Contextual shifts and all that jazz

Contextual shifts and all that jazz

People intrigue me. What they do, what they wear, what they think, and most interestingly, why? On the scale of entertainment, watching people just living their everyday beats any big Hollywood blockbuster. That’s what I think anyway. 

People watching is a part of my job. And no, I’m not a professional stalker. Nor an investigator and I am not your bored prying neighbour. I’m a brand and communications strategist. Understanding human emotions, motivations and even fears is the fuel that feeds any great strategy. That’s not my opinion, that’s a fact.   

People are unpredictable. They’re fleeting and fickle. What they love one moment, they hate the next; and visa versa. For example, I used to hate olives and thought anything that had been in contact with an olive was contaminated. I now love olives. Why? Because I’m a fickle, unpredictable human – it’s the only logical answer.

Unpredictable behaviour can be frightening. I witness client’s fear of the unpredictable almost daily. They seek definitiveness. They seek certainty. They want us to tell them, without a shadow of a doubt what their customers think, feel and how they’ll react. The good clients, or rather, clients with friendlier budgets, will even invest in such research.

But the truth is, we really don’t know. People say one thing, but can do something entirely different. People are capricious. What they think and feel one day may be different the next. After all, it’s not only a woman’s prerogative to change her mind; it’s all of humankind’s. Marketers, strategists, creative and commercial communicators – the people’s whim is our leverage.

I didn’t really explain why I stopped hating olives and started loving them. But here’s the story. Annoyed by my constant olive rejection, my husband, frustrated, asked me: why don’t you like them? ‘I don’t know, they’re just gross, they’re weird,’ I said. ‘But you’re the salt queen,’ he responded, ‘They’re just little salty berries’.

Anyone who knows me appreciates that strange things like salty berries appeal to me. And I can appreciate that this might not be the norm. But the point here is not my abnormality; the point is about contextual shifts. I didn’t like the idea of an olive as a vegetable. But when my husband shifted the context from normal savoury vegetable to exciting, strange saline fruit, I experienced the olive in new light. And oddly enough, I liked it.

This strategy isn’t new. It’s exactly what Apple did when they transformed another ordinary MP3 player into 1000 songs in your pocket. They shifted the marketing context and in doing so revolutionised an entire category and cemented their leadership position. Many analysts still argue that Apple’s iPod was the main driver in the brand’s immense success in the years between 2004 and 2008. Admittedly, iTunes played an enormous role here too.

Old Spice ‘Red Zone’ took a similar approach with their body spray/body wash. They changed a ‘ye olde cologne’ conversation into one about odour protection and boom – relevance. After all, who couldn’t resist entering a world where odour doesn’t stand a chance?

There are other examples closer to home as well. Like Oak’s ‘Hungry thirsty’ campaign where they cleverly created a solution to a problem people didn’t even realise they had – at least consciously.

Put very simply, the concept of contextual shifting is really just about saying: we’re not about that, we’re about this. If people are not responding to your brand, product, messages or conversations, it might simply be because the context is wrong.

Shift the context. See what happens.  

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