As technology and connectivity advances, marketers have had to move away from mass media targeting campaigns towards producing more real-time, contextual content that creates one-to-one interaction with potential buyers.
In a B2B context, that means that content marketers must stop thinking in terms of fragmented, segmented tactics and view the buyer’s journey holistically, unbound by an imperative to stick to only one approach.
What is Contextual Content?
Contextualized marketing does not rely on differentiators or distinctions of the company, but rather it is firmly rooted in an understanding of who the target customers are and how their behavior indicates their preferences. Getting it right is the difference between engaging with a buyer and not.
Vivek Sharma, CEO of Movable Ink talks in a recent webinar titled Contextual Email Marketing for Financial Services about how digital marketing today is in trouble because we’re always taking our customers out of context, and it’s very different from how sales teams work:
“If you’re a sales rep, it’s critical to sit and read the expression on your prospect’s face. This turns out to be a real challenge for digital marketers. You don’t see the prospect, and you continue to say the same things over and over again and you don’t get those visual cues from watching someone’s face. Are they leaning in or are they turning away? Frowning or rolling their eyes?
“Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. By blasting an entire email list with an offer, we’re interrupting someone with untimely messages. Brands tend to appear tone deaf and context insensitive. These same brands are leading with product and brand rather than experience and utility.”
By taking our customers out of context we’re only focusing on what we, the marketers, need, and we must do a better job at being contextual if we expect to generate qualified leads.
Marketing via interruption is on its way out
Most digital marketing at this point is still an interruption and relies on yesterday’s tactics of branding and awareness through mass media concepts.
Sharma further explains that “Millions of customers have put their trust in you. They’ve given you their email addresses. Marketing is based on trust. But across the digital landscape, that trust has been broken. Too many marketing messages all the time have left people jaded. The problem is that mass media and the mass approach to marketing just don’t work anymore.”
Today’s digital marketer has it especially tough—regardless of where a prospect engages with the content, the interaction mustbe enjoyable and build trust by collecting and analyzing the contextual clues left for them by their prospects’ interaction with their brand.
Contextual content requires a slightly different mindset, because it’s really all about what’s important to customers.
How can you possibly give them all the experience they are seeking?
The truth is that buyers engage in different ways, through different channels and for different reasons.
The tricky part is that you will have hundreds, maybe thousands, of customers interacting with your brand. They will come to you through different channels, they will have different needs, and they will be at different stages in the buying cycle.
Email marketing has been used as the primary application for contextualized marketing, but since there’s still no way to tell what’s actually relevant to a prospect when they’re checking their email, it often goes wrong for marketers—for example, how many email pitches have you gotten that are completely inappropriate to your company and situation?
“The key to context doesn’t rely on past behavior,” says Sharma. “It’s in the moment. We have to gather, analyze and act on data real-time. You don’t have time to predict, you only have time to react.”
That sounds great, but the reality is that most marketing departments are grossly understaffed and in fact, producing enough contextualized content remains one of the top challenges for B2B marketers.
Sharma concludes that, “As businesses start producing more content than ever, it’s going to become important to find ways to get that content in front of the right people. By empowering content with context, it’s possible to ensure that all the great content that’s being created doesn’t go to waste by going to the wrong people at the wrong time.”
The right tools and metrics for contextual marketing
Content drives the effectiveness of everything you do across the customer engagement life cycle. This analysis can tell you things like:
- Which content performs the best, so you can promote and distribute that content accordingly.
- Which topics and formats resonate most with your audience, so you can adjust focus to better cater to your audience.
In B2B, it’s essential to have a marketing automation system that is fully integrated with a CRM to track digital behavior and create contextual lead intelligence on your prospects. It’s the only way to effectively monitor and nurture each lead through the complex B2B buying journey.
But (and this is an important caveat) marketing software alone will not deliver enough sales-ready leads. Without useful, engaging content to power your digital interactions with prospects and customers, your marketing efforts will sputter out.
Through this process, marketers can reestablish trust—by recognizing context and creating relevant, engaging content.
What does contextual marketing look like?
You have to build what Forrester calls a contextual marketing engine. Something that leverages real-time analytics and insights to personalize and automate that customer experience. That means thinking differently about marketing and making it all about the customer experience.
If you do this right, the sales will be inbound.
Getting the right content in front of prospects at the right time will always work, whether it’s in an email, in a blog, or in person.
In order to make your content stand out, you need to ensure that it’s positioned within the right context—based on the channel, the time of day, the device they’re using, and what actions they have taken.