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One of the major outcomes of the recent advances in the social age is the resurgence of contextually-based persona development and its’ role in helping to inform as well as shape strategy. This is especially true when you consider there are several important strategic areas evolving at a rapid pace. These strategy areas include content strategy, social marketing, marketing automation, social selling, demand generation, and buyer experience marketing. Obtaining contextual understanding of the new social buyer persona will be a key element of formulating strategies that are successful and embraced by buyers.
What is Context?
Context is essential to understanding but what does it really mean? I like these two definitions from businessdictionary.com for starters:
- Background, environment, framework, setting, or situation surrounding an event or occurrence
- Circumstances under which a document was created, including its function, purpose, use, time, the creator, and the recipient.
The first definition points to reaching an understanding of the behavioral framework that surrounds the new social buyer persona. The second indicates that content strategy and content marketing, to be successful, will need a robust understanding of “circumstances” contextually in order to affect buyer interaction.
Since the mid-1990’s, the meaning of context was extended to focus on the understanding of user interactions in design settings which led to personas being a means for communicating contextually-based user behaviors. This has been the case most prominently in the area of user-centered design. Context also serves as the foundation of ethnographic and anthropological research often associated with the design of products or services as well as experience design.
Why is Context Important Now?
In the world of marketing and sales, we are seeing the need for contextual understanding due to a very relevant fact: the context we understood for many years about buyer behavior has drastically changed due to social technologies. Older non-contextual methods of research will no longer suffice in today's social and buyer-driven marketplace. If we stick to definitions, the buyer world respective to background, frameworks, interactions, environments, settings, situations, events, occurrence, and etc. has undergone significant changes and evolutions in the past 5 years.
These significant changes affecting beliefs we’ve held and causing a degree of uncertainty as well as a number of unknowns. These include the following 6 B’s where contextual understanding is essential:
Buyer Behavior: the behaviors exhibited by buyers are directly affected by the changes related to context such as their environments, current situation, frameworks, goals, and the introduction of new social technology.
Buyer Patterns: patterns related to how and why buyers buy have undergone significant changes and most notably in B2B these patterns are undergoing constant change and evolution.
Buyer Journeys: we’ve seen a major shift here in what I have referred to as self-directed buyer journeys. Buyers are self-directing and taking non-linear journeys based on situations and goals.
Buyer Characteristics: as we see more and more social technology advancements, the character of the buyer is changing. Organizations are requiring new skills sets and attributes for their own advancing. The buyers of today and tomorrow will look vastly different than the buyers of yesteryears.
Buyer Knowledge: content strategy has become important not only because of the Internet and social technology drastically altering the buying cycles but because the knowledge gathering requirements of buyers continue to evolve. We are interacting with buyers who are becoming more knowledgeable and sophisticated with each cycle of new technologies introduced.
Buyer Interactions: context is critical to understanding the types of interactions which need to be designed to meet the needs, wants, and goals of buyers as they self-direct their own buyer journeys. Self-directing buyers will radically change the concepts of messaging as we know it and call into question the relevance of existing messaging tactics with buyers - who are more knowledgeable than ever before.
What is evident is that buyer insight and analysis void of context will not have the value or level needed to help inform and shape the strategies of the future. Contextually based insights that go through the interpretation and translations to produce personas – and the new social buyer persona – will help organizations to chart a new course that allows them to connect with buyers with refreshed deep understanding.