When Bill Gates wrote his famous essay “Content is King ” in 1996, it was the nascent days of the web and almost a decade before social media would even be heard of. Gates was correct in seeing the internet as a global marketplace of content, but I believe his foresight was lacking in one key area: What would happen to a world of infinite content? This is the world we are in now, and content has become a commodity. Context, not content, is now the focus, and some brands are embracing context marketing.
Context marketing is a new method of marketing where brands break through by crafting experiences to meet a person in that specific moment of need and helping them accomplish the task at hand. The trust built from that interaction guides the individual to the next stop on their journey, creates motivation and drives demand. In essence, context marketing is a new creative lens through which marketing is executed; it requires brands to rethink who creates marketing, the role it plays and how it is executed.
Collaboration creates contextual experiences.
Go down a list of hot marketing buzzwords: influencer marketing, advocacy marketing, user-generated content, etc. These are all collaborative efforts in which the brand experience is delivered through third parties. These experiences are highly contextual, as they are created and distributed by individuals on behalf of the brand. They are the digital equivalent to word-of-mouth.
For example, Daniel Wellington, a Swedish watch company, became a $200 million business because of its effective influencer marketing strategies. The brand works with nano-influencers to create content that showcases its watches in the natural setting of a person’s life. The posts are created, distributed and shared by people who don’t work for the brand.
Or, consider Oreo: The cookie company created the #myoreocreation campaign and asked consumers which new flavors to create. As a result, Oreo received hundreds of thousands of suggestions. Not only was that social media gold, but the brand also created built-in demand for the product by co-creating it. The customers didn’t have to be educated on the new flavors — they were their ideas. By collaborating with its audience, Oreo broke through and drove demand.
To create a contextual experience, you first must understand your customer's journey. This is not a simple map; rather, it's a deep study into what your customer is thinking, feeling and doing at each step. With this foundation, get creative to help them accomplish those goals. The key here is to find ways to work with your audience, not on them. That is how you co-create a contextual experience.
Context marketing is omnichannel.
One of the major keys to context marketing is the focus on the customer journey. Traditional marketing is designed to create an instant conversion. Context marketing is designed to work across the natural buyer’s journey. The problem is that those journeys tend to take place across multiple devices and locations. To meet each buyer with a consistent and personal experience, brands must be able to execute omnichannel customer journeys.
The crux of creating an omnichannel journey is identity. You must be able to connect all your data sources to know who someone is at any moment. This is one of the central reasons marketing must own all experiences: Without a central owner, the data will be disjointed. The “2019 State of Marketing” report, published by Salesforce (where I'm principal of marketing insights), found that high-performing marketing organizations were 9.9 times more likely to create a shared single view of each customer. With that shared single view, those high performers were also found to be 9.7 times more likely to be able to create omnichannel experiences than underperformers.
The creative focus of omnichannel experiences isn’t to make the sale, but rather to help them accomplish the task at hand, which builds trust. With that trust, marketers can then guide them toward the next stop on their journey: driving demand. In context marketing, demand isn’t created by dazzling copy, creative positioning or stunning imagery. It is created by guiding a buyer through their journey.
Executive buy-in is paramount.
Marketing is now seen as the key to improving any customer experience, and, as a result, businesses can see significant growth without even adding a new customer. At my company, for example, we created a community that is designed to help anyone upskill and learn to better use our tools. By meeting new customers in a specific moment and helping them to accomplish their goal, we have created a contextual experience and are able to drive growth in a new way.
The No. 1 trait of high-performing marketing organizations is executive buy-in to a new idea of marketing — an idea where marketing is elevated to the owner of all experiences across the journey. In this role, marketing is driving growth in new ways, such as reducing customer churn and increasing lifetime customer value. Without executive approval, marketing will not be given the budget or scope to follow this new idea of marketing.
Further, without executive sponsorship into a new idea of marketing, businesses will follow the same methods of the past. Marketing is no longer just about creating dazzling copy and creative that drives instant conversion; you also need to deeply understand your customers' journey and become a trusted advisor along that path.
This requires brands to work with their market and embrace modern methods of influencer marketing and employee advocacy. It also requires the ability to create personal omnichannel journeys in order to guide buyers toward their next step. When brands learn to embrace context marketing, they are able to break through in the key moments of the customer's journey, build the required trust and drive demand in new ways.