12 Most Important Questions About Your Identity

12 Most Important Questions About Your Identity

As a company, or as a person, you possess a vital stewardship over something unique – your identity. Your DNA. That which sets you apart and gives you something of great value to offer.

Too many people, companies, and brands spend their time and effort on message development, and short-change the process of understanding their identity. Yet message and market positioning must grow out of a clear DNA discovery. Here are 12 questions (for individuals and companies) that help to clarify identity:

1. What do we really want to do?

Easily dismissed as blue-sky dreaming, this is the most vital question that any person or company can ask. So often, we let legacy track record, current roles, or short-term thinking shape our identity. Fear keeps us from setting inertia aside and saying, with a clean slate of imagination, “What’s the ideal?”

2. Where do we really ring the bell?

Every person, and every company, gets involved in multiple tasks and offerings. But generally, there is one thing – maybe two – where there’s a clear energy and competence that everyone can see. Where your customers give the most effusive praise – that’s your clue.

3. Where is there a hole in the market?

It makes no sense to have a “me-too” identity. The next company that desires to jump into the paper napkin marketplace probably will have a difficult time standing out. Market turmoil + disruption = opportunity. If you don’t differentiate, you will be lost in the crowd.

4. Is there an opportunity to become the “go-to” company for a specialized niche?

If you define a niche, and/or become the dominant player consolidating valuable information and offerings in that small sector, you have the opportunity to create a hub identity. This opens up whole new avenues of related opportunities downstream.

5. Who are our ideal customers?

Great professional advice received years ago that I never forgot: “Not all business is good business.” Your identity and approach and offerings will be a “fit” for some customers, but not all. Some types of customers may generate revenue at the cost of your soul (or at least your sanity). Can you define the kinds of clients you really need, and then put your efforts into those?

6. What do we want to build?

It’s not all about cash flow. Are you looking to build a hobby-business, or an ongoing structure that can be sold? Are you looking to change the world? Seeking to define the legacy – the end-point – up-front is a great way to stay on track through the process of business-building.

7. Where is the revenue?

You may decide, in a blue-sky session, that the marketplace you want to dominate is not exactly where you are now. And it may take a few years to transition. So, in the meantime, where is current revenue coming from, and what is the best transition plan? Can current revenue fuel growth into more productive areas?

8. What kind of people do we need?

A company is more that just a list of job functions and cubicle-dwellers. Forget titles and resumes for a moment. What sort of people will create and reinforce the culture you desire to create? If you know your identity, you’ll be better able to decide on colleagues, partners, and new hires.

9. What do we stink at?

Face it – every person and company has great strengths, and contrasting weaknesses. There’s no need to live in denial about this aspect of identity – just find ways to outsource or partner or otherwise neutralize those areas. I despise accounting stuff. Within 9 months of starting my company, I outsourced. It was holding me back.

10. Where’s the synergy?

Think of your business as a puzzle piece, not merely a stand-alone entity. There are likely related companies where value can be added in both directions. If your identity is huge in business development and sales – where are the companies with great stuff who don’t know how to promote their offerings?

11. How’s our network?

Increasingly, our identity will include the strength and quality of our social/professional networks. How can the people you’re connected to make your business stronger? What sort of people need to be cultivated and made part of your extended community of fans? Think of these contacts as one giant, growing Opportunity Network.

12. Where are our examples and inspirations?

Find those people and companies who have gone before you. See how they staked out their claim and established their identities. Don’t slavishly imitate, but learn, and apply those lessons to your situation. Say, “I want to become the ___(example)___ of ___(my marketplace)___.”

Companies can survive, for a time, without a clear understanding of their DNA. But far better to create a business around the core of who and what you are. Everyone will notice the difference!

Featured image courtesy of wellcome images licensed via creative commons.

Steve Woodruff


Steve Woodruff is the Connection Agent. An entrepreneur and marketer, he specializes in building opportunity networks that bring together trusted people and businesses through a win-win referral model. He also serves as a "brand therapist" for those seeking to understand their professional identity and message. Steve is very active on social networks, and is also the co-founder of Leadership Chat (Tuesday nights on Twitter).

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How about what stories do we want to tell? Life shouldn't be linear. We can decide to live purposeful, driven lives that cover a number of different careers, adventures, partners, etc. The stories we live tell a lot about the people we choose to become. Great stuff, thanks!


Steve, this is a great starting point for designers and businesses. Thanks for an important article.


Steve, really enjoyed this post. For me, you've effectively linked the personal discovery into the business discovery that leads to opportunities for success. One of my favorite books on the business discovery part of this is Jim Collins' "Good to Great", where he talks about the intersections of passion, ability and economics. It's been years since I read that and I still think back on it often. This post will be on my long-term list with it! Thanks.

Sean McGinnis
Sean McGinnis

Thanks Catherine. Look forward to seeing you tonight....



I love it! Self Actualization, in my humble opinion is the first step for any business to realize maximum success.

So many companies struggle with identity and choose to be all things to all people, or they choose to be something that the customer isn't really interested (disconnected from the market)

Sometimes this is driven by a lack of time, but usually it is "Don't Know" that drives this.

Great read, so glad to have you stop by 12most. I look forward to reading more of your stuff.



@DavidMc068 Thanks, David. Collins' book was helpful to me, as were the Gallup books on Finding your Strengths.


Daniel, thanks for your kind words. IMO, trying to be all things to all people is the most deadly way to position oneself professionally. It is the fast track to oblivion... @danielnewmanUV


@SteveWoodruff I have yet to see it work. Anyone know of a time where being all things to all people actually has worked?

Didn't think so.....


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