The Man in Black
This is my favourite photo of Johnny Cash. It's taught me a lot about what goes into great media.
The way he's standing, what he's doing, what you think is about to happen, and the people standing in the distance who are out of focus all mesh together to give so much meaning to this photo.
And it's even better when you know photo's context. One of the people standing on stage in the distance is June Carter. She was the love of Johnny's life, and there Johnny is in the foreground, smoking a cigarette and brooding backstage because he loves June and she keeps denying his proposals.
So let's do some media math to figure out why it is so moving.
I've been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to initiate sustained engagement and transformation when sharing content, and I had a bit of a breakthrough today.
The Johnny Cash photo helped.
Here's what popped into my head:
Content + Context x Your Thing = Sustained Engagement and Transformation
I'll break down each component of the formula to explain what I mean.
This is the roast beef and potatoes of what you are sharing. It's what you want to draw peoples' attention to. And hopefully, you're drawing attention to your content by paying attention to aesthetics, language, narrative, symbolism, and so forth.
This is the gravy you put on the roast beef and potatoes to add flavour. It's why you're taking the time to share what it is you are sharing. You need to be clear on this part, because if you don't give an adequate reason for why you're sharing what you're sharing, people will stop caring.
This is the personal touch (spices or anything else) the chef puts on the roast beef and potatoes to take the flavour of the meal to the next level.
It's easy to mistake this aspect of the equation as your content, but your thing isn't your content. Your thing is the something unique that separates your thing from all other things. It is the mysterious, unique, compelling something that makes people choose your product, service, good, over others.
Side note: unless you want to share or sell something boring, go and figure out what your thing is before you move forward.
Sustained engagement and transformation
This is what we're all chasing after and working for. It's the end goal. You want to win people over, keep them won over, and hopefully, transform them.
Putting it all together
You have to make sure that you include each of these elements in your equation. Else, you're going to have a meal with no or too much flavour.
I can't tell you how many times I've delivered solid content, but missed the target on context—or the other way around.
So let's work for the end goal and starting hitting all three targets like that photo does: