When you’re ready to hear something, it is not an interruption, it is welcome news. It is likely to trigger action. Knowing a customer’s context—their specific needs based on his or her immediate situation—can potentially enable marketers to chart a path straight to the customer’s heart and mind.
This is the idea behind contextual marketing, the subject of a new report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, Beyond Personalisation: The challenges of contextual marketing, The report draws on interviews with experts and practitioners to examine the issues companies must address if customers are to trust them with their contextual information.
In the past, marketers had no choice but to interrupt customers, to rip them out of their everyday experience by distracting, entertaining or turning up the volume. Using contextual marketing has the potential to be different, by deducing what a customer may need in a given situation and therefore providing a valuable contribution. Done right, contextual marketing could be a nudge rather than a tackle, a more natural way to engage with customers that is less intrusive into their lives.
The amount of contextual information that companies can access is growing rapidly. Search engines reveal what we are looking for at a given point in time; mobile technology can reveal our physical location and where we are travelling to; social media can even read our mood.
For marketers, this information presents an opportunity to provide more timely and valuable offers. But doing so presents a number of challenges, and by failing to meet them, companies could lose the trust of their customers.
The most apparent challenge is privacy. In their eagerness to develop an ever deeper understanding of buyer behaviour, companies might be tempted to accumulate more contextual information than customers—or regulators—are comfortable with.
Second, contextual marketing requires a new approach to messaging, which focuses more on providing truly relevant information than provoking an emotional reaction. And it requires new marketing processes and practices that allow the company to manage campaigns in real time.
Perhaps most challenging of all, companies must be able to understand what products and services would be of genuine value to customers given their current context. This is a matter not only of interpreting information, but also having the ability to match products and services to customer’s specific needs at the very moment they express them.
In short, contextual information must be used to increase the value a company can provide to its customers. Only then will they trust that the information is being used for their benefit. Otherwise, it could well be perceived as the latest intrusion of the marketers into the customers’ personal lives.