Embracing Context in a World of Complexity -> #marketing #intelligence #media #analytics #data #Heardable
Lately, the word context has been bandied about quite a lot within technology, marketing and media circles.
It seems that, finally, a collective realization has been made: that content – whether in the form of stories, news articles, messages, ad units or otherwise – is meaningless without a definitive reference to situation, use and/or need. Better yet, these things are meaningless without definitive relationships to one another.
So what exactly do we mean by relationships?
Well, simply put, interactions in any environment are defined by relationships. The way we consume, the way we talk and the way we connect are, of course, relationship based. But this also means that the things we share or leave behind – imprints or expressions, if you will – have their own relatedness.
Traditionally, we would track someone’s use of the web by the number of pages he or she visited over a certain length of time, and make assumptions about his or her behavior. Now, people create data trails that allow us to observe their behaviors in real-time, and also allow us to make highly informed assertions and predictions about their interests, what they like to buy, why they don’t want to be bothered and the people they like to share with, when they feel compelled to share.
I’ve talked a fair amount about this with respect to influence, but I think this points to a much larger construct, which is how to build (and measure) personal relationships without losing their collective intent.
Personalizing without filtering (making conversations relevant & socially intelligent).
If we make our connection with someone or to something so personal, can we learn from it? Can others learn from it? Can we action this intelligence in more powerful ways (such as to benefit the collective whole)?
Think of this under the same lens in which we treat our personal relationships. There are times when we feel like being transparent about expressing our joy or our fears, or times when we want to take action, and there are times when we want to just shut down and be left alone. Further, we may come to understand the pangs and quirks of our personalities, but we may never understand why we still don’t function well in relationships outside the home, at work or in other social environments.
Again, back to context.
One of the great fundamental problems of marketing in general is that companies (brands) assume people are always switched on. That they always want something. That they’re always willing to buy something. And if they’re not buying something right now, they will be, say, in the next five minutes.
I believe that a big part of this disconnect is in how we actually approach conversations with people (as manifested through messages, campaigns, platforms, etc.). We can liken this to how we conduct ourselves and connect on a deeper level as civilized, enlightened adults, or conversely, how we dysfunctionally relate through parent-child dynamics.
In short, when we talk with people, as opposed to talking at them - or worse, manipulating them to feel a certain way - we build trust.
It goes without saying that trust is the most prized commodity in our consumptive world. What isn’t so obvious is why trust is so easily violated or mistreated. More important, when we build trust, objects, opportunities and stories, emerge. We don’t have to operate from a place of deficiency (having to make up for lost ground), we can create efficiencies around the things we observe through respectful, even keeled dialogues.
And while we seem to be making steady strides towards more enlightened interactions between brands and people, the question remains: is this truly reflective of how we treat our own relationships?
Connecting the data trails.
There is a lot of talk about marketing as a relationship discipline, yet we often fail to connect the dots between our intentions and those people to whom we market. This is how data has become, almost by default, truly relational.
Data trails – again, those things we create and leave behind as expressions of self within the universe of things we consume – are hitting each other at specific corners and intersections where intentions seem to align. Case in point: look at how the best brands use the intelligence of their customers to build better products.
In this way, data has also become interoperable; the way we draw correlations between actions gives us new purview into what behaviors are the most meaningful. This culminates in stories about our customers, or, if we are storytellers, the composition of our audiences.
In other words, context.
So how do we compute context? How do we draw it out and make stories out of its associations? How do improve upon the interactions we instigate, and make them more meaningful? How do we focus on audiences first and co-create intent, rather than on the products and messages we want to target to those audiences?
“Hearding” value to elevate context (and vice versa).
The very large first step is to look at things like influence and impact as things that are relational between people and across media, as well as between brands.
Heardable is a company I co-founded in 2009 that provides contextual brand analytics. The basic premise of the platform is that in order for brands to be heard within a vast competitive landscape, they need to make themselves more heardable.
In a phrase, this isn’t just about “share of voice” or “degrees of influence”, this is about relational value. There are many great tools out there that can measure social media conversations, rich media interactions and search dynamics. But very few, if any, expose the relational values that exist between people, the media they consume and, ideally, the relationships they have with brands.
In other words, there is little or no business context.
Think of influence, for example, as something measurable across channels and through the conversations we have in different media environments, whether they are paid, earned or owned.
Further, think of how that story is told between competitors; if companies are given purview of their strengths and weaknesses in relation to each other, then, it would seem, that this would motivate them to compete over the one thing that distinguishes them from the next set of 21st century organizations: value.
Here is how we can extract and cultivate that value...
From a database of over 1.2 million companies, Heardable offers up a comprehensive, holistic score for brands culled from over 500 variables, and over 100,000 new data points every day. You might look at this as a FICO or a Dunn & Bradstreet score for brand performance in the marketplace; the primary difference here is that users can actually edit and curate the data they interact with on the platform.
We’ve focused on the idea of “digital influence” (not just social influence) that starts with understanding the velocity and impact of conversations through different social media channels. We have also built a semantic engine that can parse out the topical relevance of those conversations, and soon we will be able to highlight the measurable, sentimental impact between digital influencers.
Naturally, search is an important indicator of influence and reach. We’ve applied “searchability” to mean all the things you do in relation to what you talk about and why people feel that what you do and what you say is important (or not). As we’ve seen with social search, keywords (metatags) start to reveal these sentiments in real-time.
We think of URLs as portals or gateways; in a world where everything is interconnected, a website – while no longer a primary destination for interactions – is a conduit for how people interact with and around your brand across the Web. And of course, how “actionable” your brand is largely contingent upon how effective your site is in enabling these interactions.
We also believe that measurement itself is a byproduct of the tools we choose and how we use them. There is no one perfect system, just as there is no one way to cultivate intelligence. But if we can understand what is being used and why, we can get stronger purview into how to use what is on offer and why it matters.
This also ties back to how and why content is shared; if the other elements of online visibility aren’t synthesized transparently and somewhat organically, how are brands even in a position to share in the first place?
Where we’ll go from here.
As marketing functions change, and the industry discussions move further and further away from messaging and closer to storytelling and product development, it will be interesting to see how all of us adapt to the shifts in how intelligence is gathered and repurposed.
Competitive intelligence seems to speak resoundingly to the idea that when we compete over value, we also co-create the marketplaces we compete in. The long-standing notion of “co-opetition” has never been more relevant. How we improve upon our notions of value is another challenge altogether.
One thing’s for certain: the only “standards” we can create are those that are curated and managed by the very companies participating in the marketplace. This is also what specifically makes analytics a proactive discipline.
Then, and only then, will we create meaningful synthesis between what we discover, what we share and what we are willing to purchase.