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What do you think is the most common answer to the question “Who is your customer?”

The answer I most often get is “everyone.”

And you can imagine how popular I am when I say “No, actually, it’s not.”

The reason for that is because if you ask your customer “Who is (your company, personal brand, product, etc.), they either have a clear understanding or they don’t. If you they DO, then it’s likely they have strong feelings about you, if they don’t, chances are they feel indifferent.

Your goal should be to make your company, brand or product as clear to your ideal customer as possible. In order to do that, you have to narrow down the ideal customer.

Because if you’re trying to reach EVERYONE, your message is muddled, you’re spending WAY more on marketing and advertising than you need to, and ultimately, you’re not creating any sort of loyalty or passion. In today’s market, loyalty and passion saves a lot of time, energy and money.

It does not matter WHAT kind of business you’re in, you can define a persona that’s your ideal or target customer – and it goes beyond demographics….way, way, beyond demographics.

Your customer comes to you with ideas about who they are. They want to know who YOU are. Your customer either sees him or herself buying your product, using your service or supporting your message, or they don’t.

People ultimately buy your products or message for two reasons: 1) it validates how they see themselves or 2) it validates how they WANT to see themselves. 
Tweet: People ultimately buy for 2 reasons: 1) it validates how they see themselves or 2) it validates how they WANT to see themselves. – @taracoomans

That’s it.

I’ll give you a real-life example.
Let’s say I envision myself as a great cook. It does not MATTER whether I am actually a great cook or not, what’s important is that I think I am.

If I think I’m a great cook, I will go through great lengths to preserve that idea I have about myself. So when I go to buy a product, what do you think I look for? I look for the product that other people who say they are great cooks use. I’ll pay a premium for the product that endorses my own persona and so will YOUR ideal customers. I once bought a CHEESE GRATER (talk about a commodity) that was 25% more expensive because I perceived it as the product that great cooks use. All because the brand has spent the time to target great cooks – and make products which great cooks appreciate.

If you’re not clear on who your ideal customer is, how can you be clear on who you should be reaching?

Your product may or may not be a premium product. It doesn’t matter. You need to find the people who are most likely to appreciate your products and focus on getting to them 5-7X before they will consider buying your product. Chances are, that will keep you busy for sometime. Once you’ve saturated that market, and trust me, that’s harder and harder to do, THEN you can reach into sub-markets.

Defining customer profiles is ONE of the processes we go through here at Akamai Marketing. But if you’re just getting started on this process, you can use our handy worksheet to start you on the Customer Clarity Journey. This particular worksheet also has the added benefit of helping you define who you WANT your target customer to be.  This free worksheet is one component of the Spark Sessions I use in the GoCaptivate Marketing Incubator.

Nonprofits and startups aren’t the only ones who start movements that matter.

People do too.

In fact, people inspire movements more easily than logos and brands. Yet, with all the talk and tools about personal branding, the noise makes it harder than ever for politicians, authors, founders, artists and would-be-celebs to create a personal brand.

Whatever you’re doing, stop for just a few minutes and ask yourself whether your own personal brand is clear, because you too can start a movement, you just need the clarity to do it.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with my own personal brand, so I know first hand the challenges. I’ve also helped others refine and increase the reach of their personal brand. Trust me, it’s much easier to do it for someone else than it is yourself. That’s one reason why I like focusing on digital branding for personalities; it’s exciting and refreshing to focus on someone else’s mission and to see them through to success.

Yes, being authentic is important, but a personality brand is a persona. It’s both more complicated and more flat than an actual person. Personal brands are more complicated because they need to be pared down to be both easy to understand and inspiring.

Very few successful personal brands are actually accidental. Most if not all have evolved.

Tweet: “Very few successful personal brands are actually accidental. Most if not all have evolved”

That said, I’ve learned a few things a long the way that anyone looking to make an impact in their field can benefit from and I wanted to share it with you.

Define Yourself In Three Words

What do you stand for? What do you do? Narrow it down to three easy to remember words. It doesn’t have to be a sentence, it can simply be three values you stand for. Once you have these three words clarified, then you can center the rest of your messaging around these words and reinforce them regularly.

It used to be that people needed to be exposed to an idea 7 times before they remembered it, but with all the clutter we’re experiencing today, I’d say it’s more like twelve times. Because you need so many views from a single individual, it’s more important than ever to have absolute clarity and consistency. Three. Small. Words.

Think About Who You Want to Attract

It’s important to be true to you. But it’s just as important to think about the people you want to attract. If you attract the wrong fans, customers or attention then you’ll be unhappy in your brand. If you like being around sarcastic, caustic people – be the person they want to be around too. If you like being around creatives be the person they want to be around.

You don’t have to be like your audience to attract the audience, you just have to be someone they can get behind.

Tweet: You don’t have to be like your audience to attract the audience, you just have to be someone they can get behind.

Think about people you genuinely like being around, what do they tell you about why they love being with you? Maybe it’s your irreverent sense of humor, maybe it’s your questioning nature…what is it and how can you emphasize those elements. You CAN be you, you just need to strongly emphasize the elements of your personality that will attract those people.

Take Us On Your Journey

There’s nothing more satisfying than finding a personal brand who openly and honest about their experiences. Sharing challenges makes it easier to celebrate successes. I’m not suggesting that you tell everyone your deepest darkest secrets, but revealing yourself is endearing. It creates empathy.

Think about the way Lady Gaga, an immensely powerful brand as a strong woman opens her heart up to her fans regularly. Even her individualist anthem Born This Way suggests a struggle to accept herself.  These vulnerabilities fit in perfectly with her audience whom she had been encouraging to be themselves and find themselves. Showing a little underbelly actually makes her seem stronger.

What underbelly can you show?


Own It

You’ll know your brand is strong when you get haters. The stronger your brand the bigger your threat.

When personal brands get haters because the vitriol can be frightening. But coming up with a brand consistent way to deal with haters is the best you can do. Many times ignoring the haters is the best thing to do.

I’ve also found that it’s helpful to have a third party reviewing comments so the person doesn’t have as much exposure to negative comments, which can be challenging to even the strongest of egos.

The best managed personal brands take a breath and carefully chose their battles and almost never engage the trolls.

I’m interested in hearing more about your personal branding challenges. What’s working for you, what lessons have you learned?


I follow over 6,300 people on Twitter.
Subscribe via RSS to 109 feeds.
Subscribe via email  to over 150 unique email newsletters.
I follow over 800 people on Google+.
I follow almost 500 Facebook pages.

And yet. I continue to add and search for more.
I’ll admit to being more than obsessive about reading.  It’s how I get inspired. But I’m also always looking for a fresh voice.

I bet you have a similar story. You follow, subscribe, and “like” all kinds of information sources. So I’m curious about my community. Where are YOU trending? What do you wish for from content these days? 5 Questions. That’s all. Short and sweet.

All answers are anonymous, so give it to me.

Thanks for your feedback.


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

First I want to say, you’ll be glad you did. Hang in there, social media newbie.

I know that sometimes using social media will push you out of your comfort zone. In fact, you’re first experience with being pushed out of your social media comfort zone will come when you’re asked to sign up for Facebook to collaborate with other Young Professionals Kiwanis Club of Scottsdale. You’ll mumble to yourself “Pshah. Facebook. Isn’t that for COLLEGE kids?! MySpace is where grown ups hang out.”

You’ll soon learn you aren’t very good at predicting the future.
You’ll also learn that this is only be the first of many times that you’re pushed out of your comfort zone by Facebook.

Only a year later when you land on a small isolated island in the middle of the Pacific will you really begin to see the value of social media. LinkedIn will provide you with an opportunity to have lunch with a girl named Christa (@supercw), who you connect with well in advance of your arrival. At the time, you won’t realize that Christa is one of Hawaii’s social media earliest adopters. You don’t end up collaborating with Christa, but she introduces you to someone you do end up collaborating with and who eventually becomes a very good friend. LinkedIn will remain a part of your life and you’ll be glad you invested in the space. At the same time, you’ll be very grateful to Facebook for providing you with a sense of connection to your family and friends, especially your sister whose second child is born the day before you move. Pictures will become a welcomed daily distraction. It won’t be the last time.

You’ll soon learn that social media isn’t about the past or the future. It’s about the present.

You’ll experiment with blogging, first with a food blog, which while small, will create many lasting friendships for you. WordPress seems miraculous to you. It’s a beautiful love affair.  Importantly, that blog will ignite something in you, make you dream about possibilities. See the world as both bigger and smaller. You will begin blogging on your work blog around that time too. But that blog flounders. You struggle to find your voice. But have faith, the process is where the juice is, and you’ll help lot’s of others through their own blogging conundrums because you have (notice the present tense), have your own. You’ll continue to read books about blogging, watch other bloggers and read other blogs. You’ll feel like your brain is filled up. But it won’t be.

Blogging makes you join Twitter for the first time.

By the time you join Twitter in 2009, you’ll be long past the early adopter phase, once again proving that you can’t see into the future. But you’ll really appreciate Twitter because you can follow people in Hawaii. It will give you insight into the culture, the people and the places to go. Really, Twitter will be how you learn to “get” Hawaii. You’ll spend hours lurking. You’ll enjoy being an observer. You’re first few haphazard tweets will be just as lame as you feared they were: “Is blogging…social media and sponsorships make good partners for events of all sizes.”  But you’ll soon realize, no one saw them anyway.  You tweet sporadically those first few months. Later that year, you’ll meet a kindered spirit, whose bragging rights include sending the first Tweet from Hawaii and securing the Twitter handle @rob. You’ll begin to wonder if you should change your Twitter handle, so you secure the new handle with your full name, just in case. You think you’re being smart by doing this, but it will come back to haunt you when you discover you could have just renamed your Twitter account rather than opening a new one, and now you actually DO have followers. In the meantime, you begin to share with the whole world more confidently. You continue to watch people in Hawaii, but you start feeling connected on Twitter with people all over the world. You particularly like that just as you’re headed to bed, Australia is just coming online.

Later in 2009, you’ll finally go to your first Social Media Club of Hawaii (SMCHI) meeting at the urging of @rob. You’ll have watched a couple of the events via livestream, but you’ll need a nudge to get out of your comfort zone to attend. Your comfort zone will never again be the same. After that first meeting, your social media learning will become super-charged. You’ll finally be with colleagues who are as fascinated by social media as you are. You’ll find a group of people who are playing in the wild west of social media and finding their own way too.

Along the way, you’ll have two Facebook accounts (even though its against Facebook’s TOS), an abandoned MySpace account, though neither of your two “friends” on that account miss you because we’re all on Facebook now. You’ll eventually realize that there isn’t room in your life for two Facebook accounts and learn to “just let it all hang out together.” The first time you’re Mom comments about how proud she is of you on a professional speaking engagement, you’ll cringe. Then you’ll remember how lucky you are that you’re Mom even cares enough to comment on Facebook. At that moment, you’ll bask at the confluence of professional and personal together and realize there’s no clear line anymore. You’ll have an Instagram account, a Pinterest account, and many others. Some social media accounts become part of your life. Some don’t.

You’ll struggle with what to do with strangers who connect with you on LinkedIn. You’ll finally create your own set of social media rules. You try to follow everyone back on Twitter, and everyone can follow you. You’ll have a love affair with Twitter. And you’ll be especially grateful for it when you’re evacuated out of your home for tsunami alerts (3 evacuations in 6 years) and it’s your only lifeline to information. Facebook is primarily for people you know or for those with whom you have a connection in common. And LinkedIn is your most private account. You’ll connect with lots of people there, but you’ll be more selective. Then Google+ will come…and you’ll love it too. You might even love it more than Twitter, but you’re not good at predicting the future, so you just go with the flow.

SMCHI and social media in general will push you. And push. And push you out of your comfort zone and you’ll never get used to it; but you’ll begin to relish it.  But what you will come to realize is that the comfort zone is completely over-rated.

You’ll begin to see how you can “give a nudge” to help others out of their comfort zones. Social media will begin to take you on a journey much larger than tech.  But because you aren’t very good at predicting the future, you won’t really be sure where it will end up. The only thing that you’ll know for certain is that social media transformed you.

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Start at the beginning. Duh.

But in social media, the “beginning” isn’t always clear. I thought today, we’d start with some of the first steps a company can take before starting their social media program. If you’re somewhere in the middle here, its OK, just go back and start through the process.

Step 1. What are our business goals? 

Take a deep breath and think about what business should look like at the end of 2012 and at the end of 2015. What’s it going to take to get there?
How can marketing support sales across all channels?
What particular platforms will be best to support the initiatives that support sales?
Step 2: Social Media, Are We Ready?

Take a good hard look at your company and its resources.

What does success look like? How will we know we’ve succeeded? What are we trying to accomplish?

Resources: Do you have the time and the talent for social media? Who can participate in our social media’s presence, can we expand it past the usual suspects? What are the gaps in talent or time? Can those pieces be supplemented with assistance?

Digital Inventory: Is our website meeting our business objectives? What do we REALLY want our website to do? Is our website designed to support our social presence in terms of messaging, content? How is our website being used now?

What’s the role of search & PPC? If we are using search and paid online advertising or CPC, how will our social media work with our messaging and search goals?

Culture: What communication flows need to be considered? What would we do in the case of crisis? Who is responsible and does everyone know their roles? How will our culture be supported by social media?

Business Considerations: Do we have product or customer service concerns which we should be prepared to address in our social presence?  Do we have an existing reputation that we will need to overcome to develop social trust?

2. What do we really want to say?

Messaging: Have we defined, clearly the top key points we want to make? Have we taken the time to make sure these key messages are known throughout the company? What stands out about our company?

Audience Support: What’s really important to our audience? How can we support them? Involve them? How can we let them know that what’s important to them is important to us?

Long Term Calendar: Have we thought through a long-term editorial calendar for our social presence? What will we post how and when?

3. How can we elicit emotional responses?

Our Audience: What are they passionate about? How does that relate with what we do/sell? How can we create relationships with our audiences? How do our customers/clients see themselves and how can we help them enhance their vision of themselves?

When/What to Share: Are we sharing information designed to share? Are we making the most of photos, videos, graphics?  How is what we are sharing elicit emotion and support our key messaging?

4. What platforms work for us? 

Goals: What platforms will support our immediate and long-term business goals best?

Time: What do we have time for?  Can we be committed to more than one platform? What platform supports the type of content we’re likely to share?

Bang for buck? Who are our customers and where are they spending their time?



One of the chief concerns I hear about social media is: “it takes so much time.”

While I’m as much of a fan of time-saving tips as the rest, I feel unapologetic about saying “Yes. Yes it does.”

The reason I don’t make excuses for the time it takes to “do” social media is because building reliable, fruitful relationships takes time. When was the last time that you ever heard someone say “Finding the love of my life took so. much. time!” Yes. It turns out that the really powerful relationships only happen with mutual investments.

And lest you think I’m talking about using social platforms on a personal level; let me clarify: if you’re in business or work for a business relationships matter. In today’s business environment, relationships don’t “just” belong to sales and marketing. They belong to HR, Customer Service, Product, even Operations. An entire organization has to take responsibility for relationships.  Today’s lines are blurring faster than we can keep up and this is why traditional business silos no longer apply.

If your marketing or communications team is the only one who cares about relationships, your community will sniff that out. Or worse, if your marketing and communications teams don’t share relationship building with the rest of the organization, they are doing a huge disservice to your company. Change that. Stat.

Change is hard, but its required to survive.

But Why Should You Care?

Here’s another fact: creating community doesn’t happen during crisis. Its during a crisis that you’ll be glad you have a community.