In the Mood

When and where does your advertising work best? Use these contextual-advertising tips to set the scene and snag prospective buyers.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the August 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Today, the hottest new marketing watchword is context. Instead of blasting your customers with a generic message in mass media, it's essential to reach them when they're in the right frame of mind--and most likely to take action on your message.

Program and message customization are vital due to the "demassification" of America. And consumers have unfettered access to media that's brilliantly tailored to their needs. For entrepreneurs, this new age of specialized media has brought about vast opportunities for better-targeted communication with customers.

Create Relevant Messages

With the fragmentation of media and the clutter that now surrounds the majority of advertising and content, consumers tune out all but the most relevant messages. So the first step is to make your product or service offering resonate with targeted customers. It boils down to understanding your customers and what motivates them to purchase. This will not only ensure that your message stands out from the clutter, but will also help you choose the best marketing tactics. Put your pitch on track by answering these four important questions:

1. Where are your customers when they're thinking about or making decisions concerning what you market? Perhaps they're on the subway, in a shopping mall, at home, at the office, driving their cars or on a ski lift.

2. When do customers make purchase decisions about your product or service? In other words, do you offer something that's continually needed by the same customers, or do prospects think of you only when they have an immediate, perhaps unplanned, need?

3. How do customers get information about what you market? Do they rely on friends and family, the Yellow Pages, magazine articles, online reviews or newspaper classified ads, for example?

4. What do customers consider most important when choosing a company to provide what you offer? Is price, customer service, shipping cost, warranty, location or convenience the ultimate deal-maker?

Suppose you owned an auto supplies and parts store in an urban area. Customers might be thinking about purchasing products such as oil and wiper blades while driving in their cars. (That answers the "where" question.) And they might think of you only when they have an immediate need. (That's "when.") A huge percentage of drivers listen to the radio and are regularly exposed to spots for auto supplies. (That's "how.") It's also likely that a large number of listeners on their way to and from work will consider (here comes the "what") a convenient location to be the deciding factor when choosing an auto-supply store.

In the Right Context

For entrepreneurs, the benefit of demassification is that you can place your message in the most fruitful medium--print sources or programming that you know your customers look to for information on what you market, for example. Here are some ways different types of media help you deliver your message in the appropriate context:

  • Broadcast: You can choose radio stations based on format or programming, whether it's football coverage or the local fishing report. Cable TV offers programming that caters to every interest imaginable. You can place a campaign on one network nationwide, or use local systems and advertise during specific programs on several networks.
  • Print: Major newspapers create search corridors by grouping ads into distinct sections. And there's a consumer or trade magazine to suit every reader's interests.
  • Online: This is where contextual marketing really shines. Marketers can target prospects based on the content of the web pages they visit.
  • Outdoor and location-based: From bus-shelter ads that reach urban commuters to ads on the backs of supermarket receipts that target shoppers, you can reach your prospects with a relevant message in the right context, wherever they happen to be.
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