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Does context always trump content in mobile?

As marketing becomes more personalized and relevant, there is an ongoing debate in mobile about the role of context compared to content. However, instead of comparing the two, the trick is balancing both.

Across all mobile mediums, marketers constantly stress the importance of making marketing more contextually-aware. At the same time, marketers have to create a substantial amount of content to segment particular groups of mobile users.

?The media buyers and planners are understandably focused on targeting and relevance ? as that is the great promise that mobile offers to advertisers,? said Warren Zenna, managing director of digital and mobile at Woods Witt Dealy & Sons, New York.

?However, the engagement or creative contingent knows that if the content is not right, all of the local and contextual targeting in the world will not make an impact,? he said. ?You really can?t have one without the other. 

?To not leverage the contextual power of mobile would be a miss. But, get the content wrong and that contextual power is nullified. So more than ever, mobile demands the best of both.?

Different strokes
The difference between context and content is all about understanding the end-user.

For instance, context plays a big role with products that have a high level of consideration, such as a car. Personalization and relevance are key in these purchases.

Different signals, such as social activity, time of day and Internet-based behavior can help brands make advertising more contextual. Additionally, basic data such as demographics and location can be layered on.

The key is for marketers to find a way to leverage all possible signals to gleam insight into how a campaign is performing.

On the other hand, focusing on content can be more effective for verticals such as consumer-packaged goods or food, which have lower buying considerations by consumers.

?The key is to think about the user first ? not the budget, not the conversion, not the metrics, not the media plan but the end user,? Mr. Zenna said.

?It?s not just context ? it?s message relevance,? he said. ?Consumers typically respond to information that is either highly useful or entertaining.?

Native opportunity
There has been a lot of talk about mobile display ads losing traction over the past year. Consumers either do not want to tap on mobile ads because they are not relevant to them or they accidentally click on ads because of the smaller screens.

Additionally, many mobile ad campaigns mirror desktop campaigns when instead they should be focused on creating unique content that is formatted specifically for smartphones and tablets.

One way that marketers are aiming to make mobile advertising more relevant is with native ad units, which basically are customized to fit into a particular site and in some cases may appear as content on a publisher?s mobile site or application.

?Instead of just buying sports versus entertainment, one can layer of brand-specific insights and intel to theoretically elevate performance,? said Ryan Griffin, vice president and group director of media and mobile at Digitas, New York.

?Of course that must be balanced with incremental cost ? but the tradeoffs can be positive for brands,? he said.

Take the mobile rewards company Kiip, for example. Brands that work with Kiip run in-app ads that are targeted to a specific app and are based on the type of content that a user is consuming. Brands such as Skittles and Pepsi have used the technology as a way to give users incentives for interacting with apps.

Thinking beyond native
Most of the native advertising models available right now circle around ad placement, especially on social media sites.

Based on a Facebook or Twitter user's interests, marketers can plant ads in mobile news feeds, for example.

Per Mr. Griffin, the purpose of these ad units needs to be about more than how the ads simply appear on a mobile screen though. Instead they need to marry a user interface with a user experience.

?It is not just about what people see, but how that naturally and organically fits into their experience,? Mr. Griffin said.

?Context provides an opportunity to deliver at that intersection ? creating value for consumers there is a marketer's grail,? he said.

To get to the core of context, marketers need to be leveraging multiple pieces of data that create a holistic view of a consumer.

Location data is the foundation of this context.

For example, a consumer only looking at online reviews of cars does not reveal much about intent. However, if the user is looking at the content on a mobile device that is nearby to a dealership, marketers can infer that there is a stronger likelihood of that consumer coming in to a dealership to buy a car.

Information on a user's location can then be coupled with factors such as type of device or time of day and applied to specific segments of consumers. This combination helps marketers more accurately predict context, according to Greg Hallinan, chief marketing officer at Verve Mobile, Carlsbad, CA.

"I think marketers are always focused on one thing, and that is efficiently and effectively reaching consumers," Mr. Hallinan said.

"That might be at the top of the funnel by introducing a new brand or lower-funnel activities like activations and purchases," he said.

"Traditionally, content was the only means to approximate reaching the proper audience, and although still valuable it is somewhat of a legacy concept when it comes to mobile advertising. In mobile, content is simply one variable that is scored amongst other variables such as location to yield the right ad, at the right place, at the right time."

Location can be a strong indicator of a user?s intent and should be one of the first factors that marketers look at to send contextually-relevant messages.

However, location is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to targeting a mobile user.

One of the benefits of online over bricks-and-mortar retail is the amount of information retailers have on a user based on their browsing and shopping behavior. Following a consumer along the purchase cycle not only makes mobile marketing more relevant, it can also be used to boost other marketing channels simultaneously.

For example, a consumer who looks up product information from a retailer's desktop site might add an item to their shopping cart but end up leaving the site. If a user goes into a store to check the item out for themselves, a sales associate can use the consumer?s past behavior to trigger a sale.

?Once marketers have mastered sending local, timely messages, they can begin to increase contextual relevancy by adding additional personalization,? said Eric Newman, vice president of product and marketing at Digby, Austin, TX.

?Marketers should link loyalty programs, email marketing and payment systems to mobile marketing,? he said. ?Once this is achieved, marketers have the ability to send especially relevant and appealing messages to the right person at the right time and place during their purchase decision.?

Real-time opportunity
As mobile has become more sophisticated for advertising, marketers are increasingly looking at how analytics and data impact a campaign?s effectiveness.

Although there are plenty of challenges with mobile real-time bidding including tracking, scale and price, some believe that ad inventory from mobile programmatic trading combined with some of this data can help make advertising more contextually-relevant.

"To a certain extent this is already being done,? said Eric Mugnier, U.S. senior vice president at M&C Saatchi Mobile, New York. ?It's just a case of having intelligent parameters built into campaigns that will adapt to device type, location, time of day, weather, targeted offers and anything else that can be used to make the context of adverts even more relevant.?

?The rise of real-time bidding inventory and the increasing amount of data available for targeting is helping this to happen,? he said. ?We are now able to plan out campaigns with greater precision and greater context.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York