If you are afraid that your messaging, marketing or offers are not getting through to your customer, you are probably justified in that fear. Customers are in a state of overload, being bombarded left and right with messaging that is redundant or poorly conceived or simply does not meet their needs. When this is the case, customers are quick to hit the delete button or opt out. Worse yet, they may not interact with your brand because it lacks relevancy to them.

Milad (Milo) Elmir, ChannelNet’s Chief Experience Officer (CXO), answers questions about contextual marketing, the answer to cutting through today’s information clutter. Elmir explains contextual marketing and its challenges, the important role of insights, and the keys to successfully shifting to a contextual approach.

Please share a little about what you do.
Milo Elmir-ChannelNet-CXO

Milad Elmir, ChannelNet, CXO

Elmir: My client responsibility is to help fashion standout, highly personalized, cross-channel messaging that rises above the noise to meet and exceed the customer’s needs by being relevant, timely and convenient.

In your own words, how would you describe contextual marketing?

Elmir: Simply put, contextual marketing is the next evolution of the discipline toward true real-time customer-centric personalization. Think of it as an answer to the following questions:

  • How do I, as a brand, engage with my customers in a way that is relevant to them as individuals, at a time of multiplying messages, increased channels and decreased customer attention?
  • How does my brand, my offer or my message differentiate our company amid the cacophony?
  • How do I grab the individual customer’s attention, meet his or her particular needs, and prompt the desired behavior for my brand?
  • How can I be more effective?

Contextual marketing techniques utilize innovations in data, technology and customer insights to provide today’s customer with highly personalized messaging that speaks to the customer one-to-one as an individual, addressing his or her highly specific personal circumstances and intent. It is the latest iteration of a trend that has seen marketers shift from the scattershot one-size-fits-all product/brand-focused approach of the early (dark) days to the various demographic segmentation strategies of recent years and on to a highly targeted one-to-one model that puts customers and their specific needs first.

I predict contextual marketing will fundamentally supplant the old ways simply because it is most effective.

Besides organizational barriers, in your opinion, when it comes to implementing contextual marketing, what are the three biggest challenges marketers face?

Elmir: Well, organizational barriers are certainly huge when it comes to contextual marketing. In fact, getting your organization to shift toward a customer-centric mindset is, in my experience, half the battle. It requires a shift in both organizational values and the structures and strategies that allow you to operationalize those values. Beyond that, here are three suggestions that come to mind:

  1. Stop thinking in terms of segments. True personalization is about individuals.

A lot of organizations mistake segmentation for true personalization. It is not. Today’s customer is inundated with segment-driven messages, offers and incentives. Customers are increasingly finding it easy to ignore these types of messages as irrelevant to their intent and their individual needs. Focusing on individual behavior and intent with highly personalized marketing is the only way to cut through that clutter. It’s pretty simple— if you listen to the customer at an individual level, you are more focused and more effective.

  1. Consolidate your customer data and align it to the customer experience.

The exponential growth of media and technology has resulted in an explosion of customer data coming from multiplying customer touchpoints and a myriad of interactions. This data tends to be housed in a highly fragmented ecosystem. For your customers, their interaction with your brand is not an array of separate touchpoints but an overall continuous experience. The data needs to brought together to reflect the customer’s journey. Once you have your data cleaned and housed, then you can start to extract value for your customer by applying the principles of contextual marketing, on both the analytical and technological side, to leverage real-time intent.

  1. Make sure that your technology and communication solutions are current.

So you changed your mindset and you consolidated and analyzed your data. Now you need to take a look at your platforms. Some questions to ask are:

— Are your marketing vendors, tools and systems efficiently delivering the most effective solutions?

— Are you able to deliver the right message to your customers at the right time in their brand experience?

— Are you able to do this consistently and continuously through every step of their customer journey from consideration, to purchase, service and retention?

Always remember that your customers are way ahead of you; they generally know what they want, and they are willing to share that intent with you if you offer them value in exchange.

What is the role of insights in contextual marketing?

Elmir: Insights are the very drivers of contextual marketing. In fact, insights-driven marketing is an essential component of the contextual marketing machine. Once you have consolidated your data, housed it in one location and aligned it to the customer journey, you can combine insights and real-time analytics. This enables you to use predictive interactions that drive and optimize customer behavior and meet the customers’ intent (possibly before they even know that intent). Know your customers, build the right methodologies and tools, create a seamless and continuous customer experience, and then predictively meet their needs. It is a win for the customer and a win for the brand.

What advice do you have for clients who are shifting toward contextual marketing?

Elmir: This is not a small effort. It includes transforming their organization, aligning the brand promise to the customer and further operationalizing the organization’s promise as a customer-first delivery experience. It’s also a time to take a hard look at their vendors and ask these questions:

  • Do they share your approach?
  • Do they think in terms of the customer experience?
  • Are they true contextual marketers?
  • Do they understand the new dynamics impacting the customer’s attention in the marketplace?
  • Do they understand the information-value exchange?
  • Do they value what matters to the customer, and do they know what the customer views as irrelevant?
  • Finally, do they get the technology and the role that data and insights play in the art and science of predictive engagement?
Any final thoughts?

We are definitely undergoing a transition in the dynamics between brands and their customers. Customers are more demanding and increasingly in control. Contextual marketing and one-to-one predictive personalization is the state-of the-art approach for acquiring, engaging and retaining customers.

Customers are smarter than ever. If you do not want to fall behind, your brand must acknowledge the customer’s needs and meet those needs faster, better and smarter!