Why Context Is Everything in Copywriting

Sarah is seven years old, and she has a brown dog named Mr. Hairy.

Furry and Sarah are seven years old, she called the brown dog sir.

These two sentences use the same words. The first makes sense. There’s no other one. The first one is easy to remember. It is almost impossible to remember the second one. The first is satisfactory. The second is aggravating. With the first you can imagine a child named Sarah with a brown (and probably fluffy) dog. The second does not give much to imagine.

So what difference does it make? After all, they use the same words. All in English. So technically they contain exactly the same information. So why is the first qualitatively more understandable and satisfying than the second?

In short: CONTEXT. In other words, your understanding of the sentence structure allows you to understand the first sentence. You can understand the context.

Context is all that is written; and, moreover, in any communication, whether written, oral or non-verbal. Communication takes place in context. Without context, there is no communication; and if so, it is always misunderstood and often lead to the opposite effect.

This failure manifests itself in different ways. In the most egregious sense, this leads to a lack of communication, which is similar to the statement that the machine does not start when you turn the key. And if you’re trying to sell this car or build a relationship with the person in the car so he buys something from you at some point in the future, then a car that doesn’t start is a very bad thing.

But in most cases, it’s not so obvious. In other words, you rarely find a commercial instance that is so irretrievably bad that it is incomprehensible and dysfunctional. Yes, but not often.

Usually what happens is that the connection is going on, that is, the machine starts, but it does not work optimally. It is imperfect, incomplete and riddled with internal and external inconsistencies.

And how do target groups react if experience is not optimal? In other words, what if the copy they’re using was made with the wrong context? They feel frustrated, irritated and angry. And they connect these negative feelings with your business, your products, your services and really with you too. It’s human nature. We associate our mood with the things that happen to us when it arises. This is called pinning.

It all sounds pretty intimidating – and yes, it’s part of the story. However, this anchor has a bright side that you probably thought of long before me (slow down, I’ll write as fast as I can!). Here’s a preview:

When your text is context-optimized, you awaken good feelings and promote a positive perception that is really related to your business, your proposal, and you.

So put it all together, and the question is, how do I optimize my copy for the right context? Good question. Here’s how:

Understand your audience clearly.

Identify their motivation, the pain they experience (i.e. a problem that keeps them awake at night, or the problem they think about first in the morning) and how they expect to participate. Find out about their stated and unspecified needs. Understand how they see alternatives to your proposal, why they will choose you – and why they won’t.

Ultimately, when you clearly understand your audience, you’ll find the context in which to make a copy. You understand the angle, the speed and the frame.

Understand clearly how your audience (i.e. people in general) process information.

Incredibly, many companies are (inadvertently) guilty of being too quick and too quick to delve into the details of what they offer. It’s a mistake.

It is very important to do a review and introduction to the information before presenting it. That’s not extra chatter. It’s also not your editor’s attempt to charge you with extra words or time (at least I hope not!).

Rather, it’s about how people process information. We need context before we can understand the information. Again, if you need a reminder of this, applaud Sarah and Mr. Vela. Or, better yet, try this example:

Johnson rushed to Smith and knocked him to the ground, much to the shock of stunned onlookers who couldn’t believe what he saw.

So let me ask you: what happened here? If you read the above story about a brutal bank robbery during the day, which involved attacker Johnson and bank guard Smith, it makes sense.

And if you read about it in an article about yesterday’s football game, where Johnson is a linebacker and Smith is a (hapless) quarterback, that makes sense to you.

The offer is the same. The words are the same. The context changes – and it changes everything. Therefore, your commercial copy must create context before providing details. It should define the structure, set the scene, and provide a framework on which the message will be understood.

Is it now pages and copied pages? No. Context can be quickly created with titles, subtitles, and introductory texts. It can also be designed (and/or expanded) by the choice of words and the structure of the sentence.

This is an article, not a book, so I’m not going to give you a list of technical ways to do it (keep the applause to a minimum).

The most important thing to keep in mind is that your text has to respect the way your audience relates to information – first a big picture, then a small picture. Always – and in that order, regardless of whether your marketplace is B2B or B2C.

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