Why Context Marketing Should Already Be Happening


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Context and marketing

So, the latest buzzword in the online space is “context marketing”, or the ability to look into the context of what your customers want and deliver on that need.

I first saw the term used by Marjorie Clayman over on Facebook; then some social media guru used it in a talk; and Jayme Soulati delves into it a little bit on her blog today.

And so we have another cool word to join the lexicon of other cool marketing buzzwords in the online space – content marketing, advocacy marketing, persona marketing and, yes, influence marketing (guilty of that one).

But here’s the thing – if you’re not already a “context marketer”, you need to ask yourself what kind of marketer you’ve been so far.

Context in Marketing is Nothing New

While social marketers looking to present a new billing revenue driver to clients might try and push context marketing as the new “must have solution”, the truth of the matter is context is nothing new when it comes to marketing.

Probably the best example of context marketing is an email drip campaign. Much like the term suggests, this uses automated selections (drips) based on recipient actions to move a customer along the purchase life cycle. A basic example would look like this:

  • Email sent out;
  • Action taken (opened or ignored/bounced);
  • If opened, move to the next stage (send a link to a download, free resource, etc). If bounced, clean list. If unopened, send different message;
  • If new link from opened email acted upon, sales message/final CTA (call to action). If new message to the previously unopened email acted upon, move to the next stage (download link, free resource, etc.);
  • Close the sale or move to next stage, or clean list;
  • Rinse and repeat.

As you can see, this is a really simple overview of a drip campaign via email, that uses the context of the action to deliver the next phase, all the while moving the customer along the various stages of the purchase life cycle.

The reason this is pertinent, though, is it’s been happening for years, long before “context marketing” started to gain traction in the online space.

Context Marketing in the Offline Space

It’s not just the digital world where context marketing has been used way before it even became a phrase, though. Retailers, for example, use context in everything they do when it comes to their marketing campaigns.

It’s why you’re occasionally asked for your postcode when shopping, or asked to fill out surveys online after your shopping experience. This data allows flyers to be targeted to the demographic of a specific neighbourhood based on age, gender, income, etc.

The same goes for seasonal ads – at their most basic level, these are also examples of context marketing at play. Look at the back-to-school ads that begin running in the weeks leading up to a new semester; or the games and toy ads that begin in early Fall for the festive season.

Then there’s the context of emotion and surroundings that sway the purchase decision based on where you are and what your perception is of that venue.

Independent coffee houses play soft music, while mixing the scents of coffee with the aroma of scented candles and dimmed lights, to evoke a peaceful setting in which customers are more likely to stay longer and make repeat purchases. Home stagers place a roast in the oven, or leave a freshly baked cake on the countertop, to evoke a feeling of homeliness to attract buyers.

All of this is context. And all of this is carried out away from the “we’re so cool” brigade that deems context marketing the next big thing.

You Want Context? Understand Your Customer

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that marketers are jumping onto this new term with such enthusiasm, though. After all, anything that can be sold as added-on services is good for the bottom line, right?

Maybe – but is it really good for your clients that you’re only jumping on this boat now? The truth of the matter is context marketing is nothing more than understanding your customers, and this has been the heart of good marketing for decades – or should have been.

Seen by many as the Father of Advertising, David Ogilvy nailed it in his belief that,

The function of advertising is to sell; successful advertising for any product is based on information about its consumer.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about advertising or marketing – knowledge of your consumer gives you the data you need to meet your consumers’ needs. In other words, understand your customer and you have the context to be successful – something that’s perfectly highlighted by Sam Fiorella on the Sensei Marketing blog, and the example of an exit interview that showed why a wireless provider lost Sam’s business.

If you don’t understand your customer, whether you’re trying to retain or gain them, any message you put out will lose a large part of its effectiveness. Lose the effectiveness, lose the customer.

Hopefully brands can at least understand the context behind that marketing equation…

image: Camil Tulcan

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown is partner at Bonsai Interactive Marketing, a full service agency offering integrated, social media and mobile marketing solutions. He is also founder of the 12for12k Challenge, a social media-led charity initiative connecting globally and helping locally.


  1. Hi Danny,
    Thanks for reminding us of what’s really important – the customer. Personalized content (or context) is only truly successful when the customer’s needs are understood. That’s why our customers have found success – they have been able to more deeply understand their customer’s needs based on analysis of content consumption of different personas. Tamar, Insightera


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