happens as you grow older or get more fit. Under Armour gets persona-based marketing.

A business can also vary context based on what it knows about who visits a different location at different times, which is especially relevant to event-based marketing. Let’s say you operate a concession servicing Grant Park in Chicago. Using consumer-generated content like Twitter data or even review content, you can pinpoint the sentiment and interests of different demographic segments who visit this location, down to the specific locations of a park bench, depending on the events held there. You’ll rebrand the kind of merchandise and food you service in Grant Park depending on whether the park is hosting Lollapalooza or the Chicago Jazz Festival. For instance, during Lollapalooza, you might offer Jane’s Addiction coffee and Haim sandwiches, and during the Jazz Festival you might vary your menu with Bird scones. Why? Because the context of who visits the park during those events differs radically, and you need to create content that demonstrates that you get your audience.

When You’re Searching
You’ve probably heard about micro-moments, or times when we use our mobile phones to decide where to go, what to do, and what to buy. Google created the term in 2015 to dramatize the impact of mobile on our search behaviors. Micro-moments vary according to many factors, and time is one of them. In the morning, I am more likely to be looking for “coffee near me,” and in the afternoon, I’m more likely seeking “snacks near me.” Pret a Manger restaurant can address both those needs, but the restaurant must customize its suggestions for coffee and food accordingly.

Thanks to Apple Spotlight and Facebook, we’re now having ideas for places to go and things to buy suggested to us before we even search. When you open the Spotlight search menu, Apple reveals icons that represent nearby points of interest for popularly used search categories as “Breakfast,” “Coffee,” “Convenience,” and “Gas.” If you touch one of the icons, you are taken to the Apple Maps app, which reveals specific locations for each category. And those suggestions vary by time of day.  Similarly, Facebook serves up time-based content in the notification section of its mobile app — offering breakfast nearby until 11 a.m. and lunch thereafter, with additional context-aware changes occurring throughout the day.

What You Should Do
The changing nature of context means that businesses need to:

  • Possess a strong location data management strategy that identifies every attribute of your location data, ranging from your identity to your location. You need to ensure that your content can be tied to an accurate latitudinal/longitudinal coordinate.
  • Be nimble about changing your location data depending on changing context, an example being the necessity to update store hours due to seasonal changes.
  • Develop a publishing program that layers contextual content on top of location data, so that your content is truly contextual, whether you’re serving up a mobile wallet offer or a customer loyalty incentive.

Contextual marketing sounds very exciting and promising on paper. When you get into the weeds of location data management, understanding context can seem like a challenge. But when you manage location data and context together, the rewards are greater.

Gib-Olander-150x150Gib Olander is vice president of product at Chicago-based SIM Partners.