This year has been, to at least some extent, a year of questions about identity. Who am I? What do I want from this stage of my life? Who do people perceive me to be? Who do I want them to think I am? The questions slowly moved from my personal identity to that of Smiling Tree Writing. Who does my business serve? What kinds of work do I want more of? Less of? Who am I talking to when I write a blog post? Who is in my network? Why?
I suspect these kinds of questions have been relatively common among marketing teams recently, particularly in the technology sector. Things have been more than a little volatile, and my LinkedIn feed has been filled with people recently laid off all summer (it seems to be changing, though). Last year the vast majority of work I was doing came from agencies; this year nearly all of those same agencies are cutting way back. Generative AI is also forcing companies and marketing professionals to take a hard look at what they are contributing to the greater conversation and to carefully consider content strategy, production, and return on investment.
All of this questioning started in my personal world because I’m getting some gray hair. I’ve had one or two strands here and there for years, but recently, there are…more. Deciding to color or not brought on a bit of an identity crisis, which, in retrospect, is quite silly. I thought, “If I start coloring my hair now, and continue to do so while it all turns gray, will I even know what I really look like?” Then: “If I don’t know what I really look like, will I know who I am?”
Told you it was silly.
But those thoughts kept pinging around in my mind, along with the knowledge that I’ve never been the kind of person who spends much time or effort on how I look. I tend to buy clothes at thrift stores to avoid contributing to the environmental issues related to fashion. Cosmetics mystify me, and I’ve historically lacked the patience to learn the necessary skills. To be completely truthful, I don’t even have the patience to dry my hair, and usually let it air dry. I didn’t realize it was a faux pas to go out in public with wet hair until my kids were teenagers and pointed it out.
So, with all of that in mind, it seems pretty clear that I’m more of a natural-look kind of person, and it doesn’t really make sense to commit to going to the salon every six weeks. I decided that I would not dye my hair and tried to dismiss the very idea.
Yet, I couldn’t quite let it go, and eventually came around to the fact that I was guilty of binary thinking. Coloring my hair now didn’t mean I had to keep doing it forever. Also, it’s not a bad idea to think about style at different stages of life and redefine your personal style when it makes sense. I no longer wear combat boots and skirts together anymore, but I’m still the same person who wore that combination for many years—just an older version who prefers more comfortable footwear.
I’ve been working on learning more about content strategy because so many companies need help in that area. As part of the process of adding a new offering to my business, I’m doing more networking than usual, especially on Linkedin. This means I’m polishing up my profile there, tweaking headlines and keywords, and connecting with new folks. (This played into all of my worries about how I represent myself to the world, for sure!)
And here is where my personal identity crisis and my professional one collided. When you write out your LinkedIn summary, you need to say very clearly who you serve and how. When I started Smiling Tree Writing, my goal was to work with alternative energy companies or other companies operating with sustainability in mind. In those early years, I quickly found that it was easier to market myself to local businesses, and then I slowly found my space in healthcare technology. I defined my target market, developed materials designed to speak to their pain points, and felt confident in my marketing program.
In the last year or two, I expanded to more general, business-to-business technology, rather than remaining focused solely on healthcare technology. Several opportunities to work for some big-name companies came through agencies, and I gladly took them. Working with agencies is fantastic—they know what I do and what I need to do it well and they generally have excellent systems in place—and my roster slowly filled with agencies while the number of direct clients dwindled. Without me noticing it, my client list changed in such a way that not one company fit what had previously been my target audience.
When I started working on things to introduce strategy to my existing clients and prospects, I had a very similar identity crisis to the one I had over my hair. What does Smiling Tree Writing even do? What do people think my business is? How can I shape their perception? Who I’m I even talking to?
All of these questions are pertinent to building a foundational content strategy. Audience research is the very first step in the process. It also makes perfect sense to carefully consider marketing tactics and strategies during a time of upheaval—and this is definitely a time of upheaval in the B2B tech world. Taking a moment to zoom out and consider things with a wider lens is almost always calming. The color of my hair and my target audience matter now, and in the immediate future, but both are things that can be adjusted and changed as needed.
Have you redefined yourself, either in big ways or by making small tweaks?