[As the mobile lead within Adobe Consulting, I am seeking to address various aspects of mobile marketing challenges and best practices.  This particular post will focus on key elements I presented at Adobe Summit and Adobe Summit EMEA. ]

I’ve always loved taking pictures.  And over the years, I’ve taken a lot of them.  Below are photos I took while on a boating trip when I was about 10 years old. As you can see, they’re nothing worthy to write home about.  However, what I like about any photograph is that it captures a fleeting moment of time – a moment that can’t be relived.

These 30-year-old photos were taken on my Kodak Instamatic camera, a plastic relic of the past that used film the size of a pack of gum.  Fast forward to today.  These technologies have become irrelevant – we no longer live in an analog world but a digital one. Well just like the continual changes that occur within technology, what’s relevant to you today may not be relevant tomorrow, or even in a few hours from now. To further illustrate, let’s look at a sliver of time from my recent past.

Last Summer I went to Chicago for work, however I managed to do a few fun things, including catching a Cubs game and leisurely strolls along the shore of Lake Michigan. I also visited the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and took this photo with my mobile phone while at the top.

Along with the photo, my phone also captured at that moment time and geo-location information.  Let me share a few of the thoughts that were running through my mind while I was gazing across the Windy City skyline.

  • What other tourist attractions are nearby?  Since I was in a “sightseeing mode” I was wondering what else I should see while in Chicago.
  • Where should I go on my next vacation?  People who know me know that every August I go on a trip for fun.
  • Are there any books available on the building of this tower?  In the past, I have purchased books on how things are built, including that of buildings.
  • Where should I eat dinner tonight?  Given that it was close to dinner-time, I wanted to know if there were near-by restaurants that were highly recommended by others.

Now had it been offered at the time, would I have refused suggestions to any of these questions?  No, absolutely not. I would have welcomed any useful guidance.  Although mobile devices cannot read minds, they can gather data.  And by aggregating past and current information, insights into what’s relevant to a mobile user at a given moment increase greatly.  Therefore, by leveraging mobile, all this digital, contextual information converges to drive relevant experiences for the customer and new marketing opportunities for business.



As a parent, not a day goes by that I don’t remind my four-year-old son the importance of sharing, especially with his brother. Although sharing with others, especially with family members, is considered in good form, when sharing with businesses, especially with our information, we are told to tread with caution. Following that line-of-thinking, let me share a mobile app experience when I didn’t share information. A few years ago when I first used Groupon it asked for my location. Being concerned about privacy and not knowing what the app was going to do with that information, I denied the request. Shortly thereafter when I was looking for Daily Deals in my area, I was shown deals from another city, no where close to where I was. Clearly, for Groupon to give me relevant offers, it requires that I share my location.

To help understand the principles at play in the Groupon example, let’s look at what both customers and businesses are wanting to happen through the  smartphones.

First, customers want a relevant, value-added experience. Second, businesses want deeper contextual customer insights that will help them increase revenue. So, if customers are to receive the relevant experiences, they need to be willing to share information. And if businesses want to continue to get contextual customer insights, they must be willing to provide added value back to customers.

Furthermore, this synergistic relationship only works if it’s built on a foundation of trust. Simply posting a privacy policy stating a business will protect and not share their information does not cut it. Customers want a return of real value for the information they entrust to businesses.


Characters of Context 

Now that we understand how context underpins relevance, let’s look at the various characters that make up context.  They are simply: what, when, where, and who.

  • Where:  Obviously this would include geo information such as latitude and longitude, but can also include elevation and bearing.   GPS data such as this can be gathered from smartphone mobile apps and mobile web sites (HTML5) and submitted to SiteCatalyst in a custom variable.  Here’s an example using the signed degrees format:  s.eVar11=“34.543334, -111.433222”;
  • When: As in time day, day of week and date of month, and even year.  You only need to explicitly set the timestamp if you’re doing offline tracking; otherwise, Adobe’s servers will timestamp the hit when it arrives.  Here’s an example in epoch format:  s.timestamp=“1335497699”;
  • Who:  Social information, such as the likes and dislikes of the mobile user’s social network, but also the user’s demographic information such as age, gender, education, interests, etc.  This information can be retrieved via Facebook’s Connect API.  Here are examples for gender, birthdate, and interest:  s.eVar12=“male”; s.eVar13=“08/29/1971”; s.eVar14=“outdoors”;
  • What:  As in the past and current activities of the mobile user, such as comparative shopping, skiing, or driving home from work.  Here’s an example: s.eVar15=“skiing”; I’ll explain how this can be derived in the following example.

Let’s look at a simple example that shows how “where” and “when” can be used to determine “what.”

I love the outdoors and often find myself enjoying the mountains throughout the year. Near to my home is Alta ski resort, which offers deep powder bowls in the winter and splendid alpine floral displays in the summer. Let’s consider the Sunnyside run in the Albion basin (lat: 40.580743°, lon: -111.615290°, elev: 9402 ft). If am at this specific point in the middle of the afternoon in January, it’s highly likely that I’m skiing at that moment. However, if I’m at this point in space, but it it’s 11 am in the middle of June, I’m likely hiking. Finally, if it’s very late at night in early August and I am again at this location on the mountain, I’m probably camping.

So we can see that by leveraging a few contextual elements (i.e. where and when) inferences into another contextual element (i.e. what) is possible. Obviously, there are many other useful possibilities using contextual data.

In Part 2 I share examples of how context can provide a meaningful, relevant mobile experience as well as three things that can be done now to take advantage of this new mobile marketing opportunity.