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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why you must worry about context

In a previous entry, I discussed the importance of using pre-existing schemas, themes, and ideas that your audience might be familiar with as a way of connecting with them and getting them to care about your message. Today, we add another concept to that list, establishing context.

Establishing context accomplishes a very important goal, it provides a backstory for the ideas you are trying to get across.  Providing context is especially important when your audience is not familiar with the topic and doesn't even realize why they should care about it.  By filling in key contextual details, you can give them reasons to feel invested and more involved.  Without a proper context, your audience is unable to situate themselves and gain perspective.  As a result, it's going to be difficult for them to care or feel connected with the issue.

Yesterday, I attended a conference on water issues in Southern California.  One of the speakers presented her organization's strategy for making their message relevant for their audience.  The organization was called "Surfrider" and their goal was (is) to get people to care about pollution in the ocean and our coastlines.  Initially, they tried to convey their message through statistics and descriptions on how pollutants end up in the ocean.  However, this did not work.  Their next strategy involved making an animated film and following the path of water from the users, towards its ultimate disposal:

Following a drop of our water from its origin, through its use to its disposal reveals an expensive and often wasteful journey and makes it clear we could be using water more wisely.

 Surfrider also simplified their message and titled it "Know Your H20."  As discussed in a previous entry, this message is simple and gets to the core.  It is prioritized and the less important details are cut out.  Surfrider is trying to educate its users on where their water goes after its used, how it gets there, and what happens to it both along the way and at the end of its journey.  The simple message "Know Your H20" perfectly connects with this objective.  However, in addition to utilizing simplicity, the campaign establishes context.  It situates the typical water user in a complicated system and makes him realize that he is part of that system and his actions DO matter.  Here is the link to the video:

The new communication campaign ended up being much more effective than before and Surfrider even won awards for their film.  I believe this is a perfect "real world" example of how effective communication strategies and concepts can and DO work.

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