Integrating with context

Philip Morgan

The current coronavirus pandemic has really highlighted the role of context in marketing. A few useful generalizations:

  • Direct response marketing either ignores or aggressively leverages context.
  • Brand marketing integrates with context.

Context is the stuff we want to ignore when seeking simple, easy solutions. It's the messy, important, complex reality that surrounds and interacts with our "targets", whether that target is a target market or something we want to change in our clients' business.

Context is where we will see the second and third-order effects of interventions showing up. Context is what can make those interventions less effective than we'd like. Context is what makes our marketing feel relevant or tone-deaf or somewhere in between.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a brutally swift, global change in context. It is literally unprecedented in our lifetimes.

Direct response marketing either ignores or aggressively leverages context. When it ignores context, the automated sales emails keep on rollin' and the funnels keep funnelin'. When it aggressively leverages context, it uses the current context combined with fear to drive its primary metric, which is response at any cost.

Response at any cost is the purest expression of direct response marketing. You'll rarely see such dealer-grade direct response marketing out in the wild (though sign up to any Agora Publishing list if you do want to chase the dragon of uncut direct response marketing). Most usages of direct response marketing are tempered by a desire to avoid damaging a brand/personal reputation. When you see marketing that is ignoring context, or using the current context combined with a message of fear, you are seeing marketing that is being driven to some degree by direct response assumptions.

Brand marketing uses gifts rather than gates and focuses on aspirations rather than fear. Broad presence replaces narrow targeting, and this presence leads to insight that helps the marketer make better leadership decisions than the lagging indicator of data ever could. Direct response marketers chase markets; brand marketers shape them.

Integrating with context means acknowledging the current context -- not ignoring it -- and incorporating it into the way in which you work to earn visibility and trust. It means continuing the work of using gift-giving, relevant presence, and insight to lead a market while changing or modifying the gifts you give to better respond to the changed context.

Folks who really grok brand marketing have a feel for how to respond to changes in context. Just like Willie Nelson attacks guitar strings in a certain way that makes any guitar sound like him, some folks have a feel for how to integrate with the context, even a rapidly-changing context.

The rest of us are struggling our way through it. Me included! We're not ignoring the context the way pure direct response marketing would. We're not combining fear and the current context to extract cheap, temporary leverage that corrodes our brand as a by-product of the leverage. But we also don't fully understand how to best integrate with the changed context. We're half-reacting, half-leading.

I admire every drop of sweat that drips from the brows of those engaged in this very worthy struggle.

This, from TEI member Jim Thornton, is a good example of what that struggle looks like when you write your way through it:


There are 2 spots left in the TEI cohort beginning next month, in April. Information on the new program structure and new pricing here:

If you're interested in a closer look at how the program creates change, this unsolicited 14m video from Tom Miller is worth a look: