Content Marketing

What Does “Context Marketing” Really Mean?

As someone who’s made a career out of content, communication, and storytelling, I have a special place in my heart for the role of “context.” What we communicate—whether in business or in our personal lives—becomes relevant to our audience only when they understand the context of the message. Without context, meaning is lost. Without context, audiences get confused about why you’re communicating with them, what they’re supposed to take away, and, ultimately, why your message has anything to do with them.

Retargeting is the classic (and most offensive) example of a business context gaffe. Where something you looked at in the past keeps following you into the present whether you’re still interested or not.  Seeing an ad for socks when I’m looking at a website for business purposes is so out of place, so out of context. But many context blunders occur in conversation—when something you’ve said results in a blank or confused look, you know you’ve got to offer more context for what you’re saying or asking.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “context” this way:

The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed: the decision was taken within the context of planned cuts in spending

The parts of something written or spoken that immediately precede and follow a word or passage and clarify its meaning: word processing is affected by the context in which words appear

So if we apply the definition of context to the practice of marketing, where “marketing” involves communicating a specific message to an audience, then marketers need to pay careful attention to what precedes or follows the delivery of their messages. At least if they want audiences to understand the meaning or relevance of what they’re communicating.

At Sitecore, we’ve gone so far as to claim that marketers and digital leaders can only effectively manage the customer experience when they’re marketing in context of how customers have interacted with their brand. Many marketing automation workflows make an attempt at context marketing (e.g., if customers download a white paper, then a brochure is emailed to them two weeks later). But the problem with many marketing automation platforms is they only take into account the reaction to an email. They don’t take into account what the user might have done after downloading a white paper. What if they spend hours on the website? Or tweet about the white paper the next day? Wouldn’t you want to follow up much faster than two weeks?

Successful context marketing requires more than what marketing automation can offer. We believe it takes technology that enables three functions:

  1. The ability to gather contextual intelligence about what your audience is doing, wherever they are,
    before you reach out to them. In other words, as the OED states, what precedes your passage.
  2. The ability to manage the digital content, or passage, itself. And if you’ve got a lot of customers, you want to make sure you can do this at scale, easily.
  3. The ability to deliver that content wherever your customer may be, on whatever device, in an automatic way so that certain pre-defined audience actions automatically trigger the delivery of the content. And it happens in a timeframe you specify. In other words, you’re in control of what they see and when they see it so long as your contextual intelligence about their experience tells you they’re ready to consume what you have to deliver.

It’s pretty simple, really, but the technology that can make it happen is more complex. We’ve written about context marketing in a new book just published, called “Context Marketing For Dummies.” We worked with Wiley Press (who publishes the famous “For Dummies” books you find in the bookstore) to create it, and it covers:

  • How digital consumers have changed and why their expectations of brands are shifting
  • How context marketing helps you meet those consumer expectations
  • What you need in marketing technology to deliver on the promise of context marketing

There’s more, but those are the key takeaways. We hope you like it, and that I’ve given you enough context about the book so you see the value in downloading it. After all, far be it from this content marketer to communicate without context. Let me know what you think of the book in the comments below!

Download Context Marketing for Dummies

Charlotte Ziems

As Sitecore’s VP of Content Marketing, Editor-in-Chief, Charlotte oversees the strategy and planning of content assets including ebooks, videos, and white papers that resonate with and deliver value for Sitecore customers and prospects. She is as passionate about understanding audience needs and challenges as she is about Sitecore and the marketing technology landscape.

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