[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.