Incremental contextual marketing for the distracted consumer

Consumers today are distracted and so I’ve coined a new term describing how to reach them: incremental contextual marketing.   The idea came to me by when considering the mental diagnosis of ADHD, and then drawing parallels to phenomena observed in modern consumer behavior.  In this blog, I explore this and then unveil some thoughts on how to best approach it with marketing techniques.  And I’m going to try to do all that in a short blog, because…well…read on.

Blame it my ADHD

“I feel like I’m from a different planet.”  Years ago, this statement might have been uttered by a person diagnosed with ADHD – Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.   Yet, it’s how I feel today when I compare myself to the average modern day consumer (is there such a thing?), with their impulse decision making, short attention span, and lack of focus.  Does everyone have ADHD?  Of course not – that’s a real mental disorder, and not one to poke fun at.  But call me crazy because when I consider an important purchase, investigate a brand, or generally try to write about something or solve a problem, I take a deliberate approach, use critical thinking skills, do in-depth research, triangulate sources, and plan ahead.  One thing is certain – I know I’m from a different era.

Brain with ADHD

Consider this definition of ADHD from the Mayo clinic website:

“ADHD is a chronic condition that includes a combination of problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.”[i]

Or this about those with ADHD by William Dodson, MD from

“The ADHD world is curvilinear. Past, present, and future are never separate and distinct. Everything is now. ADDers live in a permanent present and have a hard time learning from the past or looking into the future…”[ii]

Sound a little like today’s in the moment consumer with a gold fish like attention span, who expects instant gratification and exhibits spontaneous buying behavior?   It’s no secret; the world we live in promotes and fosters this behavior.

  • Consumers are generally impatient and hyperactive. They get upset if they are in any line or have to wait for anything for more than a few seconds.  They are upset if businesses don’t remember them.
  • Consumers can’t focus. They are constantly interrupted or busy with smartphones, multiple devices, packed schedules, and keeping connected with extensive networks.   The average user checks a phone 150 times per day[iii].
  • Consumers live in the moment. They quickly forget their own loyalty history (or lack thereof), and often inflate their true propensity to do something in the future.  They expect their present context to be understood, catered to, and appreciated.

Is there a cure?

Although you won’t change this conduct, you can still accomplish your goals by employing a best practice I’ll term incremental contextual marketing.   As a marketer, accept that there is very little patience, increasingly shorter message shelf lives, and a consumer that is less and less receptive to any outbound marketing, or any message for that matter that is too long or ordinary.   Make no mistake, you can still build brand awareness and garner loyalty – however realize two things:

  • It can take years to build and establish loyalty, yet with one bad experience it can evaporate in seconds, since a consumer’s mindset is, “What have you done for me lately?”
  • You need to message in waves; in small compelling quickly digestible chunks available in any channel.

On the second point, and this is key, even if you have a deeper, more complex, longer term idea that you need to explain or impression you want to make, break it up, and message it over a period of time.   Incremental contextual marketing means both repeating and/or building upon your message, always using current consumer context to reinforce, sustain, adjust, and evolve it, with the end result being a better educated consumer, more likely to remember and to be impressed.   This approach works for marketing a product, educating a consumer on your services, or surveying them for preferences.   The stream of tactics used can be repetitive or additive depending on the goal.

For example, if your primary goal is brand awareness, a repetitive message is fine, but don’t repeat it in the same slots, at the same times, using the same channels.  Mix those up.  Make your points proactively to consumers in their preferred outbound channels, with the same messages available to them when they are in-channel.

If your goal is educating the consumer on retirement strategies, run a series of messages that build on each other, with each subsequent message summarizing key points from the latter, and then appending new ideas.  Use current context to adjust the message, if for instance, the consumer has clearly become interested in college savings plans.  The trick is for each message to be randomly incremental (without a predictable rhythm but still a sustained undertaking) and conversational – strategically placed in varying media at a calculated (but somewhat random) cadence so as to optimize its movement from short-term to long-term memory.  Use storytelling and make it relatable in its tone.   I learned the effectiveness of this method a few years back when I embarked on learning French as an adult – That said, I think you can be much more effective that I was in becoming fluent by not waiting too long before you start.

As a firm, you need an approach, a systemic mindset, and technology stack that can react and adapt to this dynamic environment.  Ironically, some of the same technologies that may be reinforcing this behavior can be used to combat it.  Together, the total solution has to be customer focused, concise, real-time (responding in milliseconds since the consumer won’t wait), consistent, contextual, and unified.  It must be unwavering in its ability to identify consumers with pinpoint accuracy, summon a photographic memory of their interests and preferences, factor in their current context and condition, and then act with predictive intelligence, rendering easily consumed yet compelling content, all while still delivering actions with a personalized / human touch.

We live in a fast paced, short story world, with millions of micro blogs (less than 500 words), billions of videos (less than 3 minutes), and trillions of twitter posts (less than 141 characters).  Accept what you can’t change and use the right methods with the time crunched consumer, craftily using bits of incremental air time to make your points.

You made it to the end (a blog with nearly 1000 words…congratulations) and so perhaps you are like me.  For the rest from earth, however, I’ll need more posts.

Comments and alternative views are always welcomed.


[ii] Dodson, William.

[iii] Meeker, Mary and Wu, Liang.  Internet Trends D11 Conference.  Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (2013): 52