This happens to me all the time: a friend approaches me with a funny story he wants to tell. He explains an encounter he had with a stranger on the street, and “so-and-so” said the funniest thing… But by the time he finishes, not only have I not laughed, I haven’t even cracked a smile. When he sees my quizzical expression, he shrugs and says, “I guess you had to be there.”

The right context can take a water-cooler anecdote from mediocre to gut-wrenchingly funny. Context improves just about any situation.

Marketing is no different. To deliver your consumers content that doesn’t leave them confused or, worse, annoyed, the right context makes all the difference.

Working at a digital marketing agency, my team and I see context’s role in our digital lives all the time from Facebook’s news feed displaying tailored content based on your preferences and habits to a boutique flower shop emailing you coupon codes on your birthday. Context personalizes our experiences online and leaves us more satisfied as consumers overall.

Content Context Is King

For the most part, marketers seem to get context marketing. Marketing automation tools like HubSpot make context marketing easier than ever, and innovative tools like programmatic media buying and personalized workflows for lead nurture campaigns connect marketers with consumers at scale. A recent article in Forbes champions the technology available to marketers to effectively target consumers using the data they provide us through smart devices like the Apple Watch.

Target, for instance, takes their context marketing seriously for in-store customers. Its mobile app uses the location data of its users to deliver customized recommendations wherever they are while in the store. This is pivotal for retailers like Target since 82% of millennials use mobile phones while in-store.

Context Clue(less)

The problem, however, is that most context marketing tactics don’t go far enough—or deep enough. Companies are not integrating contextualization into their entire digital ecosystem because they are not *starting* with context. Instead, they layer it onto their strategies, almost as an afterthought.

To be successful, you must introduce context into your strategy at the early stages of your discovery.

You’re familiar, I’m sure, with the marketer’s mantra “mobile-first.” By the end of this post, I hope to have you chanting “context-first.”

You’re Either Context-First or You’re Last

At Boston Digital, every project begins with the context. To do this, we have to understand our clients’ audiences on a deep, fundamental level, which means building personas. We can then map these personas to a detailed buyer’s journey, outlining the unique touchpoints each persona makes or receives throughout his or her path to purchase.

We’ve broken the process down into three stages: PersonasJourneys, and Data.

1. Personas

Buying has changed, and this means the old model where the seller would control the process is dead. Now, the buyer is the one in control, navigating across multiple touchpoints as they self-educate themselves, building confidence before making a decision.

To create an advantage, brands must begin to understand these buyers beyond demographics and job titles. They must invest the time to dig deep and uncover insights that will make a brand’s strategy radically relevant.

Good personas inquire into the characteristics, attributes, and interests of the target segments who play a role in deciding whether or not to do business with a brand. This includes decision makers and influencers.

Your personas should uncover the true emotions that drive need, spark interest, seed doubt, and influence decisions.

2. Journeys

Today’s consumers are active buyers, participating in the shopping process more than ever. They expect—no, they require brands to provide the information they need at the most relevant times in their journey.

Use the buyer's journey framework to develop the touchpoints where your audience engages with your brand. To put it another way, these touchpoints should influence your media channels, your content, your tactics, your design…everything.

To do this, select one of your personas and map out the touchpoints across each stage of the journey: from Awareness to Interest to Consideration and finally to Decision.

  • Awareness: Your buyer is not yet aware of a need but susceptible to triggers.
  • Interest: He collects information and creates criteria to determine the best solution.
  • Consideration: He begins to discover the right brands that can deliver a solution based on his new criteria.
  • Decision: He narrows down brand options and prepares to make a confident decision.

Check out our example of a buyer’s journey for purchasing a new car using the persona “New Dad.”

Context-First Buyer's Journey Infographic

3. Data

Once you know your personas and journeys, you can utilize data from both your own web properties and third-party services. For the first two stages we discussed above, you’re focusing on how your consumers travel along their individual paths to purchase. With the data you uncover, you are now able to find opportunities to influence how they engage with your brand across the journey.

The 4 Types of Data to Consider:

  1. Past History across Your Web Properties
  2. Engagement with Your Digital Ecosystem (e.g., media buying, social, etc.)
  3. Location/Device
  4. Persona Data (e.g., demographics, known trends, etc.)

The data you use will determine how you structure your ecosystem and develop your content to complement your users where they are in the buyer’s journey and online. From the SEO keywords you choose to geo-location targeting, use the data to make informed decisions across your site.

More to Come with Context-First

We’ve barely scratched the surface of Boston Digital's context-first approach to creating digital strategies. You can and should use context to drive lead generation, inbound strategies, and website redesigns. I’ll explain how you successfully do that in future posts on this blog. I hope my insights enable you to take the necessary steps to achieve your business goals and grow your business.

So that you don’t miss a thing, please subscribe to the blog by following us on Twitter and LinkedIn, where we always let our followers know about new posts. Also, you can follow me on Twitter @mattnaffah.

Have thoughts about context-first? Is your business implementing any of these strategies? We’d love to hear about your story. Share it with us on Twitter or you can email us at

Digital Marketing RFP Template