Use Contextual Data To Gain A Competitive Search Marketing Advantage

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Marketers have been dreaming about the possibilities of contextual data for decades, and as consumers have become more mobile and their behavior more quantifiable, it has only stoked those flames further.

What’s The Big Deal About Contextual Data?

Contextual data provides an opportunity for marketers to gain a competitive advantage based on outside trends that may be unique to their industry or business.

For example, think of the oft-cited (albeit unfeasible) use case of a person getting pinged with a location-based offer just as they walk by a coffee shop. Or the pharmaceutical company that ramps up their marketing spend as they see flu trends pick up in certain areas of the country. Or the technologically-proficient umbrella marketer who has the ability to deliver the right ad, at the right place, and at the right time… specifically, just before a downpour hits the poor customer.

All these are built on the idea that there are factors out in the world that are impacting customer behavior — and the company that’s best prepared to act on those factors can gain a competitive advantage.

In practice, the experience hasn’t been quite as magical, because the ability to leverage contextual data programmatically has been fairly limited.  It’s challenging and time-consuming to quickly shift strategies based on a time-limited change in market or customer behavior and finding third-party external data can prove to be difficult.

In these cases, even when it is obtained, correctly attributing these factors to performance data is complicated. To further complicate things, acting on contextual data in real-time can be a deal-breaker, as some external trends can emerge and fade within hours.

Luckily, though, there are services that can help marketers easily integrate third-party data into their marketing campaigns. In the below sections, we’ll take a look at two of the more popular scenarios where you can easily start incorporating contextual data in your marketing decision-making.

Using Weather Data To Predict & Understand Opportunities

Weather is one of the more intuitive examples for using contextual data in marketing, and also one in which there’s more performance data to learn from. At the most basic level, marketers can leverage weather patterns and seasonal data to provide insight into buyer behavior at the macro level.

However, smaller shifts and unexpected weather patterns have been known to drive consumers toward action (or inaction) and therefore present opportunities for the savvy marketer.

A customer of Marin Software (my employer), the Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, conducted a study on temperature and precipitation to understand how they affected sales in France.

This chart details the sales and revenue lift Rakuten saw on rainy days in France, when compared to non-rainy days.

This chart details the sales and revenue lift Rakuten saw on rainy days in France, when compared to non-rainy days.

The findings were intriguing; in Paris, sales and revenue increased slightly on rainy days, but the increase was much greater in Lyon and Marseille.

Rakuten reasoned that Parisian customers were accustomed to shopping in-store even on rainy days, so the precipitation changes didn’t significantly affect their purchasing behavior. In contrast, Rakuten sales were significantly higher for Lyons and Marseille customers, who chose to stay indoors during rainy weather and shop online rather than in-store.

This chart examines how revenue changes based on temperature, based on a report from Rakuten. Revenue is normalized at the <5 mark.

This chart examines how revenue changes based on temperature, based on a report from Rakuten. Revenue is normalized at the <5 mark

When Rakuten examined how temperature played into consumer behavior, results were more nuanced. In general, the colder it got, the more French consumers stayed indoors and shopped online. However, the relationship between temperature and consumer behavior was not always linear.

  • In Lyon, revenue and sales followed a curve, dipping and then rising, before dipping again as temperatures increased.
  • Meanwhile, revenue in Marseille dropped by 25% when temperatures rose above 10 degrees C, but remained static until 25 degrees C.

This study illustrates how the impact of weather changes on consumer behavior can vary greatly by region and culture and how it might affect a company’s day-to-day marketing strategy.

Television-Driven Optimization

The second-screen effect of consumers watching television with a mobile device in hand is also growing rapidly. Accordingly the relationship between television viewership and digital advertising has become increasingly tighter.

Research has already shown that TV ads boost online traffic and searches and that there are significant increases in online search for branded keywords within hours of a related advertisement showing on television.

A similar study measured the impact of television advertising on the volume of Google searches, and found that the greatest impact occurs that same day or sometimes in the hours following the original viewing.

The impact of TV advertising on search traffic

When looking at the impact of TV advertising, search traffic increased by 15-25% over the 4 weeks when TV ad flights occurred. source:

Ubisoft, a multinational video game developer and publisher, recently partnered with Facebook on coordinating video advertising between Facebook and television for their Assassin’s Creed 4 video game campaign.

They did this through careful timing of digital advertising on Facebook with conventions and television ad flights. Their integrated TV and Facebook advertising strategy resulted in astounding success, with 57% of their target audience reached and engaged during the campaign, and a 12-point lift in ad recall.

These results suggest that a cross-channel approach helps marketers reinforce ad messaging for consumers, aiding in ad campaign recall and engagement. The apparent “second-screen effect” of the study is one possible explanation for the results, with 47% of ad impressions served on mobile devices.

The results highlight an opportunity for marketers to use Nielsen TV ratings and ad flight data to understand their audience, and from there, coordinate digital advertising on social media and search in order to capture that audience while they are receptive.

To get ahead of the competition, marketers should take advantage of the apparent synergies between television and digital media, look at data from both mediums and analyze them together, rather than as two separate entities.

Additional Contextual-Data-Driven Opportunities

Weather and television-based contextual marketing are some of the more prominent examples of contextual marketing, but there’s no shortage of additional opportunities. Whether it’s optimization strategies based on customer reviews, inventory availability, or competitive activity, the opportunities are only as limited as the data that’s available.

Although incorporating all disparate contextual data sources in an intelligent, pragmatic manner will continue to be challenging, marketers that are able to do so will be able to gain key competitive advantages. Being able to tie contextual data in with audience data helps marketers understand consumer intent, which leads to better optimized marketing campaigns.

The impact of these disparate factors can mean increased efficiency, as well as sales and revenue for a marketer who can understand how this data reflects changes in consumer behavior and capture audience attention at crucial moments.  For those looking to go deeper, Marin Software recently released a white paper on using contextual data to improve your marketing.

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