Recently my sister came to visit me from 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 really easy to check the plane status and the weather at 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. 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 hyper linked 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 very interesting and rich topic. Hope you like it and don’t hesitate to tell me what’s your opinion.

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

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

The reasons for this oversight may has been related with users habits but mainly with technological limitations. Same way the shift towards contextual are also direct consequence of technology, the emergence of today “always connected user”, thanks to the penetration of mobile devices.

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

At the same time, technologies needed for this contextual awareness begin to be available, like mobile devices with geolocation, full one to one tracking, social graph, big data, etc… Knowing the location of your users, 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 simply localization. It is about knowing your users deeply and understanding what are they doing right now. Means, go from the basic personalization based on demographics segmentations, or user’s account personalization, into a truly individualized experience, using a broad source of data. 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 experience, 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 extend existing segmentation and personalization techniques with in-the-moment details”.
  • In the same line Katrina Conn introduce Real-time Marketing as a component of what ClickZ llama “The Present Tense Marketing”, The purpose of Real-time Marketing it is 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 to “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 basic components under a contextual experience:

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

Then, come back to the idea on how traditional personalization is not longer enough for today savvy users.

How actually users have changed and why traditional personalization is not longer enough?

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

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

So, why to turn to Contextual Experiences?

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

I think the main purpose of contextualize experiences can be simplified as maximize relevance. Because always-connected-users demand relevant experiences, but their purposes and intentions change over time. So, being relevant 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 seems to be designed for each specific user because of its relevance and tailored. From user point of view the resulted experience feels truly personal and engage with the brand seems to be easier 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 user’s intention converts… and that’s a fact.

One of the big reasons why marketing and advertising industry is particular interesting on contextual, it is because contextual data had prove to have huge success on conversions, again because of the relevance that provide users.

What’s the recipe for 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. Know and understand your users deeply and across all touchpoints, create 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 customers (both content, features and functionalities), predicting their intentions and anticipating them.

Let us analyse that path in more detail:

1. Know your users, but truly.

Who they are? what are they interested? How they engage with your products before?

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

Information can came for severals 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 you still need to do user modelling to understand which users clusters you may have, some useful tools here are: User Personas, Experience or Customer Journeys.

2. Recognize user’s current context:

What are they doing right now? where they come from? Where are they located? What time and date it is? What are trying accomplish right now?

This part is all 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 key part, once you know your users and are able to identify them is time to infer what’s happening, in order 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 processes, using rules that when we identify the segment, display specific content or features for that user.

4. Deliver contextualized experiences

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

Forrester recommend to start 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. Contextualize experience is not easy. 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.

About the best strategy to contextual-personalization, they suggest to star with an ‘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 Marketing
4 Traits of Today’s Consumers That Make Present Tense Marketing Necessary
Digital Footprints: Following the Data Trail
Geo-Location, Geo-Fencing & Creep Factor…

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