An avalanche of devices, platforms, channels, and information is crushing consumers as they go about their daily lives. I’m crying “uncle” too, wishing a corporate entity (Apple?) would take the firehose of content and channel it into a trickle of relevant info on one simple device.

Since that’s not likely to happen, and since data, devices, and content just keep multiplying, how can we marketers help consumers make sense of the world? By going back to basics, and returning to context.

Behavioral targeting is certainly valuable. Knowing what a prospective customer has recently read, browsed, watched, and bought online is definitely useful. But all it illuminates is past behavior. What if I spent the morning looking at travel sites to research a planned trip, but now I’m reading an article and thinking about buying a birthday gift for my aunt? If you want to understand a user’s likely future behavior — their intent — you need to understand their multiple contexts.

“Multiple” is the key word here. As Tom Wentworth wrote on Mashable recently, “You might be a 45-year-old technology manager who likes jazz and runs marathons, but you’re also a husband, a son, an uncle, and a friend — and your purchases reflect all those different contexts.” When you add “SoLoMo” (social, local, mobile) to the contextual mix, you begin to understand why context needs to be at the core of every smart marketer’s strategy.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to make it part of yours.

What Are You Doing?

Planning a social media campaign? Consider the contexts. A teen looking at Facebook is in the context of seeing what her friends are doing, where they are eating, shopping and hanging out. She’s watching funny videos her peers have liked or posted. She’s chatting about weekend plans. Even as the content is curated, controlled, and shared by consumers, marketers need to understand the contexts within which that sharing happens. Ask yourself: What kind of marketing message are users receptive to in these contexts?

Where Are You?

Local creates amazing opportunities to examine context. If I’m checking in on Foursquare, I’ve chosen to share my real-time, local context. Smart companies like Local Response understand the resulting data and harness it to create powerful, relevant marketing. I’m sure this will evolve further, as devices (wearable and not) get more intelligent and NFC-enabled. Marketers will have simplified my life and performed great acts of contextual relevance when they can send me a waffle coupon as I arrive in the frozen-foods section of Whole Foods.

Who’s Mobile Now?

We all are. Social and Local are mobile. With mobile Internet usage expected to soon surpass desktop, at some point in the future, nearly all media consumption will be untethered. And as with So and Lo, more Mo means more constantly shifting contexts.

As users, we all understand these contexts. And as technology advances, marketers will begin to be able to leverage these new contexts as well. Our contexts change dozens of times a day: In the morning, you’re an athlete, working out on the elliptical — while at the same time you’re an executive, watching the early business news. Then you’re a cook, making breakfast. Then you’re an executive again, making decisions at the office. Then you’re a friend, consoling a colleague who had a bad day. And so on.

Think of the possibilities for marketers and consumers who want relevant, personalized brand engagement in the right context. Ford and other auto companies are pushing forward with new telematics that can understand your health and wellness. Google’s self-driving car concept is not only logical but possibly inevitable. After all, in-car marketing really isn’t a huge leap from what we do now — looking up rest stops and gas stations from our GPS devices or smartphones. “The time is ripe for the next generation of contextual branding — the art of sending the right message, to the right audience, at the right time,” Martin Lindstrom has written about marketing in cars. But this could apply to any other context, too.

Regardless of the platform or strategy, we must not forget that content may be queen, but context is king in the future of marketing. We have seen brands such as Lowes and Jeep build this in the core of their in-image, in-text, display, and toolbar strategies that reap the benefits. They have taken branded content, dynamic creative, valuable information and special offers into relevant contexts where their customers can (and do) choose to engage with them. As David Doty of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has said: “[Contextual marketing strategies] are rich, relevant, and indicative of what the future of all advertising is going to be.”



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