It’s 11:30pm. I’m in Tesco. More specifically, I’m in the pizza aisle. Because it is Friday night.
And the thing is. There is also a Native American. In the pizza aisle. Buying a pizza. But not in the American Midwest. Not in Colorado where Native Americans are native, but in Cardiff. Where there are no Native Americans.
Context is important. Without context, things don’t make sense because there is no ensemble.
Take for example Charlie Brooker’s most recent episode of Black Mirror, in which Jon Hamm plays a man whose job it is to help under confident white guys pick up ladies in bars.
His big technique for striking up a conversation with a complete stranger is to tell a small group of people:
“I’ve just seen a man riding a horse topless down the high street.”
Which is a pretty remarkable story, right?
And it has the desired effect. It is remarkable (it creates conversation) because it is out of context. It is unusual to see a horse cantering down the high street.
Context is important.
Brands need context too
It’s not only in the art of delectable social discourse that context can be used for better or for worse, it’s applicable across your organisation’s structure, activities, brand and how you convey all of that to me (a consumer).
Want an example?
SSE, the energy company, recently perplexed customers and anyone who was not a customer but saw any billboard or media buy that they made recently.
“I don’t know about you, but nothing says ‘energy company’ to me like a painstakingly rendered, hyper-realistic CGI orangutan,” wrote Joel Golby in the Guardian late last year.
He’s got a point. It doesn’t make sense. There is no possible scenario where an orangutan riding an escalator makes me want to switch my energy supply to your brand.
There is no context. And context is important.
How do you find context in your organisation?
One of the things that we like to do is to ask ‘Why?’ And when an answer is given, we ask ‘Why?’ again. We keep asking this until we find out what the root of the issue is.
Because context is important.
Try it out: ‘Why does social media exist?’ > ‘So that people can share their lives with each other’ > ‘Because community is important’ > ‘Because it helps us to share ideas’ > ‘Because the ability to have an idea is what makes us human’
At the root of the very narrow question, there is usually a bigger trunk and when you go down past the trunk, there’s a good number of strong roots.
This approach will quickly lead you to a great starting place for a discussion of whatever activity it is that you’re looking into.
“Our new brand should be modern” Why? “We’re struggling to engage with the BRIC markets” Why? “We think that we need a new mobile app” Why? “Our staff are leaving our company” Why?
Context is the basis for forming a strategy.
I’m sure you’ll be happy to find out that when you find the context that was previously missing. It all makes a lot more sense. You know that the Indian in the pizza aisle is just hungry after a fancy dress party.