MAD Perspectives Blog

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 The Importance of Understanding Context

Peggy Dau - Wednesday, October 26, 2011


When we communicate we typically consider the needs of our audience and then create content to fulfill that need.  We are more capable now, than ever, of gaining insight into those needs through the use of social media monitoring/listening tools and business analytics.  Platforms such as Salesforce.com incorporate social elements to bring greater perspective in understanding customers.  However, the challenge that still remains is that of understanding the context in which comments are made.

Social media monitoring platforms claim to be able to gauge customer sentiment.  This is a start, but I would argue that they still have room for improvement.  When a customer makes a positive or negative comment (the typical gauge for sentiment barometers) it is helpful to understand not only the reason for the comment but other attitudes, people or environments influencing the comment.  This is the context in which the comment was shared.

We have all suffered from taking a comment out of context or having one of our own statements out of context.  We understand that sometimes we just blurt something out in the heat of the moment.  We may be stressed by work or family pressures.  Conversely, we may have just won a new contract and be overly enthusiastic or generous when considering a new proposal.

The challenge in communicating in B2B environments is creating content that fulfills the audience need.  That need could be to understand more about a product relative to its function or purpose, company go-to-market strategy and partners, customer support access and process, company success in key industries and more. The method of sharing the content varies greatly based on audience, geography, industry and intent.  For example, imagine Nokia's launch today of their new Microsoft OS based smartphone, Lumia.  Remember, that Microsoft's code name for this OS is Mango.  In the context of talking about Mango, do we know that it is an OS and not a fruit?  Yes, because it is discussed relative to Microsoft and mobile technology.

It's all about context.  As buyers are becoming more self-directed in there acquisition journey, they are accessing content online via websites, forums and social communities.  They are forming opinions based on product briefs, industry analyst opinions, colleague recommendations and social commentary - all before they ever have a live conversation with the vendor.  Their opinions are formed in the context of the type of information received and perceived level of influence of the content source.  They are gathering content while in the office and while on the go - using their smartphones and tablets.  I have an opinion on Nokia's new smartphone and I have not even seen it yet.  My opinion is based in my limited knowledge of Mango, past experience with Nokia phones and a desire for a broader set of viable smartphone alternatives.  The context of my opinion stems from experience and emotion.

As your communicating, internally or externally, consider the context in how your are informing your audience and the context of how they may receive that information.  Where will they be physically.  Where have they been spending time, virtually, that may influence their opinion.  As social intelligence gathering continues to evolve, this question will be addressed.  In the meantime, deep consideration of customer needs is driving variations in how we communicate a core message - simply to meet the needs of a diverse audience.  

What's your perspective?