The value of context-specific communication and interdisciplinarity

In my spare time I sometimes work for a foundation. This foundation wants to communicate academic research in the fields of marketing, PR, advertising, etcetera, to practitioners. Think about marketeers, business owners, PR specialists…

In any case, I  sometimes get the opportunity to summarise research for their tri-monthly publications and the recommendations provide really always come down to one single point, which applies to academia (and life in general as well), and is – I would say – rather self-evident: when you want to persuade another person, be it to sell a product or service, or just to get someone on your good side, you need to use a context-specific strategy. To some extent this is self-evident (yes, I know). However, these recommendations recur time and again…

Of course, yes, it’s important to stress that you need to think about your target audience, at least once, better twice, and do not assume that the other party will necessarily understand and interpret messages as originally intended. What works for one person doesn’t work for another (really). In other words, do your research. 

Honestly, we could have guessed that this is important.

More interestingly, these emphases in corporate communication literature are perhaps symptomatic of how we tend to overlook actually how crucial context-specific communication and persuasion really is, in multiple if not all aspects of life. For instance, if we take a business oriented perspective, we may look at how our targeted communication matters for the success of our business.

We also find the use of targeted (political) advertising and marketing – and the use of spin(doctoring) – in politics, but this is seen as a negative development: some voices – some of which I heard as part of interviews we conducted on the Dam Square of Amsterdam several years ago – express that they see politicians as having lost their integrity and as only being concerned with winning votes and support. This is nothing new.

Nevertheless, these negative interpretations or examples did not immediately come to mind. Instead, I wonder which recommendations would have been included had this been political scientific research, aimed at mapping and understanding successful communication (and potentially persuasion). I do not expect this literature to explicitly mention the use of falsehoods or manipulations of information… Instead, I suspect these may refer to the ‘art of diplomacy’ and whilst I haven’t looked into diplomacy or diplomatic negotiations before, I bet there are interesting insights and parallels to be found between corporate communication strategies, diplomatic strategies and the use of rhetoric more generally…!

Thus, interesting parallels and insights can be found in research from different disciplines. Like how these corporate communication studies underline the importance of context-specific strategies, emphasising the value of interdisciplinary insights may just become a symptom of its importance to research and, in extension, life in general.



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