What do you think of Members of Parliament? No, don’t answer that…I couldn’t bear the language at this time of day…! The chances are you think they are a strange bunch of people, to say the least. Not only have we had the expenses scandal, but more recently we’ve discovered the Prime Minister has been “economical with the actualité” over Iraq – and a gaggle of former ministers reportedly were selling their “expertise” to lobbying companies. Now, new evidence suggests that MPs have been accepting “hospitality” on foreign trips and not declaring it. If you thought that MPs were generally OK, this is yet more information that suggests otherwise.
It seems that whoever you ask these days, they dislike MPs. And even though this new information about foreign trips only applies to 20 politicians, we tend to tar them all with the same brush. That’s because of context. All the small bits of information about MPs – expenses, spin, blatant dishonesty – add up to a greater whole. Each small bit of information adds to a contextual picture so that when we get something new about MPs, we fit that into the broader context. In other words, even if we get evidence that a small group of MPs is up to no good, the broader context makes us think it’s all of them.
Strangely, this contextual setting also applies to your website. People take into account one small piece of your website in terms of the overall picture. New research in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that context is important in terms of the judgements people make about brands and products. What the researchers discovered was the fact that the perception of a brand could be reduced if the surrounding context was negative. You can see this in shopping centres. When all the stores are thriving, each store gets seen positively because the overall picture is good. When some of those stores close down, leaving empty shops and boarded up premises, the remaining stores are seen negatively – even though they are doing fine.
On your website you may have promotions for specific products and services, but these are seen in the overall context of your entire web page – possibly the whole site. If people don’t like your design, or think the colours are too garish, they will perceive your offered product as negative as well – even though it may be the best thing for them. In a different context, they could see your product in an entirely alternative light.
This issue becomes more important when you are advertising – especially with Pay Per Click. Your advert will be perceived in terms of the surrounding advertising and the web page on which those adverts appear. Your click through rate is dependent upon your competitors and web designers of the sites on which your adverts appear. In other words, you have lost control – unless you specifically set the sites on which your advertising is to appear.
What this research tells us is the fact that any promotion you do is assessed by your target audience in terms of the “whole picture” – the context in which it appears. If that context is negative, your offer will also be perceived negatively. For this reason it is therefore important to consider – and possibly change – the context in which all your promotional material appears. And therein lies the problem with MPs; they continue to tinker with the rules on each individual issue, but what they really need to do is address the entire context – the big picture. Once they change that, we’ll like them again – perhaps.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+