It might sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best thing a marketer can do is keep quiet. When customers know what they want, when they’re moving through the buying process as efficiently as they please, when they’re about to click “Checkout,” sometimes you’re better off staying out of their way. An ill-timed communication can distract them, right at the point of purchase.
But to know when not to market — or when to shout it from the rooftops — you need to be able to see and understand your customer, in context and in real time.
That’s the goal of contextual marketing. Contextual marketing organizes marketing activities not around campaigns but around the customer journey, their behaviors and needs at a given point in time. Rather than tell your company’s story, contextual marketing listens to your customer’s story and responds in kind.
Situational Shopping Carts
If you watch sports, you might have heard references to “situational football.” (What sport you’re watching when you watch football probably depends on your geographical location.) The idea is that you can’t compete and win without a strategy, nor can you compete and win with only one strategy. Instead, you need to respond to the realities on the field. Ideally, you will have identified as many potential realities as possible up front, so you can implement the right plays when the situation calls for them.
That’s the approach your marketing increasingly needs to take. Why? Because the customer is now in control. The instant access of mobile devices means customers expect immediate responsiveness. The empowering nature of social media means customers are the loudest voice in the room.
In fact, Google has tracked hundreds of thousands of transactions and determined that customer journeys are as individual as customers themselves. No longer are there predictable steps in a predictable sequence. Instead, customers start from different places in different channels, and they continue in different ways on different devices.
The proliferation of channels means customers can begin their journey at many points. For the brand to be relevant, we need data so we can understand what’s relevant to each individual customer at each particular moment.
As a result, your marketing needs to address customer needs in a specific context — combining their attributes, past behavior, current touch point, and position in the customer journey. And your marketing must meet those needs at a specific moment in time — because what’s contextual now might be irrelevant in an hour.
Otherwise, your marketing will treat customers as if they’re all the same. And here’s just one example of how they’re not. A first-time website visitor makes a purchase one-quarter of 1% of the time. A second-time visitor is nine times as likely to make a purchase. By the time they get to the shopping cart, they’re 72 times as likely to buy.
A revolution is taking place in marketing, because it needs to. There’s way too much “batch and blast” today. It’s driven by what’s convenient for the marketer, not what’s relevant for each customer. It risks distracting and alienating customers rather than giving them a superior customer experience that leads them to buy and then buy again.
First, we need integrated data across channels so that we not only recognize the customer we’re marketing to but also the value of that customer.
Second, we need to measure our marketing efforts against control groups so that we can identify what’s working and what’s not working, where we’re gaining incremental lifts and where we’re falling short. In general, we learn more from the campaigns that don’t work. Measuring by using a control group will show you when your campaign isn’t working — and where you would have made more money by not marketing.
Finally, we need to know when to sit down and shut up. We need to ask, what’s the best way to engage the customer at this touch point, at this specific moment in time? We might have their phone number, we might have their e-mail address, we might have permission to text, we might know their preferences and their buying history.
But where are they in the customer journey right now? The best contextual marketing might tell us to hit them with all we’ve got. Or it might tell us that leaving them alone is the best way to make the sale. And making the sale is what contextual marketing is all about.
Now that you’ve learned that context is king, find out “How to Master Contextual Marketing (Minus the Creepy Factor).”