Content moving beyond screens into the “phygital” world of beacons, sensors and the Internet of Things has been a focus of my most recent research.
Together we’ve looked at some of the benefits brands such as Nestlé, GE, Marantz and Disney are reaping from campaigns that go well beyond “the right message to the right person at the right time.” They’re adding additional contextual elements such as purchase history, weather conditions, location and demonstrated consumer interests to create messaging and campaigns that are personalized to a degree never before possible.
Yet doing so is an immense challenge to the enterprise. Context requires getting plenty of ducks in a row (even ducks in departments other than marketing).
I asked major brands already active in the field for their best-practice recommendations for getting contextual marketing off the ground. Here, in aggregate, are their recommendations.
Assemble the right teams
For pilot projects, initiatives often start with just one line of business (e.g., email, customer service, social or mobile), then spread more broadly through the organization.
Education, knowledge-sharing, agility and empowerment are essential to spark thought and experimentation.
As with every other form of marketing, content is foundational to context. For contextual campaigns, content strategies must be significantly expanded to address different contextual elements. This must encompass not only goals and KPIs, which can be myriad, but also the many additional situations, conditions, offers, customer profiles conditions, locations, device interfaces and other specifics that go into communication and messaging.
Content strategy must also be linked to product strategy for many contextual initiatives, and it must address design and user experience to a higher degree than in other marketing scenarios.
Anticipate and script responses
The real-time nature of contextual campaigns requires outbound and inbound scenario mapping, then scripting content to address numerous potential situations and reactions, both to offers and the campaigns themselves.
Here’s an example of a social media triage process:
When D+M (Marantz’s parent company) is called out for being slightly creepy with proactive customer service push messaging in response to consumer behaviors with their devices, the scripted response is, “You would expect this level of support from BMW. Why not from us?,” which the company has found to be a successful way to allay customers’ feelings of surveillance. This applies equally to potential consumer cross-domain sensitivities.
Real-time and context go hand-in-hand. Location data, for example, cannot suggest a customer visit a venue when it’s closed at 11 p.m. Iced tea is an inappropriate offer for a snow day. My earlier research outlines 12 steps to prepare for real-time readiness.
Many brands already have what I’ve referred to before as “always-on war rooms” in which well-trained analytics and social media teams continually monitor digital sentiment and react and optimize their messaging in real time. The sentient world will rapidly become part of this intense, pressurized marketing function.
Permission and opt-in
Even more than with email and social channels, contextual communications cannot be pushed on unwilling or unreceptive consumers. In addition to offering value to make messaging welcome, permission is a critical component of the brand/consumer dialogue, as is an opt-out mechanism, especially for brands leveraging data across domains (e.g. in-home, in-car, in-store and so on).
The four components of permission communications every brand must consider include:
- brand accountability;
- consent and agency; and
- value/WIIFM (What’s in it for me?).
Ecosystem of internal & external partners
Consider new partnerships, both internally and externally. Contextual campaigns touch areas beyond marketing, and the data inputs and outputs can be of value for a broad variety of stakeholders.
This value can and should be used as a justification for spend, not just from marketing budgets but also from budgets of other lines of business.
Understand what tech vendors bring to the table, as well as their limitations. A large player can act as a backstop but might limit experimentation.
A small, nimble startup might be better for a pilot than a national implementation. Determine who will be responsible for the chain of technology — for example, a chain of 1,000 retail locations, each with 10 beacons.
Continuous education and training
In a quickly evolving sector, it’s essential to keep abreast of tools, technologies, use cases, data and best practices.
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