For years, the marketing industry – from practitioners to software providers – have trumpeted how far the craft has come since the days of print and TV ads. While digital tools and tactics have evolved, many marketers continue to take their customers out of context.

Marketing is based on trust. When consumers hand over their email address, they trust the brand to provide useful, relevant and timely information. Static mass marketing that doesn’t focus on the customer’s needs breaches this trust. Statistics illustrate the consequences of employing archaic methods of interruption marketing.

  • The average Internet visitor sees more than 1,700 banner ads a month, but click-through rates are around 0.1%.
  • 78% of consumers don’t trust emails from companies.
  • 87% of consumers don’t trust ads on websites.
  • 67% of consumers don’t trust ads in any channel.

Marketing segmentation, website personalisation and social media have all inched context forward. But again, by executing these piecemeal absent a larger strategy, marketers miss the full opportunity to increase consumer engagement and digital marketing performance. Today, success hinges on context.

Contextual marketing isn’t a buzzword or set of tactics. It’s a philosophy. It’s a mindset. It’s a way for marketers to think about how to interact with consumers when and where they want to engage. Contextual marketing is based on two key points: providing great experiences and providing utility.

So, how can brands re-establish trust and traverse the marketing landscape into more noble pastures? Here are three areas that marketers must focus on and integrate into their digital efforts – all based on real-time context.


Context starts with personalisation. Personalised marketing has fueled Amazon’s success for years using customer data to power product recommendations. It’s great to have this dynamic personalisation while users are on your site, but the key to success is introducing this contextual layer to your other customer touchpoints so they see updated, real-time content throughout the day, even when they’re not on your site.

Imagine you’re walking down the street on a hot summer day and pass a coffee shop. They have a chalkboard sign out front that says: “It’s going to hit 100 degrees today, wouldn’t an iced coffee be refreshing?” With the right tools, marketers can replicate this real world experience back in the digital world – and amplify it in real time with multiple contextual variables. Take email for example.

Email is a direct marketing channel that provides marketers a way to market one-to-one with millions of individuals at the same time. Email marketing was one of the first places where segmentation was applied. But general segmentation can hit or miss. With real-time capabilities, marketers can provide content that’s contextually relevant to each consumer at the moment of open based on location, time, device, weather, past purchases, and more.


Social media enables brands to market in real time. Everyone remembers the famous Oreo tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl blackout. Oreo pulled this off because it had key brand executives and a full marketing and design team on tap. Their original purpose was to make sure all the social chatter about the brand’s TV ads went smoothly, but the blackout provided a serendipitous real-time marketing moment.

The reality is most companies can’t afford to have a team of marketers on call to create real time contextual content every second of every day. There are software platforms that enable marketers to schedule content publishing, but that content is still static and can’t change in real time. For email marketers, automating workflow allows for real-time contextual marketing.

For instance manually updating dynamic user-generated photos, social chatter or content from your website such as product availability or prices to fit the constraints of email templates is limiting. Automating the process allows you to pull content that’s constantly changing into contextual emails – creating better, real-time customer experiences, reducing production time, and improving overall marketing performance.


Marketing is both an art and a science. It’s incredibly powerful to be able to test out ideas and adapt them for each individual on the fly based on what customers are telling you. This requires insights based on real-time analytics. As mentioned, email was one of the first places where segmentation was applied. It used to be that marketers would need to segment customers in advance, send different versions of an email, then redeploy based on the results.

However, the key to context isn’t based solely on past behaviour. Context lies in the moment. Marketers have to gather, analyse and act on data in real time. You don’t have time to predict, you only have time to react.

Today, marketers can transcend A/B testing that provides data after the fact. Content can be optimised in real time based on whether a customer is opening an email on a desktop or mobile device and other variables such as photos or copy, even after the email is sent. Content optimisation allows a brand to present winning creative based on real-time customer conversion behaviour. This generates the best experiences and also lifts performance.

Today, digital marketing is about customer experiences, not individual campaigns. Marketing channels need to be about creating unforgettable, customised, real-time interactions with customers. Email is one channel where marketers can unify all of their individual data-driven contextually relevant efforts and build them into a single streamlined experience. But regardless of the channel, context will continue to define the future of true digital marketing innovation, where marketing no longer interrupts a customer’s experience, it enhances it.