Some reasons why personality trumps planning and strategy
There is a common thread that subtly binds together some of the world’s best-known digital success stories. It is not the “rags to riches” or “grew from nothing” clichés (although, these are perhaps applicable, too); instead, it is the overt injection of personality over and above strategy and mainstream planning. It is the collage of mildly awkward eccentricities that distinguish these brands from others, and the laying of a personable and relatable foundation that is thus hard to replicate, and equally hard to define.
It is curious, really, for whilst these digital success stories we may openly name (think Snapchat, Tinder, Kogan etc.) are so definitively unique, the element that creates their uniqueness is not at all hard to define: it is mere personality, well-delivered and frequently executed through a broad range of online mediums.
This happens because soul cannot be manufactured, nor can it be crafted by a blank and pre-signed chequebook, or a series of forecast spark-lines that gently climb toward their zenith embedded in a board paper.
By contrast – stark contrast, that is – we also see a plethora of well-established corporates eagerly seeking to digitise their businesses and spending months craned over boardroom tables, enduring charged-too-much-by-the-hour visits from cash-hungry digital agencies, and trawling through spreadsheets and case studies, only to launch their apparent revolution and find that it struggles to float, let alone turn the right heads.
Why does this happen? This happens because soul cannot be manufactured, nor can it be crafted by a blank and pre-signed chequebook, or a series of forecast spark-lines that gently climb toward their zenith embedded in a board paper.
When we look at what gets publicity in the digital space, it is not that the multinational behemoth launched an online store, or that they reached one million “fans” on Facebook, it is that Ruslan
Kogan laughed in the face of Harvey Norman, that Facebook is exploring the use of Wi-Fi drones, or that the NYPD is going to “Twitter School”. These are the stories that highlight change, exude personality and relatability, that gently tread the line between humour and arrogance.
Large enterprise – and we see this in some of our own clients (and, yes, we openly tell them) – will never, ever reach its potential unless its decision-makers loosen their grasp on the operational staff in their organisations, thus allowing them to drip-feed personality into their work. We’re not talking about a social media exposé on John Smith, the recruitment guy, but a measured sharing of personal insights about the brand John and his cohort represent, and a subconscious injection of this into the digital content they produce, and the insights they share.
Accordingly, something we regularly tell our clients is that every business should have an “About Us” section on their website. It should explain the brand, the personalities behind it, and what they bring to the table. No one cares about faux testimonials or hollow quotes, but they do care about people and personality… Unless you’re selling something really boring, that is; like dentistry accessories, in which case we can’t help you much. Sorry.
Further to this, whether one-man show, or a global enterprise, you should be sharing stories about your clients or customers: how they engage with your products and services; why they chose you and not your competitor; how you made the experience memorable rather than merely transactional. What this is, to be clear, is a neat synthesis of brand personality and customer personality: the “Why you should buy it”, and the “Why he/she did buy it”.
To drill deeper into the barriers to this approach in the world of enterprise, they are generally the fear of maintaining appropriateness and the desire to never offend. Large companies have a well-developed belief that showing personality drastically increases the risk of the aforementioned “problems” occurring. They believe that through the demonstration of impartiality, the taking of a utilitarian approach to every small and large-scale customer interaction, their profile will remain stable and never make a stir. Sigh.
Now, holding all this at front of mind, can anyone name a pure-play organisation that has never rustled feathers, never caught mainstream media headlines for something that may have been considered “shady”, and never offended a closed-minded client or competitor? We can’t. What we can remember, though, is that whenever such an event has occurred, the profile of the pure-play success stories has only grown further, only circulated more widely, only featured in more water cooler discussions, and found its way into more web browsers and social media feeds.
The CEOs and leaders of the world’s best digital organisations are more familiar to their customers, more relatable to their prospects, and more relevant to their future adopters, because they share their personalities, refrain from censoring their opinions, and allow chance and social trends to guide their business direction, rather than forecasts, plans and spreadsheets to illustrate what comes next.
It is not to say digital strategy doesn’t matter, but that it should take the form of a guiding set of principles, rather than a robust and all-encompassing agenda.