Saturday, November 6, 2010

Meehoo and Exactlywatt- Interaction Defining Identity

There is a knock at your proverbial business door.
Knock knock! Who's there? Me! Me who? That's right!
What's right? Meehoo! That's what I want to know!  What's what you want to know? Me, WHO?
Yes, exactly! Exactly what? Yes, I have an Exactlywatt on a chain! Exactly what on a chain? Yes!
Yes what? No, Exactlywatt! That's what I want to know! I told you - Exactlywatt!
Exactly WHAT? Yes! Yes what? Yes, it's with me! What's with you?
Exactlywatt - that's what's with me. Me who? Yes! GO AWAY! Knock knock...
~The Meehoo with an Exactlywatt by Shel Silverstein
Last week we asked the question- who are we talking to. This question is somewhat broader than initially one might think. In your average everyday world when you are talking to someone several details are immediately evident. Their appearance, age, sex, position in the interaction, perhaps position in society, relationship to you can all be readily discerned- or at very least some concrete details are provided. If you are the proprietor of a small business you have details as to where the transaction is occurring, how long the transaction took, when the person came in, where they came in, when and where they left etc. If pressed you could likely be an eyewitness to describe the event that occurred and who it occurred with. Another manifestation of this physical way of interacting is the classic capers of the movies. The investigation thwarted by a cunning disguise of a criminal. The hapless victim didn’t know who they were dealing with and were conned in some way. The most thrilling of these movies are movies like Memento and Fight Club where even the criminal in question is being conned by his own mind as to his true identity.
The identity of your customer, the who in the who, what, when, where and why. As a business owner you would then take the aggregate of this information to find where your marketing energy and resources should be concentrated. Who were your biggest consumers? Which consumers were your untapped market and greatest opportunities for growth? These answers were usually defined by the observable characteristics/categories the customer fit into, as mentioned, and what those characteristics/categories said about how the consumer would interact with your business/product.    
So what of the knock at the door? With an online business such as mine how do I tell who is on the other side? The question is further complicated by the answer in our increasingly individualized and narcissistic society- Me! But me who? Exactly. It all seems a bit overwhelming at the outset. At the same time as we have infinitely more information at our disposal about our customers in some ways we have substantially less. As a small business we have lost the physical contact and interaction that was so often used to define the when, where and why of our marketing efforts.
The more I considered this question the more it became clear that the question was the same, who is at your door? What is the identity of the customer? It was the answer that had changed. It wasn’t the question of identity, or even the identity of the customer themselves, it was our definition of identity that had changed. Just as businesses were able to discern the identity of a customer based on the physical interaction, in turn, the physical interaction was used to define and shape our identity. Identity was defined by our sex, age, appearance, location (to be discussed more in depth shortly), education, status etc. It was our identity that defined the interaction.  It is now the interaction that defines the identity. How we interact with this new technological world of business says more about our identity as a consumer than who we physically are. In other words if your customers find you through a social networking site, internet browser, mobile app or through the phone book is more important in defining your customer than whether your customer is male or female. Whether your customer is going to join your online community or post a favorable (or unfavorable) review is a more relevant to defining your customer identity then what chronological age your customer is.
In addition to changing the way businesses and others see us the technological advancement allows us more flexibility in our self concepts of identity. Who I was, who we all are, was defined at least partially externally by the physical characteristics and the physical reality in which I function. Now when I am giving a review of a product, connecting online, or making a purchase, I no longer have to define my self by who I physically am, or even, who I realistically am. Our concept of identity is no longer held to the physical constraints of reality but is now defined as we wish to define it. For all intents and purposes in the online world we can write our own self.
Now granted, these things work together, how likely we are to interact, and how we interact, with technology is partially defined by some of these physical identity factors. But the distinction is that demographics is now more accurately defined by technographics. Who we are as consumers is more accurately defined by what we do.
The other aspect of identity that has shifted with technology is the concept of place. Part of the demographics was the physical location of the consumer. Where does the consumer live? What does that say about the customer? What neighborhood(s) would be the best location for your business? Where do you want to advertise? Again, the question is the same, but the definition of the answer has changed.  
Halloween has just passed and I took my young daughter trick-or-treating. There is sort of a trick-or-treating strategy that seems to occur inherently. Who are you going to go trick-or-treating with? What group will net the best opportunity for candy. And then comes the all important where do you go? What neighborhood gives out the biggest and the best candy? What houses are handing out full sized candy bars? What houses are handing out the stale off brand candy from last year? Where do you target? This has long been the same questions we ask as a business. Where are the best consumers? Who has the biggest and best candy? And, like trick-or-treating the strategy has been what neighborhoods have the best chance of being profitable? Sure there is always a house or two in the neighborhood, or a consumer or two in the bunch, not worth the time and energy. But overall some neighborhoods are vastly better than others.
So what of the online world? What happens when the customer’s physical address doesn’t have much relevance on how likely they are to be a good customer? I would posit the answer is the same, just with a different definition. We as an online business still care where our customers “live” and what kind of “neighborhood” they “live” in. It is simply the definition of the address that has changed. The address is no longer the house at the end of the block it is the individual Facebook page created by the consumer. The neighborhood is no longer a section of town, but rather the social networking group that the customer belongs to. These are the new locations. These are the new “places” of which to ask the old questions about. Where do our best customers “live”? What are the best neighborhoods for advertizing? For growth opportunity?
So this information is great if you have individual consumers making an individual purchase. But what portion of the information is applicable a business to business environment? In the continuing theme of our fruit stand with our walled cities the information is pertinent if you are selling fruit to individuals but what if you want to sell fruit to another business? What if you want the contract to be the fruit provider for the whole jousting team? What if your business model isn’t built on selling one apple but rather cases of apples? It used to be that with the physical separation of the business location and the individual customers a business to business environment was in a different location than an individual sale environment. Also the business purchasers were different from individual purchasers. The separation of a work self from a personal self led to a different work identity. If someone worked as a purchasing agent of a business the purchases made by that person would be from the perspective of a the business, not of the individual. The identity of your customer thus would have less to do with the identity of the purchaser and more to do with the identity of the business. In other words the fact that the majority of the purchasers were male or female would be less important information then the fact that the fact that the majority of the companies purchasing from you were located in a certain place, or were engaged in a certain type of business.
With the change in the economy and jobs, coupled with the hybrid of job arrangements, there has been a degradation of the separate work identity. We no longer have a separate facet of our identity dedicated to working 9-5 for 30 years at a single job. We now have mobile devices where we can check our email constantly and, in some respects, are always working and on the clock. We have social networks where our “friends” include our co workers and professional contacts as well as our purely social contacts. We have professional networking sites that blend the social with the professional. The line is no longer black and white. Not only have we blurred the line between our professional/work selves and our social selves but businesses have developed a social self as well. Businesses have Facebook pages and twitter accounts. They have interactive forms, executive blogs and social communities. Successful businesses are no longer simply selling a product they are selling an experience. They are creating a relationship.
All this blurring of roles and lines leads to the question of whether business to business is even an accurate distinction anymore? Did a client purchase from you because they personally liked your product, or a personal friend recommended you, or did they purchase from you because the business liked your product? Likely the former. Furthermore if that same purchaser goes to a new business they are likely to contact you again. You have started a relationship with the purchaser, not just the business the purchaser happens to work for. Likewise this social situation can be leveraged to start a relationship with the business as well. It is really the flattening of the purchasing environment where individuals are starting to have similar power as the business, and perhaps eventually, will supersede them.
Knock, knock. Whose there? Me. Me who? Me everyone.
Coming next: The fruit stand of the future
Resources to answer the questions for your particular business:
Defining the concept of technographics visit:
Free technographics profiling tools:
Where are your customers talking/where do they live:
Summary of The World is Flat:

No comments:

Post a Comment