Customers live life connected across an array of devices purpose-built for multiple settings and scenarios. New knowledge, new contacts, and new opportunities are available through an unlimited variety of applications, communities, and resources. More and more, customers control this access on their own terms, filtering, prioritizing, re-mixing and time-shifting what marketers and other content providers once were able to provide in their own formats, timeframes, and terms.
At any given moment a customer has a certain propensity to take any of a variety of possible next actions; this is the present tense context of the customer. Becoming aware of the present tense context of customers enables a marketer to respond specifically and precisely. It requires listening (taking in interaction data) and understanding (modeling the customer state). Adding existing customer systems data and external data may also be necessary. Understanding the present tense context of a customer is the first step in being able to market to them in the present tense.
Normal notions of sequentiality no longer apply to customers accustomed to having – and good at using – so much immediately available content, resource, and opportunity. They no longer care when your show is on, when your sale begins, when you store opens, when your news breaks, or when your event takes place; they can have it now, if not from you, then from someone else. Sales cycles are compressed as customers move from whim to informed purchase, quickly acquiring trusted information from peer-consumer sources that re-intermediate the flow of product information you attempt to sequence. Customers today walk into a store, scan the UPC, look up reviews, decide on an alternative solution and purchase from a third site in the time it takes you to schedule a meeting about your next winback campaign.
Customer context is continuously evolving in real time – often quite dramatically in a compressed period of time. A marketer's understanding of customer context is not static but continuously evolving. This requires both real time information flows and frequent, automatic, event-driven reassessment of state. As customers' behaviors are discovered, their given state can change in a moment. Prior static models of customer lifecycle (and campaigns based accordingly) must be augmented with dynamic processes that continuously reassess customer state, arriving at present tense customer context.
Customers' use of this content and capacity is not done in stealth mode. The use of websites, mobile devices, social media, applications, blogs and email all leave digital evidence of current customer context. The form of this evidence is interaction data – interactions with content, with people, with applications. Interaction data can be enriched with data from customer systems, and with external data like gas prices and weather, to provide a fuller context of the customer's current location in their journey, their state. The Customer Context Cloud is the combined information contained in interaction data, customer systems, and external data.
More and more, marketing must become individual/state-based, and evolve beyond segment/lifecycle-based, in the way that segments and lifecycles evolved beyond mass markets and broadcast/batch and blast. Real time contextual marketing – marketing to customers in the present tense – requires an approach that starts with the lifecycle or other model as map, but then continuously updates that with the individual real time GPS signal of inbound interaction intelligence to place that customer on the terrain – including discovering when they have deviated from the assumed route. Understanding the present tense context of the customer enables a marketer to respond precisely with the next best action.
Alongside customers' increased control of capacity and pace, they have developed an astute hypervigilance for marketing that is uncoordinated, uniformed, or inauthentic. Continuing to serve display ads for a product after a customer has purchased it at your website, texting real-time offers for a restaurant in a city a traveler visited last week, or exercising too heavy an editorial hand in a supposedly open social channel are all noticed by customers. Using just enough personalization to get customers' attention, but not enough to be appropriate for their actual current context, can have a more negative impact than broadcast marketing that doesn't attempt to be user-specific.
As marketing becomes more present tense to the customer, the effect will be more integrated messaging – integrated not just at the level of product selling proposition across channels, but integrated at the level of understanding customer state across channels. A present tense marketer would be able to quickly infuse the new information that a customer has, for example, purchased a product at his website, such that subsequent retargeted display ads would recommend a follow-on item. By having a constantly updated real time model of customer state integrated with the requisite data inputs and able to execute marketing actions in response to changes in that state, a present tense marketer's messages would adjust to a customer's changing location, device, channel, level of engagement, evolving preference, and sentiment. Ultimately, present tense marketing is authentic to the customer and is not predicated into "tricking" the customer into engaging, since engagement is generated authentically, through stage-aware messaging.