The Context Conundrum

On a mountainside in Vail, a pair of cute three-year-old twins in matching blue snowsuits smiles for the camera. In the foreground of the snapshot, seemingly unbeknownst to the children, what appears to be a wolf stares hungrily into the camera. But the predator in this opening slide in Katrina Conn’s presentation on marketing context at the Marketing&Tech Innovation Summit in New York yesterday, it turns out, was the kids’ family Malamute.

The message: context matters, especially to companies espousing ideals to engage personally with customers in real time.

“If you don’t have the proper context, you could tell several stories about what’s going on in this picture,” said Conn, VP of marketing for StrongView. “If you can determine context, you can take actions based on current situations. Of course, context changes from moment to moment.”

Context, said Conn, is comprised of many variables. Where are your customers? What kind of device might they be on? Are they in the act of buying, reviewing, sharing? And what environment are they in? At work, at a sporting event, in an airport, checking their stocks?

The opportunities for marketers to take better advantage of context are rife. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit just falling to the ground, Conn said. She used an example of a recent business trip to Fargo, ND, when she arrived at 1 a.m., starving, but with no dining options in sight outside the mini-bar in her hotel room.

“The online travel agency and the hotel knew what time my flight was getting in. What if they presented me with some late night dining options on my reservation?” Conn asked. “What if they took it one step further and texted me or emailed me with that information.”

Marketers daunted by the data analytics challenge of identifying and codifying contextual information have a solution close at hand, Conn argues. It’s called email.

“If I’m out and about, I may not have my hotel or airline app open, but I’ll be checking my emails. People open their emails 60 to 70 times a day,” Conn said. “Use email to do this. It’s established, it’s interactive, it’s cheap—it’s the workhorse of digital marketing.”

She gave props to Uber for a campaign it ran in association with the Red Cross ahead of this week’s snowstorm in the Northeast—it texted and emailed customers to alert them to the availability of transportation, along with a list of procedures to follow in an emergency.

It’s not that marketers lack the creativity to put such contextual campaigns together. It’s the time that they lack. “Eighty-five percent of people’s time is spent in campaign execution,” Conn said. “They don’t have the time, and maybe they don’t have the technology.”

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