Context – noun –  con·text – ˈkän-ˌtekst

What is context? According to Merriam-Webster, context is “the situation in which something happens or the group of conditions that exist where and when something happens.” We’ve been using it since late Middle English speakers adapted the Latin contextus, from con (together) and texere (to weave). For marketers, context means understanding attitudes, behaviors, and preferences to address the requirements of individual customers in their moments of need.

It is critical for marketers to embrace customer context. Why? Winning in the age of the customer depends on the interactions that people have with your brand, and compelling customer experiences materialize only when your firm understands its customers and anticipates their needs.  The context of all those interactions determines whether customers will engage and, more importantly, transact with your brand again. Marketing’s job is to harness the power of customer context to create a repeatable cycle of interactions, drive deeper engagement, and learn more about the customer in the process.

To be effective, your marketing campaigns must evolve from scheduled messages that attempt to drive transactions via targeting and segmentation. Instead, they must spark continuous interaction cycles by recognizing individual customers, engaging them with relevant content, and exceeding their expectations in terms of value and utility. It only sounds complex because it is! Contextually relevant marketing underscores the importance of a firm's business technology (BT) agenda to win, serve, and retain customers.

In particular, as firms move beyond traditional campaign execution, they must integrate technologies that enable them to manage real-time interactions, based on recognizing customers across channels and understanding current contextual requirements. They must not only determine the appropriate customer offer but also orchestrate content delivery and capture results for measurement and optimization. In short, they must combine systems of insight and systems of engagement for contextual marketing.

Used effectively, systems of insight dramatically improve customer engagement because they lead to understanding customer context and enabling better digital experiences. Systems of engagement, in turn, orchestrate delivery to the appropriate touchpoints to ensure those experiences are moments that matter to customers. Getting it right means building a contextual marketing engine, which Forrester defines as “a brand-specific platform that exploits customer context to deliver utility and guide the customer into the next best interaction.” Our guide on how to build a contextual marketing engine provides real-world examples and advice from B2C marketers across multiple vertical sectors.

If you are attending Forrester’s Marketing 2016 event in New York or Marketing Europe 2016 in London, I’ll be speaking on customer context, and I’d be happy to discuss it further with you. In the meantime, if you have questions, feel free to send me an email or set up an inquiry to discuss contextually relevant marketing. If you are considering enterprise marketing technology investments and want to discuss priorities, challenges, or vendor capabilities, we’re here to help.