One key to marketing success is touching your audience in a meaningful way. In order to do that, your message must reach them at the right time and in the right place. The context within which your message is presented is just as important as the message itself. The Internet has been touted as the perfect medium to accomplish this, but given the relatively stagnant online marketing industry, one is left to ponder whether it can live up to this claim. Has online context-based marketing failed because of the medium itself, or is it simply the way that marketers are using it?

Given that there have been many tremendously successful online campaigns, the logical conclusion must be that the issue is with the methodologies rather than the medium. As we have seen, the Internet, be it the Web or e-mail, offers a number of qualities that other media cannot – specific accountability, efficient long-term tracking, fine targeting, company-consumer relationship development and management, and appropriate contextual placement.

The roadblock has been in reconciling the new way of doing things on the Internet with the traditional marketing world. It is analogous to trying to sell apples to an orange dealer – the orange dealer simply does not “get” apples. In order to sell to him, you need to explain apples in terms that he can understand – i.e. oranges. Obviously, this is not an easy task.

The same is true when implementing an online campaign. Marketers within companies still do not really understand how online metrics relate to traditional metrics (like GRPs). As such, those who are selling to advertisers always begin by talking about the unique strengths of Internet, but in the end, they must sacrifice those strengths to make the sale. Things like fine demographic targeting fall to the wayside, and when the results are returned (usually in language with which the advertiser is not comfortable), the campaign fails to make the desired impact.

Ensuring that a message is placed in the right context at the right time is often the first thing that is sacrificed. It is a difficult process as is, and when other restraints are placed on a campaign, it is easily lost. Whether it is an e-mail campaign, or a keyword targeted advertisement, or what have you, the appropriate context is determined by the source on which your message is presented, the timing of the presentation and the applicability of the message. If any of these three things is lost, then context is also lost.

For example, if you are trying to reach architects, and because of budget constraints, you are forced to send an e-mail piece to a generic leased list that can be targeted by occupation rather than a list leased from a leading architectural trade journal, you have lost source relevance. If you are forced to send that e-mail on a Friday rather than during the middle of the following week because the advertiser insists that it must run by the end of the week, then you lose timing. If the advertiser is selling high-end computers and feels that architects are a strong potential customer base rather than something specific to the architectural business, then you lose direct applicability.

It is easy to see how difficult it can be to place a message in the most appropriate context possible. The key to ensuring that it can be done is to take the time to really explain to advertiser the purpose of taking the time and effort to fit the campaign into an appropriate context, as well as the qualitative difference in the audience and responses generated from a context-based campaign. If the advertiser is just trying to throw a broad net, there is really no point in trying to sell them on context. If, on the other hand, they are trying to sell a very specific good to a specific audience segment, then context becomes more critical.

The bottom line is that you must convince the advertiser that this is absolutely critical, and if in reality it is not, do not bother trying to sell them on it. The Internet provides a number of unique benefits to advertisers, so when context-based marketing is not crucial, it is better to focus on one of those other qualities.