Before the big iPhone unveil­ing today, if some­one told you that they had real pic­tures of what the next gen­er­a­tion of the iPhone looked like, and they just showed you some pho­tos, totally devoid of con­text, would you believe them?

Of course not. The claim lacks all credibility.

You can’t pos­si­bly look at pho­tos like that with­out wondering:

  • How could you pos­si­bly have got­ten these, given how pas­sion­ately Apple pro­tects their upcom­ing projects?
  • Even if you DID get legit­i­mate pho­tos, why aren’t Apple’s lawyers send­ing you a cease and desist letter?
  • What evi­dence do I pos­si­bly have that these are real, and weren’t sim­ply photoshopped?
  • And so on.

In short, the con­text is all wrong, so we just know the pho­tos are fakes (or “artists ren­di­tions,” at best). But what about this video?

YouTube Preview Image

Some­how, this video fooled a lot of peo­ple and cre­ated quite a stir before it was proven to be faked. But why? Why is this video so con­vinc­ing when the typ­i­cal “leaked” pho­tos aren’t?

Con­text.

The video pro­vides a con­text which pre­emp­tively answers all of these credibility-killing ques­tions and more.  Accord­ing to the non-verbal sto­ry­telling in the video, the guy who made the video acci­den­tally dis­cov­ered an “unre­leased” page to Apple’s Ger­man Web­site, and took a screen record­ing of it.  That’s how he got the pho­tos, that’s why Apple can’t stop him, because they’re the ones who put the con­tent on the Web, etc.

More impor­tantly, the very style of the Web pages cre­ated by this hoaxster con­vinces us.  When we look at these “acci­den­tally dis­cov­ered” Web pages, they look so faith­ful to Apple’s own design aes­thetic, and the pic­tures of the phone look so faith­ful to the rumors about the new iPhone (curved, metal back, larger screen, thin­ner, etc.) that we tend to believe that maybe the video is for real.

Mak­ing This Dynamic Work for You

The truth is that we ALL rely on con­text every day for almost every deci­sion we make.  Manip­u­late con­text and you manip­u­late people’s per­cep­tions and, ulti­mately, their deci­sions, too:

  • If you’re an ice cream par­lor and you sim­ply put can­is­ters of sam­ple spoons up on the counter, that con­text will cue peo­ple to ask for free tastes, with­out any other change required.
  • An HVAC guy who shows up in a corporate-branded truck and uni­form will look like he’s from a big com­pany, even if the com­pany con­sists entirely of him, his cell­phone, and that truck.
  • Tell me you have the best food in the city, and I’ll be a lot more likely to believe you if you serve that food on linen table cloths rather than plas­tic trays.

Good fic­tion writ­ers know the impor­tance of this instinc­tively, which is why they go to such lengths to estab­lish the right pre­text for their big moments — they “set you up” and then “pay it off” later. Though I am absolutely not advis­ing any­one to hoax their cus­tomers or to adopt a conman’s mind­set, I am ask­ing you to think about the believ­abil­ity of the claims you make, and how the right con­text can cre­ate cus­tomer con­fi­dence that you might not cre­ate any other way.

So what con­text cues are you using now, and what cues should you be using going forward?

Comments

  1. Grimey on 10.05.2011

    Con­text is King!

  2. mrsmpho on 12.05.2011

    Nice Post, I agree con­text def­i­nitely affects the way we make our deci­sions, thus I need to prac­tice it on my web­site to get more traf­fic and sales :D

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