Marketing lessons and weapons from the recession, part 2: Context is King

Context is a marketer’s force multiplier, writes Ken Murray, in the second part of his series on weapons for and lessons from marketing in tough times.


When the ‘recession’ took hold in the minds of my previous employers there was an abrupt event of decision-making.

For example, I recall that literally within a few hours decisions were made  which included: staffing numbers during operation halved, hours cut, jobs cut, fringe benefits cut and advertising cut.

Yet there was no previous reporting or data to arrive to these conclusions and no communication strategy to the public to be conducted on changes that have implications to the customer – not cool – check the hubris at the revolving door.


I would ask myself this in quiet exasperation. My superiors would never have a satisfactory response. Marketing was to be seen but not heard, which I consider akin to saying ‘customers don’t mean much to us’.

In reflection, I see now that they didn’t know why they made the decisions they did. They knew they wanted to save money. In a panic they would clutch at the first straws that came to mind, a mind in a panicked state at the mercy of their context. 


So what do I mean by context?

The relevant circumstances impacting the events surrounding the decision making process – the ‘why’ question.

We all like to think that we react and approach the happenings of the world around us logically. We should logically communicate a logical value proposition, imagining we are dealing with a logical customer. This is often not the case.


What happens when you neglect to provide context

When a business randomly drops its prices (offers no reason to their customers) this leaves you open for them to draw their own conclusions which may include:

  • They must be struggling, and
  • maybe they’ve found a cheaper supplier and have reduced their quality.


Remember from my previous article that what the customer believes is the reality you’ll have to live in.

All of this damage brought upon by an amateur effort to use the most basic lesson from economics. Price and demand are perfectly inversely proportional, dropping prices means more sales right? Often not the case.

What if you reduce your operational hours or undertake any other decision in the context of reducing costs: cut people, cut services, cut the value of packages?

I’m sure you’d recognise a business in economic peril from these tell-tale signs.


Lesson: Beware the consequences of neglecting context

More business is lost through neglect than any other factor.

When we neglect to understand the context of our situation (internally) or the environment (externally) or worse the customer, as BC Forbes said, “If you don’t drive your business, you’ll be driven out of business.”

That is to say (at least my rendition of it): business, and therefore marketing, must take and assume a proactive position.

To enable this, you need to be working hard and fast enough to create space, time, energy and resources that are focused on execution on the activities that create the most value or take the biggest steps towards your objectives. Think: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA loop), or, if you really need to truncate the process I recommend APB: Analyse, Position, Begin.


Weapon: Context will increase the effectiveness of your communication

Point in fact: Context isn’t just a weapon, it is a force multiplier. “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world.” (Archimedes).

It’s all about leverage.

The technologies available to us today enable marketers to leverage context like never before. I implore you to find ways to take advantage of the crucial moments in the relationship/sales process.

Marketers today are far removed from just pushing out artwork and catchy copy. Graphic designers and copywriters alike are looking holistically at how their work fits into a larger strategy. Nowadays, I see all of us more like intrepreneurs, therefore it’s our purpose to look for change, respond to it and exploit it as an opportunity (Peter Drucker).

Online example: Live chat/person function on websites

Live chat consultants: they know what webpage you’re on and have a clear, data depicted idea of what you’re looking for, well-informed about your context. This enables them to help you make a buying decision during those crucial moments.

Offline example: Bluetooth/proximity marketing

Walking past certain stores or entertainment venues, a Bluetooth or NFC connection offers a discount because you’re nearby, or a cross-sell/up-sell because you’re in the store already.

These communications make sense to people they’re relevant and timely because of their context. That in itself increases the value of the content.


How does context increase the value of content?

You might not have a piece of content/offering or promotion with an expectedly high ROMI suitable for mass media, but short, simple, time-sensitive promotions pushed through proximity marketing can yield great results especially if you have a high traffic street front full of your target demographic (eg. shopping districts).

Everyday example 1: Context can be used to enhance communications in all channels

Selling tickets to an upcoming concert / music event, ask the radio to play recognised tracks of the artist before and/or after your ad.

Everyday example 2: B2B tradeshow marketing

Get permission to co-write a short guide with a headline something along the lines of ‘Six-point criteria for selecting the right supplier for XY Industry.’ Don’t brand it heavily, instead use your company and non-competitors ( *ahem* joint venture?) that you appreciate as an example. Hand them out to prospects as they come in, not as they walk by your booth.

Which do you think will have more of an effect?

A three-metre logo on a vinyl banner inside your three-by-three booth, or a pocket book guide that is useful and relates to the purpose the prospect is there for (context), which references your business in examples within the content?

Everyday example 3: Internal context and the communication to follow

If you need to make decisions that will impact your customers – communicate that wherever possible. Seems all executives purport that it’s all about the relationship with the customers, but aren’t relationships supposed to be honest?


How you can use context to win results for your organisation

1. If you use the customer-centric marketing mix (seven Cs), add ‘context’ to it. This is a preferred practice of mine as it helps provoke my mind to think strategically about context – more than just the channels you want to promote within.

2. Cater for context by understanding the stages in the acquisition and retention process:

  • What is the customer doing?
  • Where is the customer?
  • What is the customer using?
  • How are they feeling in that moment? (see. Buying temperature)


3. I recommend the TRUST Model when considering the content and context of your marketing material, that is: Timely, Relevant, Unique (to the customer not necessarily to you), Specific and Targeted.

4. Great content with poor context can be useless, but mediocre content with perfect context can have impressive results.

5. Take a kaizen approach to leveraging context in your strategy, whether you think you have up-to-date market research on your customers or not – always be testing!


Context is a marketer’s force multiplier and today’s technologies have enabled us to consider ways to exploit this to greater effect than before, but owning these technologies is not necessarily a prerequisite for realising the results. I’ve heard it said that consumers are less engaged with marketing and advertising this time around. Are they less engaged or are they simply questioning the relevance?

Keep this in the back of your mind next time you’re at the C-suite table and I’m sure we will see your results in the Marketing case studies soon enough!


Ken Murray
BY Ken Murray ON 4 August 2014
Ken Murray is the director of marketing for MEI Group, having now clocked over seven years of senior marketing experience specialising in the industrial sectors and B2B. 
Ken's background stems from a keen interest in pattern recognition and problem solving, which would eventually lead to an academic background in sociology (the 'why' question) to strategic marketing and business (the 'how' question). He believes success in business and marketing is about connecting the individual customer's 'why' to the business' 'how'. Next step is to operate efficiently and then you've got results, which is all he's interested in. Follow him @Kengetsitdone.