IMW2013: Context, Not Platform, Key to Reaching Consumers

Whether a consumer is searching for a product in a retail outlet, looking up store opening hours at home on a tablet, or seeking a nearby Italian restaurant on mobile, marketers are increasingly recognizing the importance of context in helping guide consumers to the right purchasing decisions. That was one common theme at Integrated Marketing Week 2013, held this week at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York.

Matt McGowan, Sophie Collins, and Allison Tepley, (from left to right)

Brands that understand the importance of context will be winners in the mobile space, according to Tim Reis, head of mobile and social solutions, Americas, at Google. At a session entitled “Understanding the Full Value of Mobile,” Reis pointed to a convergence of devices, in which consumers are trading down to devices that may do less – like trading an iPod for a phone that simply plays music, or a tablet instead of a home computer – for the sake of convenience and ease of use. In doing so, what the consumer uses to connect is less important than what she is doing on the device.

“The platform is less important than the context a consumer is in as a critical signal,” Reis says. “If you search for pizza at 7 a.m., you may be looking for a recipe, whereas on the street, you are probably looking for a restaurant. Context gives an indication of intent and is an opportunity to serve the right message to the right consumer at the right time.”

Korean retailer Emart is one company that did a brilliant job of taking context into account with its award-winning “Sunny Sale” campaign, Reis notes. The company, which identified the need to boost sales at lunchtime, placed a three-dimensional QR code around Seoul that could only be scanned between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. each day, due to the angle of the sun and the way the shade “completed” the code. People who scanned the code got discount coupons they could use either in-store or on their mobile. The result was a 25 percent increase in sales over lunchtime hours, he notes.

Context also continues to be a key element in search, which is growing ever-more sophisticated as platforms proliferate. At a panel on the hottest trends in search lead by moderator Matt McGowan, managing director, Americas, at Incisive Media (parent company of ClickZ and Search Engine Watch), panelists agreed that knowing where a consumer is and what they are looking for is ever-more important in defining the category.

“One of the central points of our conversation was now that smartphone penetration is up at almost 60 percent, getting offers or products in front of customers at the right place and time, when their intent is to purchase a product or service, is becoming much more practical,” says McGowan. “The power of mobile coupled with location-based services (LBS) has allowed companies like Groupon, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, and the like to tap into consumers’ appetite for discounts and coupons when and where those offers are most likely to be used.”

In particular, they pointed to maps as growing in importance, particularly with Google recently shelling out $1 billion for Waze, whose social mapping application incorporates real-time traffic data into maps to give drivers the best routes to their destination.

It’s becoming clear that when people search maps, they search in an “unbranded way,” according to Sophie Collins, head of search and programmatic buying, North America, at Neo@Ogilvy. Thus, they are likely to search “hotel” and “Las Vegas,” rather than a chain name. “The question is, how do you get closer to the user right now?” Collins says.

Brands have to think broadly about what consumers are doing when they search maps and include themselves in categories that optimize those searches. Thus, chains such as Denny’s and IHOP, for example, found themselves coming up in 75 percent more searches after broadening their search terms to include breakfast, lunch, and dinner – because consumers are looking for places to eat, not searching for a Denny’s.

Brands must also proactively integrate content from non-paid media into search, for example, by finding brand advocates and integrating positive reviews. “A lot of what is returned and relevant is not owned by the brand,” Collins says.

Whether it is showing up in mapping applications or getting good reviews on Yelp, managing this wide variety of digital real estate is another important task, added Allison Tepley, senior VP, enterprise marketing, at location software company Yext. And context plays a role in that as well. “The platforms change daily and brands have to think about what they need to do with each platform, what people want to see, and how you can use them to drive engagement and purchase,” she says.

Even the store of the future will understand context, being able to pinpoint where consumers are and recommend to them related merchandise, predicts Paul Price, CEO of Creative Realities, a company that helps retailers create in-store shopping experiences.

At a session entitled “Bridging the Virtual and Physical Worlds,” Price said that the falling cost of incorporating artificial intelligence into machines is enabling applications in which shopping carts and merchandise can talk to one another and geo-location chips embedded into devices predict the consumer’s location. “We’re moving from a dumb store to a smart store,” says Price. Using predictive analytics, a smart store will be able to share with consumers things they might like. Says Price: “The store will know who you are, where you are, and likely what you intend to do.”

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