While the focus in most forms of inbound marketing in the beginning was primarily directed at content, channels, and tactics, it is increasingly shifting towards context. This context is defined by the preferences, emotional needs, and actions of the content consumer.
An inbound marketing strategy always begins with determining what people want and with setting your marketing objectives. This typically revolves around getting found by offering relevance. It continues by converting visitors, readers, and connections to leads, again using contextual relevance. However, being found or, rather, helping people to find what they are looking for, is only a first step.
What matters most is what happens after people have found what they were looking for by viewing your content. Your next steps are, again, determined by your goals and can include strengthening existing customer relations, acquiring and nurturing leads, engaging and involving people, offering a valuable user experience to improve conversions, feeding content to a community, etc.
The context of your business and the footprints of your visitors
Exactly which of those actions will be most important to your business also is also dependent on larger contextual considerations: the context in which you operate and the ecosystem of your business. Lead management, for instance, will often receive more attention from marketers in a B2B marketing context - where the relationship with clients and prospects is usually more intimate - than in the broader context of B2C marketing, where community management might be a higher priority. Although the borders between B2B and B2C are blurring, there is still a difference.
While personal and relational context is always the starting point for inbound marketing and content marketing, it is also becoming more important in the later stages of an integrated, content-driven interaction strategy.
This is why we are starting to see more techniques that are typically associated with email marketing and online advertising. Think about offering personalized real-time content on a blog, on-site behavioral profiling and targeting, interaction-based offers, etc.
Since more and more people head out looking for what they want themselves, and the use of inbound and content marketing is growing, several vendors of marketing solutions are incorporating contextual dimensions into the areas of inbound tactics and post-click conversion strategies.
This way, the content, calls-to-action, and other elements of the website (or any other online property) are dynamically adapted. It is based on historical and, increasingly, the real-time digital footprints of visitors, irrespective of the channel and the source through which they found you. At the same time, they also lead to integrated and multichannel communication flows, including more outbound-directed interactions such as email marketing.
Context-aware computing and offer management
This rise of contextual tactics leads to new options to increase the relevance of contact moments and, at the same time, to improve the conversion processes. In this context, the term Offer Management is increasingly being used, whereby one looks at an integrated, cross-channel succession of content and interactions that is also based on the inbound behavior. The delivery of contextual messages and content - the so-called offer - is a crucial part of it.
At the end of last year, Gartner pointed out the importance of these techniques, which it summarized under the term Context-Aware Computing. The company defines that as a concept where the information on an end user, from the perspective of activities and preferences, leads to an improvement of the quality of the interactions with him or her.
Although the term has a broader meaning than only marketing, this is exactly what we are experiencing today. A contextually aware system monitors the needs of people and anticipates on these needs. In function thereof, it shows the most suitable content, product, or service. It is what we see happening in the area of the integration of inbound marketing and other marketing tactics.
Gartner also forecasted that, by 2013, more than half of the Fortune 500 companies would have context-aware computing initiatives and that by 2016, one-third of global mobile consumer marketing would be context-awareness based. This further includes location-based and other dynamic data.
The contextual evolution is happening, and the next step is known: anticipation. Is your inbound and, by extension, multichannel marketing and cross-channel interaction strategy ready for it?
Today's customer is cross-channel and he/she is at the centre of sales and marketing.
Communication channels depend on the consumer and marketing is about engaging the cross-channel customer and prospect throughout integrated dialogues that are driven by his/her buying journey, preferences, triggers, signals and behaviour.
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