Why Context Is the Future of Inbound

Meghan Keaney Anderson
Meghan Keaney Anderson



three-goldfishTwo goldfish go out swimming. They come across an older fish headed in the other direction who waves a fin at them and says, "Morning fellas. How's the water?"

Both nod in response, swim away and then turn to each other and question aloud: "What the hell is water?"

This anecdote, made famous by David Foster Wallace, is about missing the obvious. But largely, it's also about context. Fish are fish because of the water around them. Their context defines them, even if it's so pervasive it's invisible. People are the same way. We are who we are because of the context around us. Our context shapes the content we want to read. It influences the way we shop and buy. And it defines how and when we choose to interact with companies. Your role, industry -- even where you are in the customer lifecycle -- all affect what matters to you. 

Now, it's been said that goldfish have no memory. That's incorrect. What's closer to the truth is that company call centers have no memory. Websites have no memory. And marketing as a whole has no memory. How many times have you interacted with a company and had to repeat, more than once, who you are or what your account number is? How many times have you had to tell the company what you mean to them?  

Infusing Context Throughout the Whole Company

There is a good post called "Caring About Context" by Lift Interactive Strategist Brandon Webber. In it, he writes, "On the web, we’re still playing the ‘if this, then that’ game -- merely just responding to a few basic things we know about the people in touch with our work." This is essentially how marketing automation works today. An email recipient gets a targeted message in their inbox, based on some sort of behavioral trigger.

Targeted emails are better than generic emails, but here's the thing: When that same email recipient then heads over to your website, interacts with you in social media, or calls your sales team, what do they get? The same generic marketing everyone else gets. People are the sum of their entire experience, across channels, across devices, across their whole history of interactions with your company. And that experience, like water, should move and adapt around us. This goes beyond tossing their first name into an email. Webber continues: "We should ... look at better ways to emotionally connect with people in meaningful ways; to understand where they are at, meet them there, and give them more than cheap digital parlour tricks."

Having that context, and extending it through all the channels prospective customers use, changes everything for the relationship between a company and its prospects.  

Adding Context to Marketing

The great epiphany of inbound marketing was that people are drawn to content that matters to them. The early stages of inbound marketing focused on creating the sort of useful, search-friendly content that would attract people at the search box and bring them in to your site. Once at your site, however, that customer-driven behavior doesn't stop. Turns out, website visitors are more likely to convert on content and offers that have been tailored to them. 

We looked at the data for more than 93,000 calls-to-action created in the last year using HubSpot. These calls-to-action collectively received hundreds of millions of views. And we found that calls-to-action which dynamically changed to be more relevant to the viewer had a 42% higher view-to-submission rate than calls-to-action that were the same for all visitors (Tweet This Fact).

It stands to reason that the future of inbound marketing will bring more of this kind of adaptive content based on the characteristics of the viewer. In HubSpot's most recent product release, we've extended the concept of context throughout all of our content tools, and we believe inbound marketers will put this to use creating websites, landing pages, and emails that all work together to personalize the complete customer experience.

Adding Context to Sales

Since we're looking forward, let's also talk about how sales will need to adapt to deliver this same level of relevancy. There is very little more impersonal or intrusive in sales than the "just checking in" phone call. It's dreaded by leads and sales reps alike. It's dreaded because there's a huge blind spot there. Sales reps need to check in to make sure they don't lose the opportunity, but they have no idea whether checking in will be useful or at all timely for the lead. All too often, they end up calling at an inconvenient time or before the lead is in the right mindset to have the conversation. 

So how do you know when to call and what to address in that call? There are a few free tools out there that can help -- including one that HubSpot just launched called Sidekick. Sidekick gives salespeople the context they need to know when and how to follow up with their contacts by alerting them when a lead is demonstrating interest (e.g. reviewing an email from you). HubSpot users can couple this with intelligence about what pages and content the lead has read in the past and tailor the conversation to address those topics. 

The technology certainly makes this more scalable, but you don't need tools to make a conversation more relevant to a lead -- you just need to be intentional. Before a call, take the time to check out the social media profiles of your leads. Look to your marketing history to see what content they have received in the past, and look to their industry/role to understand what their unique needs may be. 

Adding Context to Customer Service and Support

Context in customer support means never having to ask your customers to recap something they've already told you. But it also means not feeding them information that is no longer relevant to them. For example, when a customer comes to your website, do they see the same content they saw when they were first checking your company out? When they mention you in social media, do you respond in the same way you would respond to a lead or prospect? The future of inbound will mean extending relevant content across the customer lifecycle -- and shifting gears to treat customers differently.  

We are crossing a technological milestone. The convergence of data, social listening, and integrated communication tools will help companies align around the customer and see people in the context they deserve. The emergence of inbound marketing was a major sea change in the way companies relate to prospective customers. Up until this point, that equation has focused largely on creating the right quality content. Today, as we start to see more companies extend personalization throughout the entire customer experience, it is becoming clear that while content started us on this path, it is context that will change everything once again. 

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