Here and Now is the New Context

Jul 15, 2014

When the story of digital media is analyzed by scholars in the coming decades, I expect they will locate the current mobile migration as a critical moment in communication history. This is when the final shreds of 20th-century mass media were shed. This is when media consumption was, at last, completely detached from predictable settings and circumstances. Personalized, on-demand, fully untethered devices radically disrupt a media and advertising ecology that, during a century, had targeted its wares at morning newspaper readers, radio-prime-time and drive-time listeners, TV-prime-time viewers, and web office/home hours, etc. Sometime in the early 21st century, historians will recount that context became a fluid, highly fragmented concept.

When, where, in what frame of mind, and what mode of interaction a user consumed media and advertising became open questions. Lean in, lean back, task-driven, at home, in store, en route, killing time, and more all became possible moments, modes, and locations media will need to consider in shaping content and advertising value moving forward. This is going to get very, very complicated. People don't just come to media anymore. Media will need to seek out and intercept people when the content is most relevant to a moment.

Syndicating content, not only onto platforms but into moments, will be one of the main challenges of the coming years. Several examples involve proximity marketing and the new iBeacon and in-store networks. The Condé Nast foodie property Epicurious was among the first media outlets to partner with a network of iBeacons to give its advertisers access to consumers literally at the store shelf when they are making purchase decisions. The inMarket platform is erecting a grocery store network of iBeacon devices that can detect when an opted-in consumer enters a store and eventually could detect when a shopper is in a given aisle. Epicurious' app is enabled on that network so that it can sell advertisers promotions that pop up in store.

Part of the proximity equation is also publishing into a much wider selection of contexts. The specialty accessories boutique and brand Alex and Ani, for instance, will be among the first to roll out an iBeacon-enabled app this year. In this case, the retailer needs mobile devices to help its sales staff tell the stories of the individual items. Alex and Ani is a high-touch retail environment in which the unique accessories have intricate backstories and are often attached to charities that need explanation. An upcoming mobile app married to in-store proximity triggers will help the company tell those stories at the right jewelry case. At the same time, the app will track user movement and buying patterns, push personalized recommendations, and tell the retailer how, when, and where content is really moving the sales needle.

There is an enormous opportunity here for traditional media companies, as brands find themselves being in-store publishers. The retailers, the restaurants, the movie chains, the malls, the hair salons, the sports arenas-they will all need content. And while mobility also allows the media brands themselves to be fully portable, that doesn't mean that a magazine, newspaper, television station, or portal provider will be top of mind when their content is of greatest utility to the user. In fact, it is more likely that the retailer, the mall, the team, or another third-party app will be the one to own the moment and be top of mind for that consumer.

Content providers need to start thinking in terms of syndicating into those moments through the companies that may not own the consumer so much as they control the place and time. We have already seen some of this from providers such as Rotten Tomatoes, which syndicates its ratings and reviews into movie ticketing and digital download apps. As mobile usage evolves, we are likely to see retailers and venues becoming contextually aware content portals. Publishers may very well become exclusive content providers to these commercial venues.

Tying content to sales is both the peril and the promise of syndicating content into moments. Just as we are already seeing online in ecommerce, these mobile technologies will start to show how certain kinds of content in given situations impact the bottom line for selling goods. This gives one pause. At the same time, mobilization opens up a new mindset for publishing. Newsstand, couch, car, and office are no longer the main contexts for media consumption. And for many advertisers, these former mainstays of media could become the least lucrative places to target.