Contextual Branding

When I first surfed the Net about six years ago, I clicked on every banner ad that came before me. I did this not so much because I was in desperate need of home-loan advice, fly-fishing equipment, or wedding dresses, but because I was curious to see what banner ads were all about. Well, I’m not curious about banner ads any longer.

But I am still curious about ads that appear within logical contexts. In these ads, the messages make sense, they pique my curiosity, and they encourage me to revert to my earlier discovery-oriented behavior.

Understand Customer Behavior

I wonder if I’m the only user in the world behaving like this. It’s hard to tell because, according to Digitas, less than one percent of larger sites compile meaningful customer profiles. And, as a result of this lack of consumer-behavior data, even fewer marketers manage to situate their messages within appropriate, compelling contexts.

You might have occasion to claim that a great offer on a respected brand compels consumer attention. But the reality is that such occasions are rare. In fact, according to another study conducted by ACNielsen in Northern Europe, less than 0.05 percent of banner-ad messages are blessed with the uniqueness to harness the attention of consumers beyond the ad’s main target groups.

Use the Right Technology

Maybe m-commerce will solve this problem. The Japanese i-mode phone can tell you when a friend is in your vicinity and about to pass by, and can then offer an online coupon redeemable at a nearby coffee shop. Via the i-mode phone, a bookstore can inform you that the book you’ve been searching for is available at the very minute you’re passing by the store. But even though technology like this in Europe and Japan is miles ahead of that in the United States, the fact is that m-commerce represented less than 0.002 percent of the e-commerce that took place over the last year.

This leads me back to the premise that prompted this article: the urgent need for revising the way we serve advertising messages, the timing of the message, and — you guessed it — the context in which the message appears.

Context branding is simple. It’s about how, when, and where you serve your message to achieve the best possible result. It’s not a surprise that Amazon.com’s business model is based on retaining each customer for a significant number of years — up to an astonishing 12 years, according to some analysts’ forecasts. Why is this possible? Because every year a customer is with you, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more value you can squeeze out of your marketing dollars.

Be Creative

I want to see every banner ad doing what Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol headache reliever is doing. The Tylenol banner ad appears on e-broker sites whenever the stock market falls by more than 100 points. Or how about what Unilever’s mobile recipe book is about to do via digital mobile phones in Europe? Intended for use while shopping, the mobile tool suggests recipes and breaks them down into their requisite ingredients, identifying, wherever possible, Unilever products. I’d like to see American Airlines alert its customers to flight delays when customers are about to leave for the airport, rather than once they’re there.

Let’s be straight. What I’d like is to see advertisers become more creative. I’d like to see them thoroughly examine consumer behavior, figure out when the need peaks for particular products, and put their brands in the appropriate context.

Contextual branding is what professional marketers have been doing for decades. But brands now need another push to get themselves even closer to consumers’ recognition. This can happen only by using three ingredients: informed insight into consumer behavior, an understanding of the technology available that gets a brand as close as possible to the consumer (without interfering with privacy), and tireless creativity.

At least that’s my contextual branding cocktail. What will you include in yours?

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