By Siobhan Miller, Director of Product Management, Marketing Analytics

In the past two weeks, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a rather small refund (but a refund!) from Uncle Sam. I’ve checked my bank like I’ve checked by Facebook page — from my phone, my office, my home and my iPad — daily and somewhat obsessively. I am what Forrester’s Vice President and Research Director Melissa Parrish calls the “always addressable customer” — someone who uses more than three devices from multiple physical locations to connect with a brand. And according to the most recent figures, I am included in the 49% of Americans who fit this definition.

Our lot ultimately provides tremendous opportunity for the brand that can harness our level of engagement and transform it into higher sales and deeper levels of loyalty. But it’s a long journey to that destination, and last week executives from across the country gathered at Forrester’s Marketing Leadership Forum for tips on how to navigate the changing marketing landscape.

The focus of the event was “The Customer in Context” — re-imagining the way we relate to consumers in an age of the always addressable customer. While the cultural shift on the part of the consumer has been quick, we’ve struggled on the marketing side to make a similar evolutionary leap. The result of the misalignment between customer expectations and marketing delivery is an erosion of faith in traditional advertising. The emphasis on reaching the “right customer with the right message at the right time” fails to account for the fact that what you say may not be as important as how you say it. As such, much of the conference focused on how brands are making the shift from “targeting during a campaign with advertising” to “engaging in an interaction with content.”

The most interesting example of a brand that is leveraging contextual marketing is spice maven McCormick’s. Their website is beta testing FlavorPrint, a personalized flavor profile that uses the results to recommend recipes or other flavors users may like. It certainly deduced my love for tomatoes and my delicate Irish constitution’s rejection of heat. But more importantly, it visualized data in a way that we at Resonate embrace.

Admittedly, not everyone can turn around and create a contextual marketing engine that churns out amazing consumer engagement ideas. Indeed, as Stephen Yap, Google’s Head of Emerging Markets and Solutions, noted, we’re anywhere from 5-10 years away from realizing the promise of what big data can do for marketing.

But in the short term, here are some of the key takeaways from the conference that really resonated with me:

  • The customer buying journey is a cycle. As you plan ways to engage with consumers, don’t get hemmed in by traditional process flows. It’s not a linear process.
  • The experience impacts the brand. Brand perception, affinity, loyalty — all of these now have a powerful new driver: the consumer’s experience. And these consumers are not necessarily your customers.
  • People don’t hate all ads; they hate ads that are irrelevant to them. The extent to which you can segment customers and get a holistic picture of who they are beyond simple demographics, the better chance your ads engender hits and don’t erode brand perception.
  • Start small. Focus on cultural shifts and small wins. The shift to contextual marketing requires technology, imagination, new processes, different infrastructure, and changes in culture. None of those things are achievable overnight. But you can start the journey by taking small steps.

Siobhan Miller has worked with marketing and customer experience executives at some of the world’s most recognizable brands in support of their efforts to build customer-centric products, services and processes. Follow her on Twitter @siobhanmiller.