Digital U for a Digital You 201 -- Who Are You?

In Digital U 101 we discussed how businesses need to be clear about who your customers are. Defining who they are and what they want are key components to helping you decide the whats and whys of what you’re presenting on-line.

Now we need to look at the hows and whos. So who are you? Really?

Sure, it sounds like a simple question. But many companies, in truth, have absolutely no idea who they actually are.

Oh, sure, they know who they want to be. And many will dust off the ol’ Mission and Vision Statements and read off some Biz-Speak-infused catch-phrase that’s allegedly supposed to reflect what the company’s values are. Here are two tests to see if you are what you profess to be:

  1. Ask your employees what your Mission and Vision statements are; and
  2. Try applying Jay’s Medium Test to your statements.

Chances are, your employees – especially those not in the C-suite – will have little to no idea what the Mission and Vision statements are. And even if they do, ask them how they apply it to their day-to-day reality? Again, it’s likely that those statements sound nice in concept, but have little application in reality.

But what’s Jay’s Medium Test, you may ask? Simply put, many corporate Mission and Vision statements have approximately the same amount of specificity and targeting as your average horoscope or medium’s proclamations. All of the above tend to sound good, be positive, and end up being vague enough to apply to each and every person (or company) that comes along.

“We want to be the deliver our customers a positive experience!” Great, so does everyone. Next?

I’m not one to criticize if that’s what your Mission and/or Vision sounds like. That type of result is actually part and parcel of the creation process. Generally, you get many of the company’s top suits around a table, trying to come up with something that sounds good, is non-offensive, and is vague enough so that all of your goals, KPIs, and metrics can be linked to it.

But now we want to know who you are.

On-line communication is terrible at differentiating nuance, subtlety, sarcasm, and intent. What the on-line world is great at doing is spotting a fake. And many companies fall into that trap of trying to be what they think their customers want them to be.

Relate your on-line presence like your “wedding guest” presence. If you’re cool enough to shake your tailfeather on the virtual dance floor, go for it. If you’re that uncle that everyone stares at/clears a path around/avoids… then you make want to take that into consideration in developing your Web presence.

There’s nothing wrong with being a trusted, authoritative, informative voice; there’s nothing wrong with presenting more sober, brand-aware content. Not every brand can or should be trying to capture the latest Zeitgeist or affiliate with some random viral video. Instead, be who you are; speak in a way that feels natural, and your customers – both old and new – will support you.

And remember this: Your Web/social presence is but one tool in your overall tool belt. It’s not the be-all-and-end-all of marketing. It’s not different or separate: your on-line presence needs to remain on brand, supportive of and supporting on and off-line efforts, and it needs to feel natural. If it’s not, you’ll be, at best, ignored and, at worst, skewered.

So who do you ask? Not the C-suite again. They know who they think they are (or what they want the company to be). Instead, ask your customers. Ask your front-line employees. Ask your partners, your affiliates, and even strangers. 

It’s a wonderful way to explore the success of your branding and marketing efforts. Compile a list of key terms and phrases that are frequently used to describe your business. And then determine whether you want to embrace that, or undertake a wholesale rebranding.

Once you know who you are, you can start to create content, develop assets, and formulate marketing plans that are consistent in message and delivery. And, when it comes to developing (or redeveloping) your Web presence, you’ll have a much clearer view of what the tone and style should be.

And one final note? If you’re going to ask the question, make sure you listen to the answer. Businesses can shoot themselves in the foot by simply hearing what they want to hear and discounting other opinions (too negative, axe to grind, not realistic, they just didn’t ‘get it’, that’s not ‘our type of customer’…)

You are what your customers say you are. And if you don’t like it, then no Web page or social media strategy will change it. To change that type of opinion, you have to look at all aspects of your organization and make changes everywhere. A beautiful façade means nothing if the foundation’s cracked. 

So, who are you? 

Comments are open. We'd love for you to share your experiences with defining your business and finding your honest and true corporate voice. 

And don't forget to check out last week's 'class' if you missed it: Digital U for a Digital You 101 -- An Intro to Your Customers. Next week? Digital U for a Digital You 301 -- What You Want.

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