Time to shine your virtual shoes

By Brad Dodge on December 22nd, 2011

We dress casually at our office. Seems to work pretty well, because our clients, prospects and partners don’t often visit in person. When they do, everyone seems to understand that it’s time step up the dress code. We don’t really have a corporate policy to that effect—it’s just understood. And when we go on the road to visit clients we have a similar stepped-up dress code. For a prospect, the dress code goes up another notch. And at trade shows like HIMSS, MGMA, AMGA and AHIMA, we all dress pretty much to the nines.

This phenomenon got me thinking. Why do we do this? It’s because we want to put our best foot forward, make sure we’re not disqualified for an opportunity or looked down upon because we’re dressed sloppily or inappropriately. And we sure don’t want to be outdressed by our competition! It’s an easy measure, and is pretty much the norm. And I’m sure all of you do this as well. We want to look as sharp as we feel. We want everyone to associate our dress with the services we provide—buttoned up, sharp, smart, professional. The truth is that in the post-internet world order, we’re making many different brand impressions other than the way we dress. Think about it. Do you ever visit a company’s Web site for the first time and think (translated to clothing) “wow, these guys have holes in their jeans and are wearing flip flops?” Or “wow, looks like these guys got their clothes at Walmart in the 90s.” Or “wow, I’d never wear something like that to an event like this.” Ever gotten a Tweet from a company where you said “Did they really say that?” It might have put a little ding in your opinion of their brand.

Let’s try the same analogy for e-mails you’ve received as a first impression to a company. “This guy looks horrible. Why would he wear something like that to a classy event like this?”Or how about general poise and communication appropriateness? Ever gotten an e-mail that feels like someone is screaming at you and you didn’t even invite him to the party? Or overly obnoxious, cocky and self centered? Kind of like “Nice to meet you. Let me tell you how great I am. Look, EVERYONE AGREES with ME!” I suspect you would NEVER do any of these things in person. But, you’re making a brand impression in all of these venues, and you need to carefully consider what your brand looks like, how your brand sounds, and whether you’re confident your brand carries the same tone and personality you would carry if every encounter was in person. Think about it. Your brand is being represented everywhere, and every brand interaction needs to be carefully crafted so it represents the brand you’re trying to build. I remember Jerry Seinfeld seeing George’s choice of sweat pants one day, and saying “Sweat pants? Do you realize the message you’re sending out to society? You’ve given up, and can’t compete in the real world.” Step it up, shine your virtual shoes, and put on the brand face that you’d want. Make sure your virtual wardrobe and dress code represent the brand you want to be.