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It's not how you say it but when: Why Context and Perception matters to your copywriting

Blue and Black or White and Gold Dress
Blue and Black or White and Gold Dress

Do you remember this dress?

It broke the internet back in 2015.

It was actually blue and black, though most people saw it as white and gold. And it caused a huge debate because no one had any idea why some people saw “the dress” differently than others.

It had nothing to do with the colour of your eyes or your eyesight, but rather how you perceive color and this is often informed by your perception of lighting.

While the image of the dress, was taken on a phone, and because the illumination conditions were impossible to clearly assess, people had to make their own assumptions about what they were.

Wallisch, a clinical assistant professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology. explains “The original image was overexposed, rendering the illumination source uncertain. As a result, we make assumptions about how the dress was illuminated, which affects the colours we see.”

So if you assumed the dress was in a shadow or illuminated by natural light, you were much more likely to see it as white and gold, while if who thought it was in artificial lighting you saw it as blue and black.

“Shadows are blue, so we mentally subtract the blue light in order to view the image, which then appears in bright colors—gold and white,” Wallisch continues. “artificial light tends to be yellowish, so if we see it brightened in this fashion, we factor out this colour, leaving us with a dress that we see as black and blue."

So there you have it - But wait, it goes much deeper - and this may surprise you...

Wallisch considered what could explain these findings and hypothesized that differing perceptions could be linked to one’s exposure to daylight.

To test this, he asked participants if they go to bed early and feel best in the morning or if they like to sleep in and feel best at night then matched this self-identified type with how they saw the dress.

Consistent with his hypothesis, Larks, that is, people who rise and go to bed early, and spend many of their waking hours in sunlight (i.e., under a blue sky), were more likely to see the dress as white and gold when compared to those who considered themselves owls, whose world is often illuminated by artificial light.

Context and Perception are when two people can see the same object but see it differently based on their past experiences, current situations and knowledge and these will shape how your readers will interpret, interact and respond to your message.

Eugene Schwartz, a pioneer in direct-response copywriting, classified audiences into different stages of awareness:

  1. Unaware

  2. Problem Unaware

  3. Solution Unaware

  4. Product Unaware

  5. Most Aware

He imagined your customers following a “journey” of awareness. Although not a new concept if you want your written content to resonate with your readers you have to adapt the way you write to where they are and focus on context and perception.

Using Schwartz's awareness journey I created my own checklist and assigned 5 customer emotions to each stage.

  1. Whaaat! I didn't know that

  2. Crap! I hope that won't happen to me

  3. Gosh! I hope I'm not doing that

  4. Wow! This person really gets me

  5. Yes! I really want that too

And when your content does this, you’re not just nudging them closer to a buying decision. You’re also:

  • Building a relationship with your audience long before they become customers

  • Positioning yourself as a trustworthy source of assistance and authority

  • Pre-positioning your product as the logical solution to that person’s problem

So let's dive in

Unaware: "WHaaat I didn't know that!" The largest segment and the most challenging to market to. How do you market to someone who doesn’t realize they have a problem?

When you can promote unaware-based content you need to make the effort to pinpoint how people first find you. Their first contact might be finding you on social media, reading your blog or reading your comments. Your task is not to force the problem onto them but to create a context that gradually opens their eyes to how much better their current situation could be. For unaware audiences, you want to show them they have a problem or pain point in a way that educates and enlightens them that creates a sense of connection and trust.

  • Look for future problems and meet them at their trigger points, for example: if you're a freelance accountant who works with B2B Tech Companies - they might not need your help right now but most likely will need it as they get closer to the end of the financial year. Your content could help them prepare long before their trigger point Write a blog or send newsletters that address: "6 mistakes every business does before they call an accountant" "How this 1 strategy will save you 3 months of panic"

  • Keep your content short and snackable

Grammarly highlights a common writing problem (how to use AI and make it sound like you) to help their customers identify their problems

Grammarly Landing Page

Problem Aware: "Gosh! I hope I'm not doing that" So your prospect has woken up to the fact they’ve got a problem.

They’ve got questions. A lot of questions. They're searching on the internet for things like…

  • What do you do when...

  • How to fix....

  • What does it mean...

You'll want to find out what people with the problem you solve are talking about. You can do this by researching. Jump on forums and groups, search using tools like Semrush for keywords. Make sure your content

  • identifies and focuses on the problem.

  • makes your Customers feel that they are understood.

  • gets them nodding, otherwise they’ll just move on

  • gives answers to the problem.

  • addresses their initial questions in a helpful way.

  • plants the Seeds

  • hints at a solution

Solution Aware: "Crap! I hope that won't happen to me" Now that your prospect is aware of their problem they'll start to actively seek a suitable solution. Your content should poke their curiosity.

  • Let them know that they're not alone in their struggle.

  • Validate their feelings and reassure them that their pain points are real and shared by many.

  • Create a common villain that you are all against

  • Share insights and your expertise

  • Positions Your Solution

  • Share an empathetic story and problem-solving narratives that resonates with their struggles

Calendly introduces their solutions and presents the future world to their prospects.

Calendly Landing Page

Product Aware: " Wow! This person really gets me"

This is where you show them how they can escape their current situation and embrace their new world.

Now that your customers know there's a solution to their problems the next step is to make them aware of you and your services. You need to provide proof that your offering can solve their problem and are their best-fit solution.

  • Use case studies, success stories, testimonials, and influencer reviews to show your reader just how well your solution does that.

  • How-to guides, demos, and product walkthroughs will show your reader exactly what your product will do for them and what it's like to work with you.

  • Acknowledge the path they've taken to reach this point—the research, consideration, and knowledge they've accumulated

  • Highlight your Uniqueness: What sets your solution apart from the rest? What are your unique features or benefits that make it the ideal match for their needs.

Most Aware: Yes! I really want that too

Congratulations! You’ve taken your prospect from not even knowing they had a problem to the point of becoming a customer. There's only one more step - and they just need a final nudge to purchase. And this all comes down to trust.

Your content must overcome any of their objections.

  • Use Social Proof - share case studies and testimonials that directly speak to their problems and how you helped.

  • Research the objections or obstacles write articles, create videos, or post FAQs that address those last-minute fears.

  • Use Incentives to encourage them to purchase, like free shipping or valued bonuses, an extra month’s subscription

  • Take away any risk

Warby Parker uses their Social Proof to answer their Frequently Asked Questions and reduce any customer friction.

Warby Parker Landing Page

Context in your communication is the practice of delivering the right message to the right person at the right time.

When writing your content, consider the context in which it will be consumed. What are the reader's motivations? What stage of the buyer's journey are they in? What pain points are they trying to address? By addressing these questions, your copy can seamlessly slip into the reader's mental landscape, creating a connection that encourages them to take action.

Want more?

The Science Behind it:

To visualize how context affects our interpretation of content, Bruner & Minturn, 1955 illustrated how expectation could influence set by showing participants an ambiguous figure '13' set in the context of letters or numbers, e.g., perceptual set Bruner Minturn.

Bruner and Minturn (1955) A group of 24 college students were used in an experiment to see whether priming participants to a stimulus object affected how they perceived an ambiguous figure.

Tha ambiguous figure was the letter B broken-up so that could be interpreted as the number 13 or the letter B.


Bruner and Minturn Study

The participants were split into two groups:

  • Group 1: were shown four letters (e.g. K, S, Z, C) followed by the ambiguous figure, then four numbers (e.g. 2, 8, 10, 14) followed by the ambiguous figure and then a mix of numbers and letters (e.g. 10, C, D, 8) and then the ambiguous figure.

  • Group 2: were first presented with a series of numbers. The letters and then the mix of both before the ambiguous figure was presented in each trial.

Results showed that "when the subjects were presented a number before the ambiguous figure the participants would see a number and see the ambiguous figure as a 13. , the broken-B stimulus is drawn and presumably seen as closed; when they are expecting a number it is seen as open."

From the study results, it can be concluded that our expectations vary and that people's perceptions can be influenced by their pre-existing beliefs and experiences. In other words, what we see, hear, or read is filtered through the lens of our past experiences and knowledge.

This compelling study drives home the point that the meaning we derive from something is heavily influenced by the environment in which it is presented.

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