Content May Be King, But Context is Queen & She Holds the Purse Strings

How much weight should be placed on context in a marketing strategy and is it largely neglected when it comes to effective targeting? Paul Hickey, director of digital solutions, TwentyCi, explains how the fourth dimension of context can often be the missing link, but that it is a valuable signal of consumer intent.

The phrase ‘Content is King’ has come of age this year, with Bill Gates predicting the importance of content on the internet 21 years ago. I’m not one to argue with the world’s wealthiest man as clearly he knows a thing or two! Content has truly become the fuel that makes the internet go around. From pictures and videos, to podcasts, text and infographics, content in all its guises is consumed voraciously by all of us on a daily basis.

However, as the volume of content grows at a staggering pace, there is increasing concern amongst marketers that the value of content to brands is diminishing as there is simply so much of it. How do you get one company’s content – and indeed any of their marketing communications – to rise above that of a competitor’s to connect and engage with the desired consumer?

The route that most of us take to achieve this centres around the ‘Three Rs’: reaching the Right Person, with the Right Message, at the Right Time. If we can do this then we get to marketing Nirvana, right? Well, not quite.

There is, in fact, a fourth ‘R’ that can lift communications further – ‘Right Context’. This adds another dimension to consumer understanding and the ability to optimise relevance and personalisation. So, what do I mean by context here?

Context marketing is about adding ‘why’ to the ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘when’ that we ask ourselves when targeting a consumer. Examples of simple contextual factors that marketers can react to are geolocation (where are they physically?), atmospheric conditions (is it sunny?), and what device they are using. However, there are bigger contextual features, based around life events, which can have a truly profound impact on what we buy.

For example, having a baby, moving home, getting married, getting a dog, and retiring are all major processes that people go through in their lives. Each occurs over an extended period of time as people plan, prepare, and then live a changed life post the event itself – and each is the trigger for altered buying behaviour.  These are not snap decisions.

So, if we can identify what life event someone is going through, we can understand the content that is driving their consumer decisions and respond appropriately. For example, a retailer’s programmatic ad campaigns will typically use intent data (derived from search history), transactional data, and demographic data in order to identify that someone fits their broad target segment – e.g. a women aged 18-30 looking to buy a bed. However, with the addition of life event data that shows that the same women is buying a new home, the retailer knows ‘why’ she’s searching for a bed and has invaluable context that can inform their campaign. In addition to the motive for the consumer’s behaviour, they also have the timeline for their purchase and the potential for cross-selling other products she is likely to need. TwentyCi Homemover data shows that homemovers are 48 times more likely than average to purchase furniture in the month that they move – and not just for the bedrooms but for the whole house, of course.

This kind of context enables brands to be significantly more relevant and helpful to the consumer as they can anticipate their needs, wants, and expectations – like a crystal ball backed with real data. From the consumer’s point of view, context marketing looks like helpful communications from a company offering them a product, service, informative content, or a deal that is exactly what they need at that moment in time. That makes a brand’s offering more valuable to the consumer and is key to lifting their campaign above those of competitors. That’s why the ROI from context marketing is high, with £1 marketing spend typically creating a return of between £12-£28, in our experience.

The key to context marketing is using factual data to add an extra dimension, creating a truly 360° customer view. Factual data is essential in the data mix as context marketing only works if you are 100% confident that someone is going through a specific life event. In the same way that good context marketing is profoundly more relevant to a consumer, if you get context wrong then it can actually be a much bigger turn off. This also makes data recency a top priority to ensure that the context you are responding to is up-to-date.

While marketers can collect their own customer life events data, they may be better served by working with third-party data owners in order to get the scale and freshness of data required for big brand campaigns. Think about what context would be helpful for your own customers and then identify the kind of factual data you need to identify that context.

For instance, having identified the value of homemover data for providing context to a number of industry sectors, we now work with all the estate agent groups to get a bird’s eye view of virtually every house move in the UK. However, we supplement this with other factual data, such as identifying when someone has had a survey done on a house or applied for a mortgage. This means that we can add depth to the context too, while also being able to track people as they move along the lengthy house-buying process.

One of the biggest digital marketing trends for 2017 was predicted to be "the rise in brands trying to create content that connects with audiences in more personal, relevant ways". All marketers today understand the value that personalisation can add to a campaign – but context is still a missing link for many. And yet, context marketing has the power to provide a more personal relevance and connection with consumers than ever before.