How do you stand out in the digital world?

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Photo: Soumyadeep Paul (CC)

We live in the “attention economy.” You and I can attend to only so many things per day before our brain is depleted. We might be able to count it in group text messages, screaming kids, dramatic Facebook posts, binged episodes or boss’ demands, but each one nips away at our overall focus.

Digital marketing becomes more challenging as this peculiar economy shrinks year by year, minute by minute. The explosive growth of clickbait headlines gives us some indication of how quickly we burn through the ability to command an audience’s attention. Are we doomed to become more outrageous with our brands to grab an ever smaller slice of people’s gaze?

Not at all.

Standing out in the digital world isn’t easy, but it is possible. Especially for businesses unafraid to go it alone.

For starters, a company must distinguish itself from the pack. Every competitor has a Facebook page; must you have one, too? Every competitor has a blog; must you? Every competitor has a one-page website; et tu, Brute?

It is very easy to blend in, which is why so many brands deliberately choose that path. It’s safe, it’s simple, and the boss approves. But it makes for a difficult battle for marketers trying to push their message.

Y’all Connect stands out because it’s a Southern native, emphasizing practical learning and heartfelt hospitality. Many conferences do a good job, yet they mostly blend together in overall impact. They let effort substitute for sharp distinguishing features.

Standing out means embracing all unique qualities. That can be challenging in a world where people not only shy away from different but often beat it down. (Like I said, not easy stuff.)

One of our unique qualities is an active push for diversity onstage. The best speakers from all walks of life grace our event, making a lineup you won’t find at most other digital marketing shows.

The digital world can feel cold and impersonal, even more so when everyone is hiding behind a screen. Making personal connections can get you noticed fast. People flock to social media to be heard and to be helped. It is our job to listen and to assist if needed.

Through Instagram, we connect with other users. We follow thousands of people and throw out as many Likes as we can on their photos. We also show off their photos by “re-gramming” them daily, including a link to the photographer’s profile.

We talk to strangers all the time: on social media, in the comments of our weekly blog posts, in private messages. We respond, and you should, too. Think about all the companies out there that can’t be bothered to reply when addressed directly. Definitely a missed opportunity.

Clean branding also boosts a corporate profile online. You can tell when a company has it together brand-wise by checking out their digital outlets: recent updates; consistent colors and logos; tailored message to each channel’s audience; interaction with human beings and not canned responses; active, not passive, involvement.

Y’all Connect does all right, but we have room for improvement. I always want to stretch a little more on Facebook and Twitter, and come up with more enticing blog posts for those curious about marketing, blogs and social media. We know our strengths in our brand, and we’re working on our shortcomings.

One last important characteristic of digital standouts is risk taking. Complacency happens to all of us no matter what facet of business we discuss. It’s tempting to build a well-oiled machine in marketing and let it run indefinitely.

But occasional innovation — including occasional failure — is essential for growth. Rigidity of format can mean long-term stagnation.

Take popular vlogger Casey Neistat, who built an audience of 5.8 million subscribers on YouTube in 20 months. On Saturday, he ended his daily video posts to try something new. (He’ll still upload videos on occasion.)

He tells Adweek:

“Once [YouTubers] find success, they stop innovating creatively, because there’s a fear that if you change what you’re doing, the audience is going to stop watching.

“The safest thing I can do right now is to do exactly what I’m doing right now. But what happens over time is that people start getting sick of seeing the same thing over and over.”

Most of us are nowhere near such astronomical popularity, yet we remain paralyzed with fear at the thought of taking a risk with our content and our audience. We must break the grip of that fear.

I want you to share how special your organization is online. It takes courage and creativity, but first, it takes a simple adjustment.

We look at where we’re going, and pick a path that’s all our own.

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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.

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