Finding the right balance with contextual marketing


Delivering a highly relevant and personalised content experience to online users has quickly become top priority for several businesses. With so much noise on the Internet, existing clientele and potential customers are being greeted with numerous options to choose from. But if you can pander to your audience’s preferences and stand out with a unique yet appropriate content offering, they will be more likely to click and consume.

This is where contextual marketing comes in; serving people with targeted advertising or content based on their browsing behaviour and personal preferences.

But in order to understand what your target market want from their online experience, you will need to unearth some in-depth and detailed data, which is another challenge in itself and arguably more difficult than creating the actual customised content. Most of the time, it will come from personal data, which is becoming harder to collect and collate because of privacy and security concerns.

Even when you do manage to capture these facts and figures, marketers are relying on a fair amount of guesswork. What’s more, some consumers feel a little bit uneasy about this practice and think it’s rather creepy.

For these reasons, contextual marketing needs to strike the right balance between harnessing existing data, not being too obtrusive but should also reach out to customers and actively ask what they want from their online experience.

Problems with privacy

In recent years, numerous news stories have highlighted privacy and security concerns associated with personal data. Consequently, online users are seemingly more reluctant to give away such information to marketers, even if this has their best interests at heart.

In 2014, research from TRUSTe found that 60 per cent of people had more concerns about security than the previous year. The two largest security concerns were businesses sharing personal information with other companies (60 per cent) and tracking online behaviour to show targeted ads and content (54 per cent).

Having said that, consumers actually want to receive customised and personalised online experiences, which can be made possible through the use of personal data. According to Adobe’s 2013 “State of Online Advertising,” 88 per cent of respondents in the EU had a neutral or positive opinion about customisation and this figure rose to 94 per cent for the US.

To overcome these challenges and concerns, the marketing industry needs to find ways to use context rather than personal data in order to deliver deeper content experiences without excessive intrusion. And according to their book Age of Context, authors Robert Scoble and Shel Israel believe there are five forces in play.

Forces of contextual marketing

The following forces are all converging to fuel the growth of contextual marketing but also make it a more viable option for brands and businesses wanting to deliver personalised content.

1. Mobile devices

With so many people now searching for and accessing content on their mobile devices, the need to create customised content for smartphones and tablets is fairly obvious. On top of this, wearable technology is also taking off in the form of smart wristwatches and fitness trackers, which can be quite specific in some cases but also extremely personal. This force will only grow in importance and significance too, due to low purchase prices and an abundance of choice.

2. Social media

We all know how social media facilitates real-time conversations with customers, but platforms like Facebook and Twitter also allow for huge personalisation opportunities thanks to location and interest information based on updates and activity. Social media supports and compliments a wide range of other marketing methods too, which can increase relevancy and provide more scope for better content customisation as well.

3. Location

For this force, let’s take Google as a specific example of how location can be used and harnessed to enhance contextual marketing goals. From the development of its Android operating system, which provides extensive data sets, to digital products like Gmail, YouTube and Personalised Search, Google wants to predict what consumers will do next and achieves this by building a virtual picture of each individual. Much of this comes from location alone.

4. Sensors

Sensors measure and monitor change but also emulate the five human senses to provide incredible insight into personal movement and emotion. Initially used for fairly inconspicuous purposes, such as smartphone screen orientation, sensors are now being used to identify where consumers are and what they are doing. For example, a mobile app can alert a shop owner as to when a loyal customer is nearby.

5. Data

Last but not least, data remains a major force in contextual marketing. But even though there are extensive resources to call upon, those wanting to create relevant and personalised experiences need to come across actionable data, which can provide revealing insights but also forecast potential opportunities. This is made possible through analytics tools, which posses the ability to draw conclusions about website or social media browsing behaviour and provide intelligence about visitor preferences.

Capitalising on contextual marketing without excessive obtrusion

With contextual marketing forces like social media activity and website browsing behaviour, marketers can take advantage of readily available data that doesn’t compromise individual security. In fact, even the most obvious information can be capitalised on to create customised content, such as the time, day and even the weather.

For example, WeatherFIT customises AdWords adverts based on real-time climatic conditions. Digital media agency Essence also managed to identify users who were spending Christmas away from home by using IP-targeting to monitor browsing behaviour of UK news sites and overseas portals.

This level of encroachment on daily routines and individual circumstances might still be a little extreme for some. If so, the only way you will be able to provide customised content and personalised experiences is to simply ask what your audience want to receive. They can receive reassurances that their answer will be used for the greater good but also benefit from something truly unique.

So, rather than guessing what your target market wants to consume and avoid accusations of excessive intrusion, there is no reason why you can’t capitalise on contextual marketing by contacting and canvassing customers directly.