Putting Context in Context

Context marketing may seem like another new “thing” to overwhelm you. In reality, understanding your audience in context is the next part of the ongoing journey marketers have traveled to make sense of the new online world. After all, we’re all human and know how to have human interactions built on context. We’re now entering an age where that same level of comfort and customization can find its way into our marketing.


The Online Gold Rush

Marketers have a history of chasing the next shiny object. In the mid- 1990s, that exciting new toy was the World Wide Web. Though this new technology was exciting, it also created many challenges, some of which persist today. Just as not everyone is a natural born salesman, not everyone jumps at the chance to practice digital marketing even now – online marketing thus requires a major shift that has proven difficult for many marketers.

The first step in going digital was staking an online claim. This meant creating a first corporate website and migrating sales and marketing collateral into the online space. Just like settlers running towards the Colorado gold mines, companies did this with fervor. The late 1990s – early 2000s saw a massive land grab for online real estate.

Email Marketing Bombards its Audience

The initial digital gold rush wasn’t limited to web pages. Much of it was directed towards email inboxes. A new wave of email tools accelerated the pace and scale of marketing outreach. In what might be considered the first stage of marketing automation, many companies tried to use automated, batch-and-blast email campaigns to “out-spam the spammers” in a strategy that aimed to fire 20 things in front of people in the hope that one of those things would somehow be relevant.

Though some companies continue to embrace this approach, there are several inherent drawbacks. First, it’s hard to do: According to statistics by Radicati Group, people send about 294 billion emails per day, and about 90% of those are either spam or viruses. Second, as inbox spam filters and other screening tools improve, reaching out to an audience using a purchased list or other interruption-based technique has become increasingly ineffective.

These early, spam-happy approaches to email practiced the same philosophy behind driving millions of impressions towards a one-size- fits-all banner ad just to get a small handful of clicks. Fill the top of your marketing funnel enough, the philosophy runs, and you can eventually
see at least a few customers give up and convert at the very bottom. But what are you doing to your reputation? What about ROI? Are there more efficient ways to do this? What about the people behind the screen? Again, these are questions context marketing aims to address head-on.

“Those who insert themselves into as many channels as possible look set to capture the most value. They’ll be the richest, the most successful, the most connected, capable and influential among us. We’re all publishers now, and the more we publish, the more valuable connections we’ll make.”

Pete Cashmore

Founder, Mashable


Social media is so ingrained in our everyday lives that it’s hard to imagine it has only existed for roughly the past decade. Checking your Facebook account or Twitter feed has become as much a part of most morning routines as pouring a cup of coffee.

The social media follower race burst into the marketing world and is still part of the zeitgeist of the industry, changing online conversations with the same force as Google changed researching products, and finding information. Suddenly, through online communities and social sharing, people everywhere were generating word-of-mouth recommendations and discussions, all of them online, and all of them at a scale that only celebrities could have dreamed of a few short years ago.

Initially, as Mashable founder Pete Cashmore’s quote illustrates, social media was far from a proven revenue stream. Companies remained somewhat unsure on the best way to participate in this new medium.

But from its early disorganized roots, social media grew up, and revenue followed. Today, more than one in seven people worldwide access their Facebook account monthly, and social networking accounts for nearly 27% percent of all time spent online according to an Experian study.

And according to Forrester, most companies consider their social presence a standard aspect of their marketing strategy to drive customers. HubSpot’s 2013 State of Inbound Marketing Report, which surveyed over 3,000 marketers globally, found that 54% found a new customer via Facebook alone in 2013.

With word-of-mouth, people-centric marketing not only booming, but linked to business objectives, the need to treat people like people has become more important than ever. The best interactions always come with context, relevancy, personalization. When we talk to people in real life, we use their names, reference past conversations and talk about topics that matter to them. Rather than using social media as a megaphone for company announcements, using contextual tools marketers can to bring these same core communication skills to their online interactions.

“If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing”.

 Guy Kawasaki


The early Internet explosion gave way to a more mature industry, as companies harnessed their initial online chaos and strategically focused their efforts. This world moved from “dumb” sites that were based around presenting and packaging information from one to many, to a world centered on people and contextual interactions. It moved from a way to consume to a way to connect.

Following the trend, inbound marketing began by focusing on the person behind the screen (the consumer). It was grounded in the notion that to get people’s attention in this multi-channel world you had to create something that people wanted to read. You needed to attract them on their own terms, not try to push harder or add more noise and spam to the web.

A heavy component of inbound marketing was the publishing of content that’s either useful (to help your prospects and customers accomplish something in their day), or thoughtful (to help them think differently about the world in ways that improve their lives). It came in the form of blogs, ebooks, et al that educated an audience and helped them in some way before asking for a sale. By doing this at every step in their buyer journey, marketers could now attract visitors, turn them into leads and customers, and create more word-of-mouth advocacy by creating a great experience.

Today, inbound marketing is a central practice for a majority of marketers. According to the 2013 State of Inbound Marketing survey, nearly 60% of marketers have adopted inbound strategies, and more than 80% of those executing inbound marketing have integrated it into broader company goals.

New Integrated Technology Ushers in a New Era

From using mapping tools to find the best route to work, buying lunch with a phone, texting your family about dinner plans, and reaching out to a high school friend via Facebook, there is very little of our daily lives that technology doesn’t touch. Beyond that, technology is now integrated so that all of these individual data points combine to provide a pretty thorough online profile of each individual.

If inbound marketing centered on creating relevant content for your target audience, context marketing is the next stage of this transformation because it paints a fuller picture of that person. Using a new equation of content plus context, marketers can better understand what pulls people to interact with their companies, and deliver exactly that to their audience.

As Accenture explains in their Global Consumer Pulse survey, this new technology brings companies “beyond the ‘where’ and ‘who’ of consumption”, and adds two additional layers to help companies understand their audience: “how” and “why.”

For some, all this data can feel a lot like big brother is watching. But for marketers, this insight is a gold mine. As competition for audience attention escalates, marketers need smarter, more strategic ways to reach their target markets. Inbound marketing in 2013 will utilize new scalable technology to glean insight on the person behind your persona, and deliver customised messages in a way that most appeals to that individual.


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