Move Over Content, Context is King

In the “early days” of the Web, we often heard our colleagues chanting the mantra “content is king.” You had to have killer content, buy ad banners, and get links on the key search engines to drive enormous amounts of traffic.

That lasted a little while and then the rules changed. The world got online, content sites exploded and retailing came to the Web. Marketers reacted by becoming more sophisticated in their approach, targeting audiences and using customer acquisition, conversion and retention as the basis for their campaigns. Get eyeballs, keep them coming back and make sure they spend money and time at my site.

None of this was new. Offline retailers had been thinking about customer loyalty and lifetime value for years. The difference was we had a new set of tools and rules for reaching and getting customers to act. Most importantly we could react to their needs and desires in zero time, providing targeted merchandising opportunities. So now that there are a million sites, with every topic and every product imaginable, how does one retain them and engender a sense of loyalty? Context.

By understanding the needs and desires of your customers you can create offers that are in context, thereby driving customers to action. It seems like a simple concept, but yet it's not a rule we live by. As an example, let's use customer surveys. Traditionally, surveys are used to get customer feedback on products and services to help us understand their concerns and build loyalty. Why shouldn't we take this opportunity to practice targeted merchandising? Based on the respondent's answer to the survey we could deliver a targeted offer. From one survey with eight questions, we could create 20 or 30 unique response-driven offers. Not only might we get the customer to fill out the survey based on the promise of a unique offer, but we may also drive them to act on the offer because it was targeted based on their survey offers. We've used the context created by the survey to create a targeted offer that appeals directly to the consumer's interests.

Let's take a less obvious example. Competition through one-click access to multiple vendors of a given product has killed price elasticity. Why shouldn't that provide marketers with another opportunity to take advantage of their understanding of the context of the moment?

One scenario might show a consumer abandoning his shopping cart of a stereo component, which prompts an interstitial that asks the customer why they've decided to not purchase. “Purchase price is too high so I'm buying elsewhere” could prompt a reappearance of the shopping cart with an automatically discounted price lower than the original. It may also respond through a cross-selling opportunity, suggesting that if you buy the product now, we can throw in a set of headphones for free. This creates zero-time price elasticity, the same way that's done at some of the newer group purchase sites. Conversely, scarcity economics can work in the same situation, driving prices up based on demand.

As a last example, let's look at driving traffic from an affiliate site. Online booksellers best exemplify this in their affiliate book sales strategy. Instead of trying to push whatever may be on the best seller lists, they let the site decide the books to recommend and offer kickbacks on those books via an affiliate agreement. This is classic contextual selling since the sites will generally link to books that are directly related to their area of interest.

Marketers need to adopt this process into their programs by cutting deals with sites with related content to their products and services. This can go beyond ad banners by offering a site's users unique discounts, product recommendations, sweepstakes and reward currencies.

In each example, we've recreated the experience of being in the store with new technology. In person, a sales rep can understand the context of a situation and respond accordingly by dropping price, upselling, cross-selling or suggesting other items altogether. Online, we have not yet had the ability to do that so we kept to the basics of merchandising.

As technology advances we can begin to offer in-context marketing and merchandising making the buying process much more interesting and positive for both parties. Context as king is one of the key ingredients in creating loyal customers. Give the people what they want and they're more likely to .com back for more.

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