Who Are You?

We recently introduced our kids to one of last century’s greatest films, The Princess Bride. I was intrigued this time around when Inigo Montoya asks the classic question of Westley, “Who are you?” Interesting, he doesn’t ask “What are you selling?”, “What is the central aim of your mission?”, or “What distinguishes you from the score of other masked swordsmen flooding the Guilder market amid this recession?” Inigo wasn’t even concerned with the revolutionary technique that allowed Westley to best him. In fact, Inigo isn’t interested in asking the dozens of questions for which Westley has no doubt crafted the perfect answer. Nope. He had one burning question that besieged his conscious mind above any other: “Who are you?” His question, ironically, is probably one of the only questions which Westley was unwilling to answer.

Facebook, along with other social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and even blogs are being used by millions of individuals and companies to answer this question. As an anecdote, wedding photographers 5 years ago had sites that simply answered the question “What are you selling”—portfolio portals. Today, many photographers don’t even have a portfolio online, but have instead replaced it with a blog. Why? They find it so much easier to answer the burning question in customers’ minds: “who are you?” — and apparently customers are responding.

Yet this trend is anything but new. Decades old Shows like How Stuff Works, Dirty Jobs, Some Assembly Required and countless others point to a significant interest in what happens before the product arrives on shelves. Part of this, of course, is the curiosity for the product itself and how it is produced. What types of processes are used? How are the materials formed? Is the work done by hand, is it mechanized, or both?

But another important and oft overlooked element is the view behind the scenes—namely, who is doing the work. Are they happy? Are they clean? Do they enjoy their job, their employer, and their company? Can I trust them where the safety of my children’s toys, the cleanliness of my family’s food, and the proper operation of my electrical gadgets is concerned? Humans are intelligent, and a look behind-the-scenes of a company and how they operate can yield incredible insight into whether or not that company can be trusted.

And that brings up the most telling part of this all: “Who you are”, in large part, is really a diplomatic way of asking the more direct question: “Can I trust you?” Amidst stories of melamine in baby milk, E. Coli in spinach, Salmonella in peanuts, corporate scandals, and political crimes, it’s no wonder people are beginning to demand the answer to this question.

“Who are you?” is a great question to lead with. It comes before “What are you selling?”, and “What’s the price?” After all, if the litmus question produces an undesirable answer, then why move on to the more topical inquiries? Why would I care what you’re selling if I can’t trust you, or if you are unwilling to tell me what your most fundamental motivations are? And why should I be satisfied with a lower price when it could potentially accompany an inferior (or even dangerous) product?

Smart companies today are beginning to pay attention to this phenomenon, and are working to taylor their brand and marketing messages to answer this one question first. They are working to show who they are, what motivates the creation of their products, and are learning how to publicly define the values and principles that drive their decisions. These companies are listening to their customers, and are at last learning to speak their language in a new era of true two-way communication.

Answer the question of who you are, and you’ll earn more than a customer. You’ll win a brand advocate.

Have you thought to ask of your company or organization the illuminating question, “Who Are You?”

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