Last December I found myself at an elementary school winter concert in somewhat of a Catch 22. My daughter's part in the program was over, I was ready for a nap, but due to social morays I was unable to leave my seat. So I did what most us do when we're trapped this way: I checked e-mail and surfed the web on my i-Phone.

Over the course of five songs, I probably read a half dozen promotional emails and saw an equal number of online ads pitching everything from financial services to holiday e-cards. The good news for these marketers was that I wanted the distraction. The bad news, however, is that I was in no position to act on those offers. Once the concert was over, my wife and I collected our coats and kids and rushed to the car so we could beat the outgoing traffic. Just as quickly as it entered my brain, that wonderfully crafted email on discounted gift baskets vanished into the exhaust smoke coming from my SUV.

The marketing message itself was effective, and as an executive in the market for client gifts, I was an appropriate target. But once I caught the ball, so to speak, I couldn't do anything with it-in part because when the message was delivered, it lacked the appropriate context.

Before I break this down, let me quickly clarify that this column is not about contextual online advertisements, which are selected and served by automated systems based on the user's consumption of content. While that falls within the concept of context, to me that's a tactic vs. a marketing strategy. (Quick example: If you've ever read a story about the New York Jets and then later saw an ad for NFL jerseys, that was contextual, or behavioral, advertising.)

What I'm referring to is the importance of having the right strategy around context. Here are three recommendations:

1. Timing is everything. Think about the end user you're trying to reach. Do they travel a lot, or are they in the office most of the time? What time zones dominate your email marketing list? When do your customers tend to read white papers or watch work-related videos? A contact of mine who spent years marketing to IT professionals told me the best time to market to computer geeks is from 12-1 pm. Why? Because most of them eat lunch at their desks, are tied to their mobile devices and typically don't have to put out as many fires at that hour. That's the type of information that can make or break your marketing efforts.

2. Warm up the audience with related content. When you go to a taping of a TV show with a live audience, like 'Late Night with David Letterman,' a comedian usually performs to prep the crowd for laughter. Marketers who warm up their audience through content typically get a better response when it's time to contact customers one-on-one. If nothing else, you can refer to that content in your messaging as a conversation starter. And when you're sponsoring an event, my advice is to warm up your audience through content, etc., before the show, as they gear up emotionally to attend, network and learn, as opposed to marketing to attendees soon after the conference, when they may feel fatigued and overloaded with information.

3. Mind the markets. A couple years ago, we did a web seminar on a day when the market unpredictably plummeted several hundred points. Needless to say, our attendance dropped off quickly, and for the next week we knew not to send promotional emails to the investment pros on our list, because they had bigger fish to fry. However, there are situations where if you respond quickly enough to breaking news with a relevant piece of content or web seminar, your engagement level will be higher than normal. Alternatively, if you know that a regulation is going into effect on a specific date, you can schedule your marketing around that date.

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