Digital U for a Digital You 101 -- An Intro to Your Customers

So you’re ready to take that virtual leap and put a concerted effort into your on-line branding. With a myriad of options and platforms available to you, it can be overwhelming for someone who has built their bricks-and-mortar business but is now entering the unknown.

Fortunately, that virtual leap isn’t actually into the unknown. In fact, the most successful businesses build their on-line presence using the greatest tool of all – their own knowledge of their business.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to break down the process of transitioning your off-line labour of love into an on-line presence that complements your efforts through this Digital U for a Digital You series. The intent is not to be too technical, instead focusing on content and marketing. Luckily I’m part of a fantastic Digital Echidna team that believes that quality content drives design -- and has the skills to handle the tech requirements to realize these goals. (And, obviously I’m going to encourage anyone interested in revisiting [or launching] a Web presence to contact us.)

So let’s get started at the beginning. There are five key questions that you must ask yourself (which I'll look at individually in five posts, starting with this one). You need to know, in order of importance:

  1. Who Your Customers Are and What They Want?
  2. Who You Are
  3. What You Want
  4. What Your Limits Are ; and 
  5. What’s Next?

Customers first? You’re darn tootin’! Let me explain why…


Many people get stuck in a reverse-marketing paradigm. They think, “I have this product or this service. People will want it and they will come to me to get it.” And while that may be true in some cases, for the most part you have to identify your target demographics and go after them directly.

After all, they’re doing you a favour by supporting your business. You are not doing them a favour by taking their money.

That reverse-marketing paradigm (OK, let’s just call it an ego) also rears its counter-productive head when it comes to branding issues. Most people, who have created a brand or a product, want their name to be the focus. They have their defined terms for what they want their customers to search for – and will often spend lots of money trying to optimize their site or buying on-line advertisements for their terms.

Unfortunately, working on your own terms can sometimes put you at odds with the terms your customers are actually looking for.

You don’t think it irks the marketers of facial tissue to no end that their product is almost uniformly known as Kleenex? What about people who market Band-Aids, Frisbees, Q-tips, and Roller Blades? Or should I say, adhesive bandages, plastic flying discs, cotton swabs, or inline skates? Yes, I should say those things – but I don’t, and likely neither do you.

So companies can fight the good fight, optimize the heck out of their proprietary brands, and watch as search traffic zooms right on by. The right off-ramp from the Information Superhighway to your business is not the one with your exact brand, but rather the one that’s clearest to your customer.

Talk to your existing customers, both on-line and off. If you have regulars, ask them why they come back to you; if you’re a larger operation, rely on your sales metrics or customer service tracking tools. Essentially, you want to know three things: What are your customers looking for? What are they asking? And what are they having problems with?

There are better questions to ask, but they’re much more difficult – and, often, they're the questions to which businesses don’t want to know the answers. Those questions are challenging because they’re related to why people aren’t coming to your business.

That’s the truly valuable information: why aren’t people walking through your doors or visiting your site? What are you failing to provide them? What niche or service is your competitor doing a better job of filling?

If you’re on-line, listening is a great way to find out (OK, we can call it gentle snooping…) Visit your competitors’ social networking pages, find out what people are saying – what they like and what they don’t. Is it something you realistically can offer? Is it just an oversight on your part? Surveys work well; face-to-face conversations can work too (as long as you understand that most people will say what they think you want to here, or will soften any criticism they may have); and actively listening to your customers – both current and potential – can help you determine what your customers want.

And it can help you move to the next step along your path to business growth: finding out Who You Are! Sounds simple, right? You’ve got the answer already, right? Wrong. But we’ll get to that next week.

Comments are open. How do you listen to your customers? And how do you find out why people aren’t coming to you? Share your thoughts, comments, and suggestions below!



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