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Personalized Marketing in Context

We’ve all been told “content is king,” but what good is a king in isolation? For content to be effective in marketing, you also need to get the context right.

I spoke with John Stauffer, managing director of strategic planning and channel strategy at the full-service digital agency DEG about why many brand are shifting their personalization strategies from aiming at personas to incorporating context when marketing in the moment.

Personas that are “largely based on demographic data like age, zip code, household income” still have value for marketing strategy, Stauffer clarified. It remains “a good rule of thumb for what works” in terms of predictions made for members of a “cohort” who share identifiable traits.

The problem with relying on it altogether, he pointed out, is that it could lead to a “strategy process” that is too heavily invested in these synthesized types that don’t always account for “individual behavior-based behavior and analytics.”

Though everyone has sought some form of targeted marketing, the absence of context often resulted in what really amounted to just “decorative targeting,” he said, “a kind of cosmetic level” of personalization. The most common example of that is having an individual’s name put in an email, so it appears personalized. But the view “under the hood” was delivering “the same message or same experience” to every recipient.

Now there is a “shift from targeted marketing to marketing in the moment or contextually relevant marketing.” That makes it possible to deliver “experiences that are individualized” with different experiences delivered to different people. It is marketing to “millions of markets of one,” Stauffer explained.

The approach takes into account “moments” both on the macro and micro level. Macro moments may refer to things like location, “time of day, even traffic conditions,” as well as “what’s trending in the news and social media,” he said. Smaller, micro moments take into account what the individual is doing, like what products have grabbed the person’s eye, what they’re reading, what they’ve posted, shared, etc.

These “contextual changes are really important,” Stauffer declared, and he stressed that they are “not to be confused with real time content marketing.” “Gone are the days when brands get a lot of credit for being always on,” he said, referring to the impact of Oreo’s ‘You Can Still Dunk In The Dark’ tweet. Contextual marketing “goes way beyond being able to quickly post on” social media.

It is the combined whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, bringing “individual level data and analytics” in alignment with personae data to shape a truly personalized marketing strategy. The results are “higher conversion, higher returns on advertising spend, and greater customer satisfaction scores.”

In addition to those outcomes, Stauffer stressed, there’s a benefit to the individual level data as “really great sources of insight.” When “combined with other sources like focus groups and surveys” they can inform “the creative process” when planning “new content and experiences” to deliver to audiences.

One example he shared was a back pain clinic that sought to identify the “signals and behaviors that indicated” what exactly triggered someone who had endured back pain for years to finally schedule a consultation. “Being able to isolate those moments” that could have been determined by online searching, particular articles, or location helped them “zero in on really important movement.”

Another client is national furniture manufacturer. As furniture is a “very competitive industry,” the manufacturer tried to track when competitors placed television ads, in order to be able to offer their own at the same time. The aim, of course, was to meet the customers “in this critical moment of their journey” when they would be thinking about furniture purchases.

Such ads can be adjusted not just “in real time” but “in product category” — to hightlight bedroom furniture, say — and even at “product level” — like a dresser. To direct such ads to the right people, it’s important to be mindful that purchases of that sorts are often “driven by lifetime changes,” like buying furniture for a dorm room for a student entering college.

An effective way to market to this group could be with content that provides “value beyond the product.” The individual behavior of people in this group could show their searches for content like “The 10 Must Haves in a Dorm.” A contextualized marketing strategy would build up that kind of content that will be of use to the target audience.

Offering useful or entertaining content to appeal to the interests of the target audience is what is required “to break through the cluttered environment making demands on people’s attention” today. Effectively personalized contextualized marketing is the result of “a balance between technology and creativity,” Stauffer said.

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