Put in Context: Connecting and engaging users
(November 10, 2011)

If content is king then context is at least a prince. The absence of context is pretty much the situation for many new visitors to your website. They don't know who you are or if they should trust you. Setting context changes that, lets you connect, engage and tell a far more compelling story.

Connecting with site users, giving them and engaging experience or a reason to trust your company, isn’t all that easy to do. Setting the context is a great way to build trust and make your story something that the user can relate to.

Context is at least a prince.

“Dear [insert company name] customer, we have a great new service you might be interested in.”

“You don’t know me but... Jane Smith, a long-time client of mine suggested that I contact you because you were looking for some help with [insert your expertise here].”

“You don’t know me but... Peter Jones, a friend of mine suggested you could help me with [insert your need help with topic here].”

In all cases we’ve added context to what is essentially equivalent to a cold call or email, or even worse – junk mail or spam. In the first example, we’ve made the connection between the recipient and a company that he or she does business with, that too is a validated connection. In the last two instances we’ve offered social proof (assuming the recipient remembers the connection), and thus we’ve upped the trust factor which was basically inexistent at the outset.

This absence of context is pretty much the situation for many new visitors to your website. In some instances a searcher will place a certain amount of trust in your site’s ranking within a Google search, in others less so. Regardless, setting context gives you an advantage when it comes to engaging your new visitors.

Ok, so how else can we do this?

Well one of the most effective ways is through compelling story telling. Again, you ask, how can we do this.

Here’s an example, back in 1987 some smart folks at Apple, (see, I’ve just associated the story with a solid brand which is known for its forward thinking, user-friendliness and design) created a video which was a visionary statement outlining where they felt computing, their computers and customers – should be in 2010.
Imagine a book sized computer operating on a battery, using voice activated controls and video chatting with others over a wireless network. Hum... familiar to day but in 1987 – not so much.

 > Apple’s Knowledge Navigator

Amazing ideas aside, what made the video come together as more than just some science fiction piece, was the use of context and realism to make the story believable and yes, compelling.

Essentially they humanized and set the experience in a realistic setting. While we couldn’t necessarily relate to these futuristic ideas – crazy ideas in 1987 – they gave us a believable character and the story scenario was easy to relate to.

The ever familiar – a man who talks in a chatty way with a colleague who’s obviously an old friend, who is focused on his work and who ignores his mother calling him – is a scenario we know and understand.

Just as I associated this story with a great brand, Apple created context, a link between something familiar in order to make the unknown more believable – gave it a context that we could relate to.
This is another basic writing technique which time and experience have proven to work. What are the cases where you can use context to tell a more compelling story about your expertise.

Side note: I can’t leave this reference to the Apple Knowledge Navigator without giving some historical context to its place in the Apple story. This is the only time that Apple did this type of concept exercise and it is often derided as being “corporatism”. It happened during the “between Steve Jobs” period. The period without the visionary CEO. 


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