What is contextual marketing? Definition and explanation

An inescapable buzzword you may have heard doing the rounds recently is the term ‘contextual marketing’ so to accompany our recent white paper on the same subject I thought I’d write a short post by way of a definition.

According to Wikipedia, Contextual Marketing refers to ‘online and mobile marketing that provides targeted advertising based upon user information, such as the search terms they’re using or recent web-browsing activity.’ While I believe this definition works I can’t help but feel that it doesn’t quite get over all the implications of what this means for marketing.

Many people see contextual marketing as the ability within digital advertising (display etc.) to show particular messages to particular customer types based on behavioural data they already have. While this is true, it’s my view that contextual marketing is a phrase that can be applied to all your marketing. If tailoring your experiences to suit the customer is your goal why stop at the display adverts? Why stop at PPC? If you’re looking to conduct resilient, intelligent cross-channel campaigns in realtime contextual marketing needs to apply to all your efforts.

One may argue that ‘Contextual Marketing’ is an irrelevant phrase, a misnomer, a buzzword, because marketing is inherently contextual. To that I’d say yes, marketing is inherently contextual – by the basic definition of ‘context’ where it refers to an appreciation of the situation or circumstances around the subject. Most marketers would argue they make decisions based on at least some insight – some basic and some sophisticated. Yet what contextual marketing means, in my view, is a marketing system (or programme) that relies on what you know about each customer or customer type powering every aspect of your marketing and inherent to this is the switch from campaigns to context.

To be successful, marketers must understand that today’s multi-channel consumers conduct a growing portion of their buying journeys beyond the carefully orchestrated confines of a brand’s campaigns. The customer journey is no longer linear. People jump from their phone to a desktop via an actual store in a completely fluid and flexible manner. Brands have to be aware of this and they have to be ready for it.

Contextual marketing

A brand’s marketing needs to take all these factors into account and be capable of sending and responding with relevant messages and interactions. Intelligent interactions sent at the right time and in the right channel. It becomes an ecosystem rather than a campaign based list of activities. Don’t get me wrong, you still need campaigns to drive activity, those campaigns just have to be plugged into the contextual ecosystem and marketers need to be ready with the relevant responses.

Essentially the concept of contextual marketing is another step towards making the customer front and centre of everything you do. Customer experience is key and making your marketing contextual means you are more capable of adding to the customer experience, not being intrusive and delivering relevant messages to people who want to hear them.

In order to do this it all starts with the data. Brands need to be able to identify customers, enrich their understanding of them (we call this Intelligence) and they need the technological capability to interact with them.

To find out more about Contextual Marketing I suggest you download our recent white paper From Campaigns to Context – How to Embrace the Contextual Marketing Revolution.

Experian Marketing Services is a leading global provider of consumer insights, targeting, data quality and cross-channel marketing. Through the Experian Marketing Suite we help organisations intelligently interact with today’s empowered and hyper-connected consumers.

By helping marketers identify their best customers, find more of them, and then coordinate seamless and intelligent interactions across the most appropriate channels, Experian Marketing Services’ clients can deepen customer loyalty, strengthen brand advocacy and maximise profits.