[Book Review] “The Context Marketing Revolution”

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Source:  Amazon

"Starting on June 24, 2009, everything that once worked in marketing, stopped. What we do, how we do it, and who does it were transformed forever." (Emphasis in original)

So writes Mathew Sweezey in The Context Marketing Revolution:  How to Motivate Buyers in the Age of Infinite Media (Harvard Business Review Press, 2020). According to Sweezey, June 24, 2009 was the day when ". . . private individuals - not brands, not businesses or traditional media outlets - became the largest producers of media in the world." (Emphasis in original)

Sweezey argues that the business environment has transformed from a limited media era - where media creation and distribution were limited to people and organizations with sufficient capital to participate - to an era of infinite media - where every human being on the planet with access to the internet can create and distribute media (that is, content).

Sweezey contends that as a result of the explosive proliferation of content and the emergence of the new media environment, consumers and business buyers have largely stopped listening to marketing messages. This means, Sweezey writes, that companies and their marketers must fundamentally change how they approach motivating buyers and driving growth. As he puts it, "It demands not just new marketing ideas but rather a whole new idea of marketing." (Emphasis added)

In The Context Marketing Revolution, Sweezey describes the "new idea of marketing" that will be necessary for success in the infinite media era. He calls the solution context marketing, which he describes as follows:

"Motivating consumers today has nothing to do with getting their attention and everything to do with understanding their context - that is, their current position in time and space and whatever their task may be in that moment. Today, helping people achieve their immediate goals is the only way to break through the noise and motivate consumers to act." (Emphasis in original)

What's In the Book

The Context Marketing Revolution is organized in three major parts.

Part One (Chapter 1-2) - In Chapter 1, Sweezey discusses the profound differences between how marketers motivated buyers in the limited media era and what will be needed to motivate them in the infinite media era. Chapter 2 explains how the changed media environment has given rise to a new kind of consumer and a new consumer decision making process.

Part Two (Chapters 3-8) - This part contains the core of the book. In Chapter 3, Sweezey introduces the context framework - a model for describing the level of context in interactions between brands/companies and customers/buyers. Sweezey's framework describes the level of context along five dimensions - available, permissioned, personal, authentic and purposeful. Following the introduction in Chapter 3, Sweezey devotes a separate chapter to each of the context framework components.

Part Three (Chapters 9-14) - In this part, Sweezey provides a road map for implementing context marketing. In Chapter 9, he describes how marketers can identify the critical attributes of the customer journeys that are relevant for their company, and in Chapter 10, he discusses how marketers can use triggers to keep buyers moving through their customer journey.

Chapter 11 covers the role of technology in context marketing, and Chapter 12 explains the benefits of adopting agile marketing techniques and practices. Sweezey concludes the book with a discussion of the organizational and performance measurement changes that are needed to enable successful context marketing.

My Take

The Context Marketing Revolution is an important book that should be on the reading list of most marketers. This is a "dense" book in the sense that Mathew Sweezey addresses numerous important issues and discusses the subtle nuances of those issues.

I am usually skeptical of claims by pundits that "everything" in marketing has changed, but Sweezey has built a compelling case for the proposition that many aspects of marketing have changed in fundamental ways.

Many of the ideas contained in The Context Marketing Revolution aren't new. For example, most marketers have long recognized the importance of permission-based marketing, personalization and authenticity.

Even the core idea of context marketing - which is to help buyers achieve their immediate goals at each moment during the customer journey - isn't completely new. For example, Google's idea of micro-moments of marketing - which I wrote about back in 2015 - is similar in some ways to context marketing. And marketers who have been creating content resources that are tailored for specific buyer personas and specific stages of the buying process can be described as practicing a rudimentary form of context marketing.

The most important point in The Context Marketing Revolution is Mathew Sweezey's argument that the role of marketing and the scope of marketing's responsibilities must the dramatically expanded in order to make context marketing a reality.

Sweezey contends that companies must deliver contextual experiences in order to break through the noise created in the era of infinite media. Contextual experiences will often encompass more than marketing communications, and Sweezey argues that marketers must be prepared to move beyond conventional notions of marketing communications in order to create and deliver compelling contextual experiences.

The Context Marketing Revolution provides an insightful and sometimes provocative view of what is needed to effectively motivate today's consumers and business buyers. It's a very worthwhile read for marketers.

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