It’s Not the Device, It’s the Context (Or: Welcome to the Omnichannel Digital Landscape)

It seems that every week we hear about the need for creating a strategy for each new device and platform that emerges. “We need a mobile strategy!” or “We need a tablet strategy!” or “We need to create an integrated SMS + Email + Hyperlocal strategy!” We could talk all day about what ‘strategy’ really means and when you actually need to create one, but that’s not the topic for today.

It’s Not the Device, It’s the Context (Or: Welcome to the Omnichannel Digital Landscape) image bigstock Group of friends laying in sof 17000906Its Not the Device, its the Context (or: Welcome to the Omnichannel Digital Landscape)

Device, Meet Behavior

Regardless of the device that your customer, client, donor or constituent is using today, the concept that you should be focusing on is this idea from Mitch Joel in a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) blog post:

Consumers are not the same when they’re watching television as they are when they’re on a smartphone. They’re not the same consumers when they’re reading consumer reviews as they are when they are in a physical retail location. Each scenario, each consumer, each moment of engagement continues to look very different than the output of marketing messages that agencies have been responsible for to date.

That’s right, your customer is not the same customer across all digital devices and platforms. If you thought that keeping up with the changing technographics of your audience was a moving target, imagine that they’re not one, but several moving targets – each!

To Device and Behavior, add Context

Oh wait, it gets better! Not only is your customer not the same customer, exhibiting different behavior, but we can no longer make assumptions about their context based on the device that they’re using at the time. Case in point, according to the new Pew Research Center report, Teens and Technology 2013, 78% of teens have a cell phone and 74% of teens access the internet on mobile devices (phones & tablets). More to the point, according to Pew’s recent report on Millennials, 83% of them sleep with their smartphones.

From the advertising perspective, agencies are advocating for context aware ads that would do things like advertise a discount a pizza buffet during lunch when you’re on your smartphone and within walking distance, but there’s more to it than that.

To Device, Behavior and Context, add Utility

The concept of context introduces a new dimension to successful marketing. We’re moving away from traditional advertising that’s all about generating awareness and doing promotions and moving into an era where marketing actually provides a level of utility for consumers. Think about apps that companies are creating, such as the Meijer Find-it app or the Snow and Ski Report app by REI that provide contextual utility and not just advertising. In order to maintain relevance with the consumer, marketers must delve more deeply into solving problems for the prospective customer, as in, “Make my life easy, by helping me to get your product in my hands with less effort, by giving me the phone number and directions to your business.”

How Do I Market to Context?

This is, perhaps, one of the most challenging questions in marketing today. Context is not easy, as it requires a decidedly “outside-in” approach to customer understanding based on things like doing ethnographic research and understanding psychology (psychographics), the decision journey of the customer, sociographics and of course, their technographics, as discussed earlier.

The best news is that there are resources out there on marketing at a level of context. Specifically, a book by Erich Joachimsthaler called Hidden in Plain Sight: How to Find and Execute Your Company’s Next Big Growth Strategy. Hidden in Plain Sight walks the reader through the concept of learning a new way to understand what really matters to your customers by using the “Episodic Reconstructiion Method.” I know, that’s a mouthful, but here are 5 things that you can do today to begin to better understand, and market to customer context.

  1. Study consumers’ behavioral episodes to discover the context and ecosystems of products and services in their daily lives.
  2. Build your brand to include the total customer experience around their behavioral episodes.
  3. Look from the “outside-in” – don’t assume that you know the customer until you really see things from their side of the fence.
  4. Go beyond existing customers. You need to include both current and potential customers to truly understand new opportunities for marketing and growth through context.
  5. Get beyond simple product usage and seek to understand your customers’ lives. By understanding their lives better, you’re in a better position to reframe the opportunity for your brand and the context for demand as well.

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