The False Promise of Contextual Marketing

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    Everyone talks about contextually aware mobile computing. It’s supposed to be the holy grail of marketing, allowing brands to engage one-on-one with their customers. But brands are struggling to make the context vision a reality.
    Mobile is the pivot point in context because it offers access to local behavioral data through GPS and other sensors. In reality, tying corporate customer databases to local mobile media has become an extremely difficult process.

    When it comes to context theory is frequently discussed but the success stories are rare. And for every case study there are 100 failures. Brands are struggling to make local marketing work for them.

    Technological Barriers

    There are several reasons why the contextual marketing revolution has yet to arrive on the mobile phone. The first set of issues are technological.

    Tying a corporate database and CRM system to a second party’s mobile media platform is extremely difficult. The security risks are enormous.

    Instead, most brands are simply relying on the media platform, cookies in the stakeholders’ web browsers, and location to provide context. This leaves many gaps for brands. As a result, their media offerings suffer and cannot create relevance. Brands cannot tie their relationship with a customer directly to the content and offers served on mobile platforms.

    Inside the corporate walls, many brands have not unified their CRM systems and marketing automation software. The result is a jambalaya of data about customers that companies can’t leverage intelligently. Streamlining marketing automation software efficiently for enterprises is a top challenge for CMO’s today.

    Human Barriers

    Beyond, the actual technology quagmires there is a second set of major issues, which is relevant contextual content. To realize the dream of context, brands need to create customized content for niche segments in their customer database.

    For example, it’s no longer enough to parse by gender or age. Now ethnicity, pets, faith, entertainment preferences, even niche details as specific as favorite color come into play.

    To some extent, databases can fill the gap on details in larger content pieces. Computers can generate sentences based on data fields, much like some news stories are created by algorithms today. At some point, human creative teams of writers and designers need to be used, especially given how important rich media is in successful campaigns.

    A second issue is the lack of permission brands have for their communication with their customers. Most brands ignore or buy their way around permission issues through lists. However, with contextual media, stakeholders can use filters to ignore much of today’s corporate advertising.

    The filtering issue will require brands to cultivate better relationships with customers. Only then will they garner permission to communicate with them on a one-to-one level via their phones and via email.


    Contextual mobile marketing sounds good in practice, but there are many technological and human barriers until it becomes a common everyday practice for brands. Those that do address these challenges will achieve a competitive advantage. Brands need the ability to become useful and personal with customers wherever they are.

    What do you think? Is contextual marketing a false promise?

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