The context marketing revolution: Individuals, not brands, are the largest producers of media

Countless companies continue to rely on traditional marketing models, assuming that their "campaigns" will sway customers, but according to Mathew Sweezey, director of market strategy for Salesforce, they couldn't be more wrong. He points out that individuals -- not brands, not businesses, not traditional media outlets -- are now the largest producers of media in the world, and companies need to shift their understanding to succeed in the coming years.

How do you motivate buyers in the age of infinite media? 

Mathew Sweezey, director of market strategy for Salesforce and author of the newly published book The Context Marketing Revolution, reveals Salesforce survey data from 11,000 businesses, which showed the 16% of high-performing companies that enjoyed consistent growth were those that focused on crafting experiences. The insights show consumers -- whether millennial or boomer, B2B or B2C -- are making decisions in different ways. This means an entirely altered customer journey.

 According to Sweezey, the best way for businesses to break through the noise is by using context marketing. 

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Mathew Sweezey, Director of Market Strategy for Salesforce and author of the newly published book The Context Marketing Revolution.

In his book Sweezey explains why consumers and business buyers now want experiences that are: 

  • Available - helping people achieve the value they seek in the moment
  • Permissioned - giving individuals what they've asked for, on their terms
  • Personal - going beyond how personal the experience is, to how personally it can be delivered
  • Authentic - combining voice, empathy, and channel congruence simultaneously
  • Purposeful - creating a deeper connection to the brand beyond the product

To better understand the power of context marketing, Ray Wang, CEO and founder of Constellation Research, and I invited Sweezey to our weekly video podcast DisrupTV. Here is a summary of our discussion: 

Infinite media era 

We have entered a new media environment. Sweezey defines the new environment by three aspects, creation, distribution, and access. In his book, Sweezey covers the limited media era (1900-1995), as the name implies, media creation and distribution were limited to those that had the required capital to participate -- predominantly businesses -- and channel distributed whatever messages that dominant groups promoted. 

But, in 2009, the underlying foundation of our media environment shifted. Modern media hasn't simply multiplied: It has a radically different environment on a macro scale: completely attuned to a new goal. "Rather than delivering one message at a time -- the same message -- to everyone, the infinite media era uses algorithms to connect the right people to the right content in real-time," Sweezey said. The marketing strategy or business strategy are games we play based on the environments that we play in, and the environments have shifted from limited media to infinite media. This means consumers behave in radically different ways and so businesses must learn to adapt. 

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Business noise versus individual noise - individuals overtook businesses in 2009 for the first time ever, and not looking back again. 

The Context Marketing Revolution - Mathew Sweezey

The three keys to context marketing

First, the shift from the limited to the infinite era recasts who the actors (or players) are. Individuals replace businesses as the dominant creators of noise so that today consumers make three times the noise of all businesses combined. This translates to consumer behavior that favors seeking advice from other people, instead of brands, regarding product choices and purchasing decisions. To improve the signal to noise ratio, people are influenced by trusted advisers more than ever before. 

Second, the shift to the infinite media era changes what we do. It changes the kind of noise we make. Context replaces attention as marketing's modus operandi. We have to own the share of conversation and the share of journey to influence and deliver proper context that can lead to a purchase. In an experience-led economy, companies must be engaged at every moment of truth -- this can only be achieved with a better understanding of the customer journey. 

Third, the infinite media era changes how (or the channel through which) messages are best conveyed. Static messages give away to dynamic experiences. The infinite media era environment is focused on individuals, and they value experiences. 

Co-creating value at the speed of need

Sweezey reminds us that the best way to earn someone's attention is to help them accomplish their goal. You should not seek attention but rather opportunities to be helpful. Add value, consistently with the right intentions, and attention will be earned. 

Context is about understanding the problem that others are looking to solve, and then delivering an experience that guides others towards a successful solution that is relevant and timely to them. Contextual intelligence is business is important in an experience-led economy. 

Context matters to all demographics and all ages. Based on the research of 20,000 data points over the past two years, there is only a 12% delta between a baby boomer and a millennial's point of view on their definition, expectations, and value of experience. 

The five elements of context are available, permissioned, personal, authentic, and purposeful. Sweezey highlights that purposeful content creates twice the likelihood of engagement and business performance. When your beliefs, words, and actions are aligned, you achieve authenticity. People do not want to be treated like numbers so the new currency in a post-digital economy is speed, personalization, and intelligent discourse. 

Companies need to work creatively with their stakeholders, not on their stakeholders. We must understand the importance of experience. We then need to apply agile methodologies. The key to success is to co-create value at the speed of need. And lastly, companies need to place customers at the center of all the decisions they make. All content creation should be focused on adding timely and relevant value. The organization must own the experience. Silo mentality will not allow companies to co-create value. A flow by design principle is how companies can improve the stakeholder experience. 

Competing on experience versus content

The customer experience is as important as your company's products. Companies must have executive ownership and sponsorship of the customer experience. The executive is the cohesive glue to ensure a consistent experience at all touchpoints. We also must recognize that marketing is now decentralized. Every person in your company represents your company's brand.- everyone can engage with all stakeholders. To deliver the best possible experience starts with recognition that everyone in your company should be empowered, and rewarded, to delight all stakeholders.

Trust must also be your company's #1 core value. Trust is competence (capability and reliability) and character (integrity and benevolence). Sweezey breaks down authenticity into three parts: empathetic, tone and consistency.  To become a trusted adviser, we must allow empathy to guide our relationships. We must also seek feedback regarding the quality and value that we deliver to others. Winning is about creating value. Relevance is about being helpful. Trust is about mutual benefits for all. 

The Context Marketing Revolution is a must-read. As a former CMO, I would have greatly benefited by Sweezey's shared wisdom. I believe sales, marketing, and customer service professionals can benefit from reading this book, including the understanding of customer journeys and the use of artificial intelligence and specific applications that can significantly increase stakeholder engagement. Please watch the video above to learn more about context marketing and the power of effective storytelling.