Contextual Marketing in the Social Age

Twitter IPOs today, and while we sometimes have a hard time understanding each other in 140 characters or less (#whatdidmykidsay?), it looks like it’s here to stay.  Combine that with the recent report calling out Facebook as a poor channel for marketing and you have an interesting problem.  Even if the Forrester analyst had an axe to grind, the data shows that social media is taking marketers out of their comfort zone.  Why?  Because it requires a new approach, one where “outbound” and “inbound” blur together into a conversation with the customer.  And as it turns out, good conversation is hard. It requires knowing the customer intensely – not just their past habits, but their current intent and the real-time context that shapes their needs.

Consider this scenario: I’m at a nice restaurant having a good meal and conversation with a new business associate.  We talk about everything from sports to family to music, and discover a mutual love for Bruce Springsteen.  The waiter gently interrupts the conversation and offers my companion coffee.  Then, he offers me dog food. 

This is what ignoring real-time context sounds like to customers.  Even if big data analytics have identified me as the perfect match for “chicken flavored hypoallergenic dog food for smaller dogs”, offering it at the wrong time and in the wrong channel will cause low acceptance rates, and, worse, come across as a creepy invasion of privacy (that will affect your tip). 

Now, what if my waiter offered to help us get Springsteen tickets?  Suddenly it’s no longer an offer.  It’s part of the conversation, completely in tune with my needs.  Instead of asking for the check and tweeting about the poor experience, I’m staying until closing and buying a lot of wine. 

Within the Pega Communications customer base that I work with every day, we see significant lift in acceptance rates when offers are part of a conversation.  Whether it’s a tweet about a service disruption, a comment about a recent loss of a job in an inbound interaction, or data that indicates four dropped calls in a row, context is critical to marketing success. Ignore it and you’re just selling dog food.