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The keys to consumer context: Ambiance and ubiquity

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People crave intelligent marketing, and they love it when it’s done right. But the targets of marketing efforts don’t simply want to be understood; they want marketers to be at their beck and call. In other words, they’re ready to entertain offers.

As marketers, we lament the opportunities lost when we don’t understand the particular needs of our target markets or prospects’ positions within the purchase cycle. Gaining direct access to customer context—the when, where and what of consideration—would help marketers position their offers, better time campaigns and provide the response mechanism most preferred by customers. The result would be higher ROI for brands and more intelligent marketing.

Fortunately, in the digital environment this kind of information is increasingly available. Many customers are already quite willing to tell us about themselves. They tag their information on Flickr and Technorati, post personal details to Blogger and Twitter, allow TripAdvisor and Yelp to track their preferences and even let Loopt and Whrrl stalk their physical movements around the globe.

For some brands, gathering customer context is already easy: Companies such as American Express, Amazon and Apple all have trusted access to customer context and benefit from their customers’ attention and consideration of their offers. Customers, in turn, benefit from the greater relevance companies have in knowing this context. And keeping these brands in the know is easy because they track purchases and interactions across all channels.

But for many customers, updating context is hard. While the social media revolution was sparked by online junkies, it’s still too difficult or time-consuming for the average customer to make this type of “about me” information available on a daily basis. And that may be a good thing—for now. While customers experiment with how to efficiently provide details of their context, most marketers still have a long way to go when it comes to appreciating and using this information.

Brands need to be available when context puts a customer in a position to buy, regardless of the time, place or channel. Without information about context, ubiquity—being everywhere customers want you to be, with the offer they desire—then quickly becomes the most important attribute for brands.

And increasingly ubiquity means establishing a presence in thousands of locales throughout the digital landscape.

Marketers need to manage more channels, understand how brands function in each, and administer the whole environment in real time. It can be bewildering because channels are proliferating fast, and the sooner that marketers understand them, the easier it will be to digest what’s coming next. Marketers not engaging in the digital marketing landscape—lacking ubiquity, that is—do so at their own peril. And participation in these channels is also the key to understanding how a marketer can capture and capitalize context.

With ubiquity comes one more marketing imperative: ambience. Since brand participation in these new marketing channels is spotty and inconsistent, it’s critical that marketers remind customers of their presence. Use each channel to inform customers of brand ubiquity and mobile Web sites, invite them to participate online and educate them on how to reach help any time of day (via call centers or tech support, for example).

Customers do what’s easy within their context, so make sure your brand is available in all the new marketing channels and that the customer knows it.

David Thiel is director-digital marketing at Catalyst Direct (www.catalystdirect.com). He can be reached at dthiel@catdir.com.

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