Rebecca Lieb's picture

Eight Best Practices for Contextual Campaigns

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 gettingcontextual 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.

Content strategy

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 ability

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:

  • education
  • brand accountability
  • consent and agency
  • 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.

Technology vendors

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.

This post originally published on MarketingLand.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Contribution to a New Book: The New Advertising

The New Advertising: Branding, Content, and Consumer Relationships in the Data-Driven Social Media Era

Together with many peers I admire and respect enormously, such as my frequent partner-in-research Jessica Groopman and Publicis Chief strategist Rishad Tobaccowalla, I've contributed to a new book out just this week. 

The New Advertising: Branding, Content, and Consumer Relationships in the Data-Driven Social Media Era published this week from Praeger. It's a hefty two volumes, the second of which includes a chapter I contributed based on my research on real-time marketing.



Rebecca Lieb's picture

Why Contextual Campaigns Provide Value Across the Enterprise

Together we’ve looked at why context is digital marketing’s next frontier.

Since then, I’ve delved further into the topic, publishing research that looks at the value of marketing in the “phytigal” world we now inhabit, where things are as connected as devices are. Beacons, sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) are moving marketing past the screen to the objects, places, and even the conditions (weather, holidays, sales) we occupy and experience in the real world.

Contextual campaigns go well beyond “the right message to the right person at the right time.”Location, for example, plays a role. Automotive dealerships are using beacons to determine which customers visit the showroom versus the service department, enabling them to connect contextually in the right way, with the right messages, based on hyper-granular location data.

All of this is super-cool, of course, but what are the actual benefits of contextual campaigns, not only to marketers but also to the organizations they work with — as well as to the consumers they interact with? My research reveals at least 18 benefits, only some of which are directly related to marketing.

Contextual Campaigns Ecosystem of Value

Marketing benefits

Contextual campaigns confer some very obvious benefits to marketers. More targeted and individualized communications can result in amazing ROI.

“The more context there is, the higher the ROI,” Disney SVP Gunjan Bhow tells me. In partnership with theater chains and retailers like Walmart, Disney has been targeting consumers with relevant offers. They recouped the costs of integrating numerous back-end systems to enable the initiatives (both their own and their partners’) in just three campaigns.

Context also boosts campaign attribution and can be a great contributor to customer loyalty. It enables precision in rewards and incentives; MGM Resorts triangulates location data together with purchase history to send the right offers to individuals in their properties.

And of course, there’s the cool factor. It won’t last forever as the practice grows more common, but context can produce buzz at present, as well as amplification on shared media channels, leading to differentiation in the market.

Unsurprisingly, contextual marketing begets contextual data, a massive (and complex) benefit to marketers, as well as to the organizations they work for.

Organizational benefits

Data about how, when, why and where consumers interact with brands and their products goes far beyond the marketing department. Enterprises can use this information to make decisions about how they operate. (For example, do sales of a certain product spike under specific conditions or with certain consumer segments?)

These insights also can be used to develop new products and update existing ones. Marantz is developing new types of speakers for specific locations, based on numerous consumers naming their speakers “bathroom” and “garage.” This led to developing waterproof and more rugged models of IoT-enabled electronics.

Organizations also have visibility into areas that were previously black holes, such as the supply chain. Nestlé is looking forward to the day when it can send trucks to restock only those store freezers that need more ice cream, saving man hours, fuel and the environment in the process.

Companies are also considering using data to generate new revenue streams from contextual campaigns. Another example from Marantz: It now has a plethora of data from all the streaming services in aggregate. Would Apple Music, Amazon and Pandora be willing to pay for that type of consumer data?

Consumer benefits

Unless there’s a benefit to consumers, forget about using contextual campaigns. Without clear benefits (and, of course, opt-in), context can come across as creepy and Big Brotherish.

So, how can context benefit consumers? Improved experience is a huge benefit. Helping consumers to use a product or, as Home Depot does, find an item on their shopping list when they’re in-store, provides a distinct advantage.

Customer service reaps other big benefits. Manufacturers can “see” when a printer is out of ink, or if a user has rebooted a device numerous times in a short period, then proactively reach out to help.

Finally, there’s simply being helpful and useful in a general sense in a way that’s relevant to the brand. Sportswear and equipment retailer REI offers a digital concierge service to America’s National Parks, helping their customers find the right hiking trail or learn of weather or other important conditions.

Linking context to the brand and your organization’s overarching strategy is key, not just using technology for its own sake. And with contextual, don’t forget that it’s not just the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me), but also what’s in it for my organization, my customers and my prospects.

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.


Get in touch