The more we know about a customer’s context, the more meaningful and mutually beneficial our customer relationships can be.  Marketing content in the absence of customer context will lead to wasted effort, wasted money and won’t deliver the desired results. Understand and work with context to build long-term, mutually beneficial customer relationships.

Writing about how different cultures observe context, perceptual psychologist Laura Sewall notes[1]: “The Inuit have many ways of perceiving a wolf. We might say, “A male wolf does this.” An Inuit is likely to say: “A male wolf, on a mid-summer’s day in which the clouds were particularly billowy and white, when the sun was nearly overhead, and when caribou grazed within a half mile, does this.” The Inuit perceive context and refer to it continually. We in the West are identifiers of objects, not context. Our culturally determined perception rarely considers it. It’s because for us, context adds a dimension of complexity that is out of step with our desire for fact, or absolute truth.”

Context takes many forms. The recent growth in “proximity marketing” is all about location. This is being hailed as the next big thing as the Internet of Things takes off and RFID chips are embedded in everything from cars to NFL players’ helmets. But context isn’t just about location: it has many dimensions. 

Content in context

Context is hard because it’s all about relationships and interdependencies. Marketing has generally avoided this and settled for an easier scattergun effect, pushing large volumes of material at a customer in the hope that something will resonate. 

But content is nothing without context. Customers need information only when it suits them, when it fits in with their needs and goals at a particular time. There’s no point sending fancy infographics about photocopiers to someone who is up a mountain and didn’t use photocopiers back in the office anyway.

Dimensions of Personas

To have a relationship with your customer you have to understand their context. The old way to do this was by segmenting them (for example according to job roles and industry sectors) and then matching product features and benefits to their roles. But these roles are static. They ignore important context, like the culture of the business, the personality of the person, their career stage or the market issues they’re facing.

“Personas” categorize context to make the thousands of possible permutations more manageable and meaningful than job roles. They help to make more explicit the dimensions of the relationship between you and the customer.

Some dimensions of context:

  1. Absolute Time: a particular time interval in which events occur, e.g. “Saturday”
  2. Absolute Place: a particular location where events occur, such as “Paris”
  3. Type Of Place: e.g. “in bed”
  4. Culture: linguistic, religious, ethnic, age-group, wealth
  5. Sophistication: who already knows this, who could learn it

This imaginary persona shows how context can pave the way for a more meaningful customer relationship: 

Persona table

These extra pieces of context tell us so much more about our fictional client.

Translating it into an Inuit-style perception, rather than “Sales and Marketing Head, Jane, needs a digital strategy” we might now say: “Sales and Marketing Head, Jane, faced with tough targets and upstart competitors, fighting a conservative culture, struggling with her own motivation yet nonetheless tech-literate and driven, needs a digital strategy.”

Armed with context, you’re always in a stronger place to really start understanding your customers, their likes and dislikes at a particular time and place and to a particular proposition. 

Here is an example of one Persona, the ‘Pioneer’, we created for a client.

If you'd like to learn more about how Futurecurve uses IPTA, our psychology and social sciences-based research method, to understand customer context in real depth, please get in touch.  I’d love to hear your stories about context. 

[1] Laura Sewall on The Skill of Ecological Perception in Ecopsychology by Theodore Roszak