What is context marketing?

Context Marketing is a pretty popular buzzword in modern marketing.  Sitecore has done a lot of work to own the  term.  They even wrote a book on the topic.  So, if you want Sitecore's definition of Context Marketing, download their eBook - Context Marketing for Dummies.

When I think of the term, Context Marketing, I see it as a capability that gets built over time.  For many, it’s a new way of thinking about marketing.  It’s a move from broadcast messaging to one-to-one messaging, from static content to dynamic, from single channel (or no channel awareness) to multi-channel.  And, most importantly, it’s a move from gut-feel based marketing to data driven marketing.  It’s bringing the discipline of the scientific method to marketing.  That’s a huge mental stretch for many legacy marketers that have built careers on marketing strategies that are both hard to describe and hard to measure.  

If you’re a seasoned CMO and you’re doing it the same way you did it twenty years ago - heads up!  A recent Forbes article does a good job of describing the new CMO’s role in a world where everything can be measured.  Unfortunately, many CMOs haven’t kept up.  The CMO is now the c-suite position with the highest turnover, at an average tenure of only 3 years.  Imagine the cost of reinventing your brand positioning and messaging every three years.  And, 80% of CEOs have expressed dissatisfaction with their CMOs, mostly tied to a lack of accountability.  The transition to Context Marketing is a necessary step towards staying relevant in the modern world.  

Our view of Context Marketing


I use the above infographic in our Sitecore Marketing training classes.  It helps us unpack the Context Marketing term. 

Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand;
they listen with the intent to reply.  
— Stephen Covey


We start with listening, which is really observing signals of visitor activity.  These signals come across many different channels and in many different forms.  Our listening objective is to catch these signals and transform them into data that we can then use to understand the context of the visitor.  In Sitecore, our signals might be profile value, goals triggered, engagement value, etc.  Across social channels, feedback forms, online chat; our signals might come out of mining sentiment and topic information from text.  In the store, we might track purchase history from our point of sale system or browsing data from beacons.  



The understanding comes from inferring meaning and context out of the data we collect.  In Sitecore, we start building this understanding by configuring Sitecore's marketing functions in the Marketing Control Panel (MCP).  Unfortunately, this is a section of Sitecore that many organizations don't get to.  Taxonomies, goals, campaigns & profiles enable us to decorate content and visitor activity with semantical information that provides us with meaning.  That meaning makes its way through Sitecore Analytics (Experience Analytics, Path Analyzer, Experience Profile and Experience Optimization).  You can bring in and tag data from systems beyond Sitecore.  The ultimate goal is to capture as much information as you can from whatever channels your visitor/customer uses.  Organizations that make use of Sitecore's marketing and analytics functions often advance beyond that, and into data mining/business intelligence tools like Power BI, Tableau and (my favorite) RapidMiner.  


Now that have you have listened and understood your visitor, what do you want to do with that knowledge?  If we apply the scientific method to our thinking we'll find a solid rubric that we can use to build a better understanding of our visitors and deliver more engaging interactions to them.  

Start with a question - Maybe you're a membership organization and you're struggling with new member conversions.  You see good club level interest, but not enough new member registrations.  You ask, 'What resources do prospective members find useful when considering joining our organization?'

Review your data - What data do you have available that may shed some light on the question?  Based on the data (and your experience) do you have any thoughts on what the answer is? 

Make a hypothesis - This may the point where you say, 'How is this any different than what I've always done?  I'm acting on a hunch...'  No - you're not.  A hunch is a guess based on intuition rather than facts.  A hypothesis, on the other hand, is a tentative and testable answer to a specific question.  It can be proven or disproven with hard metrics.  Those metrics are agreed upon in advance.  So, the rules of engagement are agreed upon in advance.  If/then statements tend to help when framing a hypothesis.  'If we build a marketing automation around new club inquiries that delivers X, Y and Z to the prospective member over a 3 week period, then I think we'll see a 10% lift in new member conversions.'

Test - The hypothesis has everything you need for a test, except duration and things like test type, % of visitors exposed, etc.  Build out a test for every hypothesis. 

Review results and tune - The scientific method is iterative and designed to be an ever evolving/learning rubric.  The more you use it, the better you get.  The more data you collect and the more context you understand, the more sophisticated your hypotheses can become.  It's helpful to review results and discuss next steps in a team setting.  


Going back to the listening tenets for a minute; we need to remember that every visitor is different.  They are coming to us via different channels, in different stages of the user journey and have different profiles.  Our learns from above should make their way to the visitor in the form of an interaction that is in the context of that visitor.  

The results

I once worked with a client that had, what I thought, was a great way to summarize their context marketing efforts.  He said, 'We create waves of what we call positive consumer predispositions in the marketplace.'  He was talking about positively influencing the customer towards a desired outcome.  That's one view of Context Marketing.