Consumers live their lives today connected to multiple devices that enable them to better engage the world around them. As they go about their day, they effortlessly amass new knowledge, new contacts and new opportunities from an unlimited variety of applications, communities and resources. This constant connectedness empowers consumers to engage brands on their own terms. Instead of waiting for their favorite brands to reach out to them, today’s consumers are engaging them based on the channel that makes the most sense based on their current state. Instead of accepting information in the formats, timeframes and terms set by marketers, these consumers take control by filtering, prioritizing, remixing and time-shifting the information to fit their needs.
At any given moment, a customer’s propensity to respond to a brand’s message is determined by his or her current context. Fortunately, the same connectedness that empowers consumers with real-time information for better managing their lives also provides marketers with a valuable source of contextual data for tailoring relevant messages, such as location, device, activities and weather. Of course, this does require marketers to first listen by gathering real-time interaction information and external data feeds and then to make sense of it through analyzing and modeling the customer’s current state.
Normal buying cycles and stages no long apply to the constantly connected customer. As they encounter new information, customers can jump around from stage to stage and back again. These cycles also become compressed as customers move from whim to informed purchase, quickly acquiring information from trusted peers. This throws a wrench in any attempt to control the order of product information any given consumer receives. The constantly connected customer can walk into a store, scan the UPC, look up reviews, decide on an alternative solution and purchase online from another brand in the time it takes you to schedule a meeting about your next winback campaign.
Customer context is continuously evolving in real time – and often quite quickly. In order to effectively engage today’s empowered consumers, marketers must also be able to continuously evolve their understanding of each customer’s current context. This requires both real-time information flows and the ability to reassess their current state automatically based on external events. As customers' behaviors are discovered, their given state can change in a moment. Static models of customer lifecycles and associated campaigns no longer cut it. Instead, marketers must learn how to continuously engage their customers with dynamic messaging based on their present tense context.
The constantly connected consumer engages with the world in an open and observable manner. The use of websites, mobile devices, social media, applications, blogs and email all leave digital evidence of current customer context. This evidence often comes in the form of interaction data – interactions with content, with people and with applications. But interaction data is just the start. External data like gas prices and weather can provide a fuller context for understanding a customer’s current intent and likelihood to convert at any given point in time.
In order to remain relevant, marketers must increasingly base their programs on the individual. Segment and lifecycle-based campaigns are a big step above traditional batch-and-blast efforts, but successful marketers must evolve beyond. The future of marketing is contextual, and that requires continuous engagement with customers based on their present tense context. Only then can you know their current intent and relationship with your brand. Real-time contextual marketing requires an approach that starts with the lifecycle or other model as a guide, but then continuously updates and adapts as customers react and change behaviors based on new information. Only by understanding a customer’s present tense context can a marketer respond precisely with the next best action.
As customers increasingly take greater control of their brand interactions, they also become more aware of marketing that is not tuned to their specific interests and brand interactions. 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 posting heavy-handed marketing speak in a online forum are all noticed by customers. Using just enough personalization to get customers' attention, but not enough to be appropriate for their current context, can have a more negative impact than broadcast mailings that don’t attempt to be user-specific. The key is to maintain relevance within any customer’s current state.
Relevance is key to Present Tense Marketing, but it can only be accomplished through integrated messaging – integrated not just with consistent messaging across channels, but integrated with an understanding of customer state across channels. As such, a present tense marketer would be able to automatically serve up display ads promoting a follow-on item for a product recently purchased in a retail store. In order to achieve this level of relevance and beyond, marketers must be able to generate a real-time model of customer state based on all types of customer data – profile, interaction and external. The end result is the ability to create continuous engagement based on location, device, channel, level of engagement, evolving preference and current sentiment. This level of relevance enables the type of authenticity that drives customer loyalty.