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Friday, January 21, 2011

Are You An Online Or An Offline Brand?



Did you see that item on the news yesterday, about the lady who texted her way into a fountain at the mall?

Apparently she was so intent on her device that she didn't look up until it was too late and she got soaked.

I saw that on TV and I saw myself in that clip. For if you were to run into me in real life, most likely I would be intent on a screen. Probably two.

In fact I would go so far as to say that I actually don't feel comfortable unless I am very close to a screen. Either writing, or scanning Twitter or discussion boards or the news, or even watching a video on YouTube.

If not that, then emailing or (occasionally) on the phone.

But when it comes to real-world, face-to-face conversation, I actually find it very difficult to interact.

I would think that I am odd except there seem to be articles about this everywhere, and I personally observe it too. After work and school, family members routinely retreat to their screens. And very often family time consists of yet more screens – watching TV (the "little screen") together, or occasionally (for a splurge) the "big-screen": a movie.

The Wall Street Journal had an article where an expert talked about tech time-outs – that we should try to wean our families off the screens a little bit so that we can enjoy more time together.

Now I don't know about you, but somehow the prospect of turning off all the screens - and actually conversing – is a bit daunting for me. We've actually built this avoidance of other people into the workplace: We do our work at individual screens, and when we gather for meetings, we expect to see a screen – either literally or sometimes even reading a printout of a PowerPoint. (And – lucky us - when they get boring or political or generally unproductive, we can gaze down at our Blackberries and actually get something done!)

Modern family dynamics aren't that far from work. As the Journal pointed out, the family that tried the tech time-out was so addicted to their gadgets, that when they sat together they had literally nothing to say. I routinely see teenagers sitting in the pizza place with their parents, but not there – texting, texting away.

It was funny, on our way home from vacation over the holidays, the woman sitting next to me on the plane told me she specifically booked up just to get away from her eight brothers and sisters. "Best vacation I ever had," she crowed happily.

And yet I know other people who absolutely, positively love people. They similarly absolutely hate the Internet. They don't like typing emails. They don't get mobile apps at all. They think texting is stupid. These are also generally the people who actually read paper books, cover to cover.

I think the last time I really read a book was maybe two months ago. I mean, I'll scan the things, but these days who has time? Most of the time, frankly, there is one core idea that is repeated endlessly.

We can analyze endlessly back and forth whether it's good or bad to be online (or on-screen) so much. The pertinent issue for your brand is, which type are you? Don't go by stereotypes about young people being heavy into tech and vice versa for Matures and Baby Boomers. Comfort with technology and being a virtual self can go any which way. After all, before there was the Internet there was radio (remember that?) and lots of people who were more comfortable behind a microphone in a studio than interacting face to face.

And there are people who simply belong on TV. They aren't real, it seems, unless they're in front of a camera. Too many to count. As we know, average people aren't drawn to reality TV.

You've got to know who you are. We ran into Matthew Lesko in the bookstore the other day. If you don't remember who he is, you probably remember what he does: He's the guy who tells you how to get "free money from the government." Lesko is an unbelievable personal brand – larger than life. He actually wears question marks on all his clothing – as if to say, "Ask me!" When I initially inquired from him as to who he was – I said, "Excuse me for bothering you, but are you on TV? You look familiar" – he literally jumped off the chair to shake hands with us. Introduced himself, posed for a photo, gave us his business card, everything. Even in the photo he was larger than life.

But then he went back to reading or whatever he was doing. And he didn't want to chat face to face. It was understood: I am a TV brand. I exist on THAT screen.

The key to successful branding – and successful personal branding, as an extension of that – is to know who you are, what you do well, and then deliver that consistently in a way that is pertinent to your audience. If you are more comfortable online, fine. Face-to-face, good too. Neither one is "better" than the other. Focus on which communication form suits you best, and then pursue a strategy to connect with others, who appreciate it, in that way. For in business, as in life, relationships are what keep us healthy—and financially solvent.