Read these key takeaways about contextual marketing etiquette to maintain positive relations and intelligent communication with your customers.

This article originally appeared in MediaPost on August 14, 2015. 


I can’t help but wonder if our industry could use a little fresh thinking during the back-to-school season, when it comes to email marketing and the consumer experience.  I recently coined the phrase “context violations,” as it pertains to experiences I have had with brands that really don’t get me. 

While I am only a focus group of one, I do receive countless emails and always pay attention to my messages to keep a pulse on our industry.  I am confident that context violations are happening all around us, and it’s time for marketers to take note.  Here are some recent context violations that I have experienced and lessons we can all take from them.


Lesson 1: Know Your Customer’s Location

I was recently on a business trip in NYC. I used a ride sharing service to get from Manhattan to the airport in Newark.  Within 30 minutes of receiving a receipt via email, I also received a nice promotion for free rides in Kansas City. Since I was at the airport, maybe the company figured that I was heading to Kansas City, but that was an incorrect assumption. 

In fact, I had only used the service in Kansas City once…many months ago.  A better marketing tactic would have been to thank me for my continued loyalty, and a coupon to use wherever I was headed next.  Better yet, the company could have asked me where I was going or even geofenced the cities where they operate.  Upon landing in NYC, I could have received a welcoming push notification and email for that specific city.  If you don’t use open-time personalization or you can’t be very confident where you customer is located right now, then don’t bother targeting based on geography.


Lesson 2: Close the Loop on Purchases Quickly

I can’t count the number of times retailers send me abandoned browse or abandoned cart emails, when I have already completed the purchase.  Not only is it annoying, but it also makes me think less of the brand when they ask me to purchase an item that I have already ordered, instead of thanking me.  A brand can quickly lose credibility among its customers when this type of violation occurs.  Make sure all automated programs are looking at the latest purchase data at the time of send, in order to suppress anyone that has converted.


Lesson 3: Be Very Sure You Know the Customer’s Life Situation

Judging from my inbox and my mailbox, I have been flagged as a mother.  Sure, I’ve purchased baby gifts off of registries for many family members and friends over the years, but I am not a mother.  You’d never know by looking at my inbox.

A large retailer sends me emails multiple times per month with baby items as the main focus.  I’ve also received emails from a CPG company containing coupons for baby formula.  It’s comical to receive never-ending baby emails simply for purchasing from registries—a clear indication that these were not gifts for myself.  If a brand suspects that a major life change has occurred in a customer’s life, then don’t be afraid to tactfully ask.  It’s better than getting it wrong and infuriating your valuable customers.

There are many more examples I could have shared, but they just couldn’t fit in this post.  What are some context violations that you have experienced lately and the lessons that can be learned from them?  Share your stories in the comments below.

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