Context Matters


You won’t reach the people in your market if you don’t understand them, and you won’t understand them unless you pay attention to their context. Context is the compass that guides all successful branding and marketing. It’s about delivering the right content to the right people at the right time.

It’s important to create marketing communications in response to the context within which the people in your target markets (stakeholders included) live.

When Context is Ignored

Blockbuster and Borders failed to understand the context in which their industries were operating. They were blind to the behavior of their customers and the increasingly competitive marketplace. Both companies — Goliaths of industry — continued doing the same things in the same ways even though the makeup of their marketplace was shifting thanks to then-relative-newcomers like Netflix and Amazon. Chevrolet’s Nova is another example of a giant brand misstep due to ill-attended context. “No va” in Spanish means, quite literally, "no go". As one might guess, the car flopped in every Spanish-speaking country.

Here are two more examples of context gone awry. A nonprofit provided foot-operated pumps to African villages, free of charge. Although these pumps could functionally meet the villages' dire need for clean water, no one would use them. The nonprofit was flummoxed, but rethought its approach. Rather than give the pumps away, they sold the pumps to the men in the villages, and the response changed dramatically. Why? Initially, the nonprofit saw the need for water, and assumed that its solution would be embraced immediately, but they failed to pay attention to the very human context at play. The men of the villages were too proud to receive handouts, but their dignity and self-respect remained intact when the pumps were purchased.

Elsewhere, a nonprofit built wells in the sandy soil of several villages in Zimbabwe. They used costly Western construction equipment and technology. Two months later, all the wells collapsed because the organization had ignored the fact that the soil was far different in this part of the world than what they had previously experienced. The great thing about this particular story in relation to context is in what came afterward. After the wells collapsed, a member of the nonprofit decided that it was in their best interest to ask the villagers for their ideas on digging a well. Communally, they came up with a cost-effective design that involved old tires, cement, and simply digging by hand. Each well cost under $100 to produce, and they're still in use today.

Content, An Important Aspect of Context

When a sculptor was asked how he carved such a beautiful elephant out of a block of stone, he replied, “I simply remove that which is not the elephant.” And that is precisely what impactful content does! Excellent content, regardless of media format, is free of that which is incongruent with its end goal. It is uncluttered, simple, and of course, about the customer.

“A great or lasting story is about everyone or it will not last.
The strange and foreign are not interesting —
only the deeply personal and familiar.”

—John Steinbeck

Apple Inc., a globally recognized brand is widely known for its branding strategy. Apple is a storyteller, and its marketing quests always begin with the consumers’ need for a better life. What are their emerging needs? Their wants and desires? What compels them to buy? All of Apple’s content — visual and verbal, across all media platforms — is meticulously designed to reach consumers on a deeply intrinsic, emotional level.

The good news is that there is a methodical way to avoid following in the footsteps of fallen giants when it comes to targeting context, and it doesn't require Apple's marketing budget to pioneer. The below diagram outlines key areas to emphasize.

  1. Community Influence - Be involved with the people in your markets to make an impact.
  2. Emotional Factors - Consider people’s emotional connection when developing targeted marketing communications.
  3. Cognitive Factors - Influence your market’s environment through physical and emotional content.
  4. Market Demand - Focus on the demand for your specific group of customers.
  5. Competitive Advantage - Find your niche by developing attributes that your competitors do not possess.
  6. Creative Value - Speak to your audience by expressing your company’s unique appeal through creative marketing.


Contact STARMEN for a strategic branding partnership that will deliver the right message within the right context.

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