Context

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Learn from a salesman.

One of the things that makes watching the Olympics on TV so compelling is the human interest piece they do on athletes before each event. Usually it revolves around a home town and a hardship conveyed by friends, family or teachers. These back-stories not only set context, but allow viewer a little emotional skin in the game.

In advertising, this is not really possible. It used to be in the early days of long copy print ads, not anymore; not in this fast twitch media world with smart phone ads the size of a pinky finger.

The ability to set the stage for selling using exposition is something great sales people do. They story tell with examples tied to the course of the conversation. And they story tell, not off the boiler plate talking points of the company, but using heart and soul of experiences (or proofs) that carry emotional “reasons to prefer” a brand. As I mentioned in my last post, that’s usually not material-based but experience-based.

This is the heart of storytelling today. And it was learned from belly-to-belly salespeople, as are most great selling schemes and techniques.

Web sites could borrow a page. Peace.

 

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Engage Maslow.

Is it easy to engage the angry? Of course it is. Toss a match. Is it easy to engage Zen-ed out lovers of life? Sure, toss a petal or feather.

Talking sports with a sports guy, Pearl Jam with a Ten Club member, Common Core with a teacher – these are topics about which people can easily engage; even people who don’t know one another. When it comes to selling, however, engagement is not so easy.  That’s why the word “engagement” is such a popular topic in marketing.  Fred C. Poppe, often wrote about engagement in the 70s and 80 and it did him well, but today engagement is almost a cult-like pursuit. 

People are not always consumers.  Sometimes, they are just people. When you treat people as consumers you treat them differently. And they can smell you a mile away. Pop marketing suggests we need to give people things of value with our marketing and communication to earn their interest. True this. But everyone’s definition of value may change by time of day, stage of life, and as Robert Scoble will talk about in his upcoming book situational context.

The best marketing is based on a full-duplex model. A two way model. One way marketing is over. The days of things sticking to the wall are over. Today we are talking to people. People who are twitching away from our messages with increasing speed.  Planners who search for people value – think Maslow – are the best searchers. Peace.

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Brand planners like to write and talk about “context.”  For Robert Scoble, a mentor of mine, context online and in technology is a driver of the next big thing. Well I’m here to tell you context sometimes can be a deterrent.  Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, Byers is a really small VC company. They made gazillions investing early on in technology – them daringly decided to focus on things that will help save and make more sustainable our planet and went into green tech/clean tech

Along came a number of big technology plays Kleiner missed out on and all of a sudden they become more famous for the money they didn’t make and a couple of big green technology investment busts. (We are in the infancy people, relax.) Also, one problem was context.  Sustainable energy isn’t just solar panels and electric cars, it’s about ways to build planet-sustaining renewable energy. It ain’t just code. Contextually, Kleiner Perkins needed sector people looking into geothermal and algae and stuff we’ve never thought bout – stuff we can’t say.  Yet they were hoping the sector would be more like tech – hence the words clean tech and green tech.  Me thinks they should have been looking closer to the green and clean side of the house. That’s where the big payouts will be.

When a small grade school in Copenhagen, NY can heat and cool itself using geothermal technology, that’s a green clue. Could we have done the same for the Freedom Tower?  Who’s asking?  Kleiner Perkins should be. Peace

 

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David Brooks had a nice Op-Ed piece today in The New York Times on the topic of big data. In one of his metaphors he states that as the data haystack gets bigger the needle becomes more deeply buried. So context is critical to analysis of data he argues. Poor contextual views of data cause failed analysis.

Another opinion leader I follow is Robert Scoble – a tech blogger. Robert is the most “on” person I know. When he sleeps he’s evaluating.  Robert’s big thing this year is context. He reviews and evaluates all sorts of tech tools that create context out of actions, locations, email and Siri voice commands (I threw that last one in there, but I’m sure he’d agree.)

Brand planners use context every minute. As they watch and listen for powerful, motivating behaviors, they seek patterns. Hay of a certain length, as it were. Planners’ brains gravitate away from the formulaic and toward the unique. And interestingly, some of the insights they glean aren’t about selling stuff. They are about people that buy the stuff – or don’t buy the stuff. The insights may provide context around child safety or home health or happy meals (lower case) unrelated to the product at hand. And so long as the insights are not too far afield of the product being sold, they are fair context and stimuli for the creative team and the creative output. In the end, it’s all about sale though.

Did the Deutsch’s Darth Vader spot sell more Volkswagen’s? Do kids ride in cars? Do families have and/or want kids? If you have the answer let me know.  Peace!

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“This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. He looks black” was a quote by George Zimmerman, taker of Trayvon Markin’s life last March 22. NBCUniversal is being sued for playing this snippet because it was edited together and aired without the dispatcher’s question “O.K. and this guy – is he white, black or Hispanic?”

Words are important, but context more so. Taking the dispatcher’s question out of the mix created a whole new context for Mr. Zimmerman’s quote.

Context is rarely the enemy of the brand planner.  For those who work on brands with limited budgets, context (an idea pregnant with meaning) is your friend. Contextual turns of a phrase, e.g., “We know where you live” for Newsday, orwebertarian” for Zude.com (combing libertarian and web), use things already in people’s brains to convey information. Webertarian was the Zude target. Though webertarain was pregnant with meaning the product name Zude had little. It rhymed with dude and was similar to Zune but that’s it.  Without millions of dollars to promote it, the name was a poor choice. 

I have a hard time remembering people’s names.  How many Brian’s can you meet in a lifetime?  The American Indians had it right: Crooked Nose, Crazy Horse, Runs Like Deer…these names are memorable, narrative and contextual.

In brand planning you can build it or you can borrow it. Building is better when you are well-funded. Borrowing is faster but can be less differentiated. For my brand ideas, I use context as an appetizer and push for the new big idea as main course. Peace!

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