The Context of Contextual Content

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Content is king. We’ve all heard that over and over, right? But it’s getting to the point that content isn’t just king; it’s a benevolent dictator. There’s so much content out there now that it sometimes seems as if we serve the content rather than the content serving us.

The emergence of contextual content

Fortunately, in today’s rapid-fire technological windstorm, solutions to problems develop in days or weeks, not years. So there’s already a solution to content overload: contextual content. With contextual content, the device you’re using shows you the content that’s most relevant based on when and where you are. A number of businesses are already capitalizing on the technology. Target, for instance, rolled out an app update that includes an aisle-by-aisle mapping feature. It uses GPS technology to identify the store you’re in and maps out a shopping route based on your list. Marsh Supermarkets is ahead of the game, too.  Apple Watch users receive their shopping lists right on their devices, thanks to iBeacon technology. And, during a recent snowstorm, Nick Jr. sent parents in affected locations customized messages linking to snow-day activity packs.

But as cool as those initiatives are, they’re just the first baby steps. As usual, Apple is looking much further down the road. Starting with the new iOS 9, expected to be available in the fall of this year, your Apple device will provide contextual content based on things like your time and location -- and what you did last time you were then and there.

What does that look like in real life? Well, if you always listen to a certain playlist on your way to work, iOS 9 will be able to start it up for you automatically by synchronizing your location with the time and your previous behavior patterns. And if you always check your calendar as soon as you plug your iPhone in at work, iOS 9 will pick up on that and show you your calendar unprompted.

What does it all mean for marketers?

For marketers, the emergence of contextual content means that you can’t just throw a variety of content out there and hope someone reads it. It’s going to become increasingly important to think about how, when, where and why your customers use your app or read your content. Once you’ve got a good grasp on that, the next step is to ask yourself some challenging questions about just how far you can push the envelope.

For instance:

●If you send customers a marketing email that contains a link, can the landing page that link directs you to change, depending on when and where customers are when they click? Can you link to the store closest to the location where the customer clicked rather than to your corporate site? If different stores have different operating hours, can you direct a customer to an open store, depending on where they are and what time it is?

●If you run a news platform, can you direct links coming from local roadways to traffic news, while sending links from suburban areas to targeted community news? And how could you capitalize on traffic patterns, the knowledge of which way traffic will most likely move at a certain time of day (or day of the week)?

●What if your app was able to detect that a customer is driving the route that leads to one of your restaurant locations (which he has visited several times previously)? How efficient would it be if your app could deliver a push notification asking the customer if he wanted to place his usual order so that it would be ready when he got there?

●Sell mortgage loans? Why not send direct emails to customers who are sitting in a competitor’s waiting room? Since they’re clearly in the market, your conversion rate could go through the roof.

The takeaways

The most important thing to remember is that the content that draws attention will be the content that is the most relevant. Since “relevant” can mean different things to different people, it will be critically important to determine what that term means for your and your customers. And, as always, marketers must balance the potential profitability of big data with customers’ privacy concerns. Increasingly, customers will want something of value (coupons, discounts, convenience, etc.) in exchange for their personal information, which increases the need for relevancy even more.

The rumors of content being on life support are greatly exaggerated; content isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But going forward, the keys to successful content will be context, relevancy and personalization. It’s time to stop thinking of content as a static repository of information and, instead, start thinking of it as a best buddy who provides helpful information when and where it’s needed.

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