• Madison Trayser

Context: Cultural Tone Double Check

Have you ever seen a movie or TV show where a person invites a friend to a “thing” without explaining the situation? Normally the person arrives ill dressed for a funeral or boldly rocking tie dye to a black tie wedding. We laugh… but nobody wants to be that person.

Context is critical, and nothing influences presentation, messaging and tone more. Who are you talking to? What’s the situation? Dress code? Do you know these people? Have you been here before? Were you invited? Are you just showing up? Are these people doing okay? Are their needs met? Where do they live? What do they believe?

All these factors come together to create a mosaic of context that defines how you represent yourself, what you say and how you deliver it. This critical context is the defining difference between simply reaching someone and being meaningful. And that’s not just for people... It’s for brands too.

Brands spend a lot of time focusing on demographics like age, race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, income, education, employment, location and topical interests. We get pretty specific about each individual, which is great; however, when we get so in the weeds, we can miss the larger cultural happenings that heavily influence how we all think and feel at any given moment in time.

Let’s walk it though. Emma Hernandez is a 27 year old Hispanic woman. She is single, with a bachelors degree and makes roughly $64k annually as an accountant in Tennessee. Her interests include holistic health and wellness, cooking, and dogs. We also know that she is highly organized, family oriented and engaged in her community. Wow, go Emma! She’s crushing it, and we’re just so proud of her.

If we left it there, we might assume all is good in Emma’s world and cheerily deliver our brand message on a silver platter. But if we were to pause, and look at the picture without a microscope, the reality comes crashing down. It’s just turned 2021. Pandemic, social distancing, politics, national racial unrest, layoffs etc. have been impacting Emma just like everyone else. She knows people who lost jobs. She’s handled the financials of struggling businesses. She’s tired. She’s a little apathetic. And yeah, your brand message? Oh you delivered it in a way that was tone deaf to her experience of day to day life. So while you reached her, you really had little to no impact, because your message and tone wasn’t meaningful to her. Bummer.

That’s why it’s critical to not only look at the demographics of our target audience, but also the overarching cultural thematics, events and concerns that affect us as global citizens. The context gleaned there can inform how we deliver our message (or if it’s simply not the time).

No matter your role or who you’re trying to communicate to, we all should seek as much context as possible, because understanding fuels empathy. When we think through our message at a higher level, we have a better chance to not only understand what our audience thinks and believes, but how they feel. Human emotion. The greatest place to appeal to the humanity of our audience and build trust.

So all this to say, how recently have you evaluated the cultural environment of your brand’s target audience? Is your message resonating? It’s time to double check.

Madison Trayser

Sr. Manager of Brand Strategy


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