Would you buy life insurance at a rock concert?

If you took an $800 dress out of Neiman Marcus and sold it on the street, would it be worth as much?

Why don’t they sell books at the grocery store? But Price Club used to sell tons of CDs…

When you spend all day making stuff (and making it better) it’s easy to get carried away with the magic of your stuff. You (and your team) believe that your service, your candidate, your new product–whatever it is–is so powerful and well-priced and effective that any rational person will choose to buy it instead of the competition.

But what if you’re selling it in the wrong place?
Or with the wrong tone of voice?

I think context is underrated. Especially online.

Yes, Amazon sells just about everything, but my bet is that you could build an online process that would dramatically increase the yield per click that they receive (for your product, anyway).

The narrative of discovery is an essential part of how someone decides to try your product. What did the click before your site look like? What’s that missionary wearing?

Marketers are terrible at thinking about this and worse still at sussing it out. How many times have you heard (or read on a form) "how did you hear about us?" That’s an okay question, but not nearly as important as, "what was going through your head in the moment before you decided to take a huge risk and buy something from us for the first time?" Of course, you can’t ask that question, but that’s what you need to know.

Some blogs don’t sell very hard. They’re not filled with ALL CAP COME ONS or frequent, nearly constant links to all the stuff you can buy or links to the latest postive reviews. Other blogs, on the other hand, have a very different posture. They make it clear to the reader that the purpose of the blog is to sell something, and they do it over and over again, to apparently great success. What’s going on here?

What’s happening is a shift in context.

Salespeople are often effective because they make it clear from the first moment that they are salespeople. They are trying to sell you something. That makes the conversation authentic and transparent and goal-oriented. Others succeed because they take precisely the opposite tack, selling trust first and products second. I think both approaches can work, but being muddled about what you’re doing never will.

The Zagat restaurant guides had a breakthrough early on because they were able to get distribution in places that weren’t bookstores–like the counter of the local Korean deli. By intentionally changing the context, they stood out enough to reach people in a different mindset.

On the other hand, the guy who tried to pitch me financial services as I was packing up my computer after a speech didn’t have a prayer.

What’s your context? Could you find a better one?