Recently my sister came to visit me in Argentina. Anyone who expected visitors from afar will have experienced the anxiety generated: Have they taken off on time? Have they landed already?... A few days before, she sent me an email with the flight information. During the day before, and until she landed, Google Now made it easy to check the plane status and the weather on both sides, just from my mobile home screen. It wasn’t the first time, but I must say - I fell in love with this app. The best part was, I didn’t have to set anything up. Google Now knows just by using data on my e-mail.

Since my first Google now card until now, I must admit I’ve gone from feeling threatened/observed, to feeling that I’m more or less paying a fair price for the conveniences this context-awareness technology offers me. I guess it was only a matter of time… when the benefits begin to overcome fears, we fall rendered as users.

A few days ago, doing some research on personalization, I’ve found an article by Katrina Conn (ClickZ) on The Real-Time Marketing, and as often happens in this hyperlinked world, I was finally immersed in a handful of articles about Contextual Experiences… and as you probably know already Google Now is ALL about Context.

Are you curious to know more about Contextual Experiences? Next, you have my notes and insights about this fascinating and rich topic. Hope you like it and don’t hesitate to tell me what’s your opinion.

No experience exists without a context, and that’s a fact…

But regarding designing on-line experiences for far too long, the context has been out of the equation.

The reasons for this oversight may have been related to users' habits but mainly with technological limitations. Similarly, the shift towards contextual is also a direct consequence of technology, the emergence of today's “always connected user,” thanks to mobile devices' penetration.

Several thinkers agree that today savvy users are no longer satisfy with essential personalization. They expect much more from the brand/product with which they engage that they demand highly personalized experiences.

Simultaneously, technologies needed for this contextual awareness begin to be available, like mobile devices with geolocation, full one-to-one tracking, social graph, or big data. Knowing your users' location, tracking their path across all touchpoints (digital or physical), decipher their intentions, and process it all in real-time is no longer impossible.

Contextual experience is the next step of evolution on personalization. Don’t confuse context-awareness just with identifying devices and physical location. Contextualized experience It goes far beyond merely localization. It is about knowing your users profoundly and understanding what they are doing right now. Knowing your users means going from the essential personalization based on demographics segmentation, or user’s account personalization, into a truly individualized experience using a comprehensive data source. Individualized for that user on that particular context…taken to its limits, what some call hyper-personalization or One-to-One experience.

Contextual experience It is all about the 4R of Relevance: Deliver the Right expertise, to the Right User at the Right time, on the Right device…

Let see…

  • Forrester defines this contextualized experience as “a tailored, adaptive, and sometimes predictive customer experience” (…) that “combines and extends existing segmentation and personalization techniques with in-the-moment details.”
  • In the same line Katrina Conn introduce Real-time Marketing as a component of ClickZ llama “The Present Tense Marketing” The purpose of Real-time Marketing is to offer users suitable messages “based on time, place and the most recent understanding of individual customer intent.”
  • And, in Gartner “Contextual and Social User Experience” as one of the Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2012. This, thanks to context-aware computing, will allow “anticipates the user’s needs and proactively serves up the most appropriate and customized content, product or service.”

In the above highlights, there are some common keywords: personalization, tailored customized, and adaptive, predictive (means infer and anticipate).

So, as you may have concluded already, it seems there are three necessary components under a contextual experience:

First, you know your users deeply, who they are, and how they behave across all devices and touchpoints. Second, in real-time, you can identify each of these users, and third, using all this data, you can predict their current intentions and anticipate delivering what he needs, enhancing the experience by being relevant for them at that specific moment.

Then, come back to the idea of how traditional personalization is no longer enough for today's savvy users.

How users have changed and why traditional personalization is no longer enough?

Most thinkers agree to savvy today, and always-connected users expect brands, products, and services to be smarter than ever. But what does it mean exactly? Some common ideas are that today users have:

  • Higher expectations on personalization, relevant content, relevant offers, relevant interactions, relevant everything!
  • Expect immediately and, at the moment, respond to their needs.
  • Expect higher pro-activity from brands/products to make their life easier.
  • Expect companies to know them across all the interactions they have had with their brand or product.
  • Today users seem to love curated and personalized content (check how companies based on curated content have growth in 2013, like Pinterest, snip.it, scoop.it, etc.)

So, why turn to Contextual Experiences?

You may hear the expression. “If the content is king, then Context is queen” No? Well, content is still the king, but it is the context that provides the framework to give relevance to the content.

I think the primary purpose of contextualizing experiences can be simplified as maximize relevance. Because always-connected-users demand relevant experiences, but their objectives and intentions change over time. So, being appropriate means adapting to these changes, understanding the experience context to deliver the right content and features for that moment.

What for? to create experiences that seem to be designed for each specific user because of its relevance and tailored. From the user point of view, the resulted experience feels genuinely personal, and engage with the brand seems to be more comfortable than never.

In today’s always-connected world full of stimulus, to be relevant to our users is a competitive advantage. In a SERP page, the answer that better predict users' context get the click, the ads that match the user’s intention converts… and that’s a fact.

One of the big reasons why the marketing and advertising industry is particularly impressive on contextual it is because contextual data had proved to have massive success on conversions, again because of the relevance that provides users.

What’s the recipe to create contextualized experiences?.

Both Katrina’s “Present-Tense Marketing” as for Forrester’s experts, the path to contextualized experiences is more or less the same:

  1. Knowing and understanding your users deeply and across all touchpoints creates smaller segments based on users' wants and needs.
  2. Collect real-time data, from digital footprints (searches, browsing history, social graphs, etc.) and,
  3. Optimize the individual experience of that customer (both content, features, and functionalities), predicting their intentions and anticipating them.

Let us analyze that path in more detail:

1. Know your users, but honestly.

Who are they? What are they interested in? How they engage with your products before?

It is not enough to know how they are and what their interest is. You need to know all the previous interactions and engages this user to have with your products in the past, across different touchpoints, both digital and physical.

Requirements? Information can come for several sources, as:

  • User profile data
  • Purchase history and Shopping preferences
  • Browser history
  • Audience segment
  • Traditional demographics (gender, age, country, etc.)
  • And more…

But data is not enough. It would be best if you still did user modeling to understand which users clusters you may have; some useful tools here are User Personas, Experience, or Customer Journeys.

2. Recognize the user’s current context:

What are they doing right now? Where they come from? Where are they located? What time and date is it? What is being attempted right now?

This part is about gathering contextual-data and tying all together to recognize the Where and What in real-time.


  • Time and date, special events like holidays
  • Current season, weather
  • Geo-localization, IP Address
  • Social graph data
  • Type of device they are using
  • Real-time browse and click behavior, keywords queries, etc.
  • Recent digital footprints (what you clicked on, search history, Liked, where you went, what you said, etc..)

3. Understanding your users:

This is the crucial part. Once you know your users and can identify them is time to infer what’s happening to predict what will be their intentions and anticipate them.

The data processed could be done using different methods:

  • Automated processes, like self-learning algorithms that provide dynamic recommendations using both explicit(user’s purchase history or preferences) and implicit data (Keyword queries, click behavior, referring site, etc.)
  • Or through a manual rule-based process, using rules that display specific content or features for that user when we identify the segment.

4. Deliver contextualized experiences

Finally, once you identify the specific user's current context, deliver him the right content and interaction, giving the user the feeling of a truly personalized experience. This may include explicit location-targeted or right-sized content as well as allow particular features or functionalities.

Forrester recommends starting by designing contextualized experiences focusing on the scenarios/use cases where context awareness can “make or break the interaction.”

OK, sounds great, but how should I start to contextualize experiences?

This is the tricky part of all this. A contextualized experience is not comfortable. Requirements are extensive, and from the technology point of view, also very complex.

I will not go deeply on this, recommend you to read Forrester white paper “It Ain’t Personal; Get Up Close and Contextual“ (at the bottom all links available) that describe the web contextualization technology landscape.

The best strategy for contextual-personalization suggests starting with a ‘hybrid approach’ combining rules-based (manual explicitly consumer segments) and automated processes (self-learning algorithms).

to close, I leave you with a quote from Forresters':

“With context, enterprises can focus more on the quality of each customer interaction, rather than quantity.”

Keep learning about this! References and recommended reading:

Great articles from Clickz related to contextual experiences:

Moving Beyond Basic Personalization to Real-Time Marketing4 Traits of Today’s Consumers That Make Present Tense Marketing NecessaryDigital Footprints: Following the Data TrailGeo-Location, Geo-Fencing & Creep Factor…

About Contextualization and personalization:– UX Magazine: “Contextualization is the key to deliver powerful, personalized digital experiences.”

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