Sunday, March 1, 2009

Context is everything

I have been mulling around this idea of Context Marketing. Of course, only to find out that there are people out there talking about it already. So much for an original idea... But what surprises me is that no one in the business world is talking about it on a daily basis.

Not having really delved into what the others are saying, I will just elaborate on how I see it and what it means to me. And of course, only then will I look at what the establishment means by it...
To me, the premise is simple -
the only way to be relevant to a consumer or shopper is to understand the complete and total context:
- who are we talking with (THE RIGHT TARGET)
- where are they (THE RIGHT PLACE)
- what time of the day/week is it (THE RIGHT TIME)
- what is the most relevant "event" to talk with them (THE RIGHT OCCASION)
- what are they thinking about in this "space" (THE RIGHT MINDSET)
- what is the best vehicle to deliver the information (THE RIGHT MEDIA)
- what would really get them to pay attention (THE RIGHT NEED STATE)
- what do they already know about you and your brand (THE RIGHT INSIGHTS)

It seems to me that the only way to properly conduct marketing - especially Shopper Marketing - is not only to understand all the variables but also to leverage them to the fullest, most granular level. Thus the one-size-fits-all model of marketing is dead - you are either building awareness OR you are triggering a sale. Why not AND? Each piece of communication plays a deliberate role. And that role exists at the intersection of all the questions above. Even different areas/zones of the store will have a different message, in a different delivery media, with a different objective. For example, awareness and description at entrance of where the new product is located in store; a co-marketing opportunity out of category, an on-the-go message in deli, etc. And the out-of-store TV perhaps creates a drive-to-web where you can pick up a coupon and at the same time offer up some data for 1:1 CRM follow-up. You get the idea...

I believe Marshall McLuhan had it right when he said "The medium is the message." He was establishing the building-blocks of contextual marketing. That where and how the message is delivered is on the same importance level to the consumer as what you are saying in it. So the goal for us marketing strategists is to identify the optimal "contexts" for consumer/shopper engagement. These will become, in my opinion, AS IMPORTANT as the content.

This brings me to my first reading on Context Marketing - the distinction between content and context marketing. See what Jim Holbrook had to say about it here.

The question is then: what business are Marketers in today, content or context? Or both?

It seems to me that we have to become increasingly deliberate in strategically making the distinction based on the various objectives and contexts BUT that we have to learn to blur the lines in the execution.

The big advantage I see, especially in a recessionary period where marketing has to do more with less, is that we will begin to thin-slice what we are doing, truly questioning both the purpose and cost to ROI value of each component of the campaign. It is no longer acceptable to be a sponsor of an event if there is no take-away to drive the participant to store for a purchase. The upside of the economic situation will be to open a more candid and refreshing dialogue between the client and the agency about the client's marketing choices - is this the most efficient and effective way to get the biggest bang returns for your marketing bucks? I predict that as agency folk, and "true partners" in our clients' business growth, we will have increased visibility and opportunities to impact the yearly marketing plan. This will only come if we pro-actively undertake some due diligence in proving what are the best contexts to reach the right people, at the right time, in the right place, with the right media, with the right message.

Here is also an interesting link to Context Marketing's "What, Why and How."

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