The Technology of Contextualized Content: What's Next on the Horizon?

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The future of contextualized advertising will be defined, in large part, by the increasing ability to personalize messages based on the various data inputs available to marketers, says Nesamoney. "Another big lever in the hands of the marketer is making ads more relevant," he says. "Showing the right person the right ad at the right time." It's data that allows marketers to do that. The more you know about an individual's location, and even the weather, for instance, the more personalized the messages can be.

"So if I'm in L.A., and it's a pretty warm day here-85 degrees-you shouldn't be showing me an ad for hot coffee; you should be showing me a cool drink. That's the potential of this technology, and it's inexpensive-or free-in many cases. It opens up a lot of possibilities," says Nesamoney.

Personalization will also be driven, Nesamoney says, by the ability to discern what type of device a consumer is using. And, adds Wehrs, by the multiple inputs around consumers and the devices they're carrying-or wearing-that receive those inputs. "The next thing that happens is that, from a consumer perspective, it's not just your phone-now, it's going to become some of the wearable kind of things that we think are going to be integrated in," says Wehrs-fitness monitors and Google Glass, etc. Instead of consumers proactively engaging with devices to access information, the devices themselves will be interacting with the environment.

In other words, Wehrs says, "If I took my phone out and I pointed it at something and scanned it, there's no question I wanted information about it. But if the sensors on your body are not things that you're taking out of your pocket anymore-it just might be that you glanced at something-how do we take that instance to mean, ‘Oooh, wait a minute ... that glance was long enough that we ought to proactively give you impressions'?" That, he says, is called "passive awareness," and it is, he predicts, "the next technological set of hurdles that we have to overcome."

The hurdles aren't just technological, though. Imagine the consumers of the future wearing Google Glass, for instance, and navigating through their day. Google Glass has the ability to automatically recognize things such as URLs printed on the sides of trucks, QR codes, and UPC bar codes, etc. Imagine these wearable devices tripping on every one of these inputs out there. "It would just overwhelm the wearer," Wehrs admits. "So how you come up with the algorithms to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, this is important, but all of these other things are not'? That's going to take a lot of technology." In the future, the concept of "information overload" could take on an entirely new meaning.

Another trend likely to take hold in the future is predictive technology. While today's contextual advertising is largely driven by what consumers have done, the future will focus on what they will do. "As was true in the evolution of product retargeting, basic contextual ads are prevalent now, and later we'll see innovations that predict a consumer's intent, where possible, and then leverage those insights to drive highly personalized ads," says Overstreet.

Elbaz agrees and adds that this predictive work can be done in such a way that it doesn't need to include any personally identifiable information. "We don't have to take an email address and then look it up in some sort of database-it's just purely based on where you've been."

Location, he says, will increasingly be an "extremely important element of establishing context because it provides so much additional information in terms of how you're interacting with the physical world." More and more often, that physical world exists outside an office or home as people are increasingly mobile and carrying their devices with them. "The obvious thing people think about when they think about the mobile context is, ‘Well, where are you?'"

In addition, Elbaz notes, the ability to target consumers across all of their devices in a seamless way will become increasingly important. "There are a number of companies doing the cross-device thing where they can let your desktop world bleed into your mobile world," he says. In fact, he notes, "we're soon going to be announcing a partnership with one of the companies in that space."

This, says Shevach, is the greatest challenge-and opportunity-that lies ahead for marketers and the technology providers that fuel their ability to connect meaningfully with those they are attempting to influence. Those technologies are now available, he says. But technology is not the only challenge that marketers face. A potentially bigger challenge is growing consumer concern about their privacy and to what extent they wish to share information about themselves through their devices with marketers. Contextual advertising is only possible to the extent that consumers are willing to provide the context.

Facebook's recent announcement that-contrary to its 2011 assertion-it will be tracking users' activities outside of Facebook is likely to fuel these privacy concerns. If users set their privacy settings to limit the information that marketers have access to, the impacts for marketers will clearly be significant. Moving forward, perhaps the greatest challenge for marketers will be to ensure that they wisely are using the data they increasingly have access to in ways that delight rather than enrage their markets.

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