Why Context Is King

When you learn a language or how to read, we rely on context clues, small hints or triggers about the subject of a paragraph or sentence. That's how you know you're on the right track if you haven't heard the word before.

Take abnegation, one of my SAT-horror words. It means "the denial and rejection of a doctrine or belief." It can also mean "renunciation of your own interests in favor of the interests of others." But you don't really understand until you use it in a sentence:

  • I was impressed by his abnegation and charity when he opened his home to a pair of complete strangers.
  • She chose abnegation of her personal ambitions in favor of her husband's so he could succeed.

Or, you can always take the pop culture route.


Now, in the age of mobile and ever-shrinking attention spans, it's context that matters most if you want to break through the noise and provide a great customer experience.

What does that mean?

CONTEXT: the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.
— Google Dictionary

What do your customers really care about? How does your product, service, or solution actually solve their problem and make their lives easier? 

When we interact with customers, we have to put ourselves in their shoes. The context of their daily life and problems matters more than what we think we know about their lives. 

In marketing and design, that means we have to think about our experiences not from our own objectives, but that of our user. When they come to your site, where are they coming from? What's their overall journey? You must understand where they are in their journey to your product, not where you hope they'll be just because that's what you decided. 

Depending on how you frame your experience, it can feel very different.

It takes work to map out the entire journey our customers go through. Work we don't often do because we'd rather make assumptions about our customers because we "know" them. We care so much about them, but we care like a parent, believing we know exactly what's best. We want it to look like this:

Source: Digital Diner

Source: Digital Diner

When in reality, it looks like this:

The new key to success isn't content. It's content given to the right people at the right time so they have the context to move from A to B in a less squiggly fashion.

As marketers, that means we have to stop saying, "Wow, I should write 5 posts this week," and start saying, "Who should I write for and why should they care?"

A very timely article from Moz on the subject of advertising and context. I'm telling you, it's a thing.