We learn very early in life how we should appear in public. That it’s different from being at home. Children learn both by imitation and being told. It can be confusing.

Through habit, we acquire this public identity from parents. How to behave, dress, and speak. I remember being told that I wouldn’t be invited to other peoples’ homes unless I acquired some good manners. Big wake up! I had to start washing my face, tucking my shirt in, and saying please and thanks.

Most importantly, being in public was about speaking appropriately. What to say, and when, and what not to say, to what people. Store clerks, teachers, strangers, and my grandmother.

Businesses, like people, need to focus early on how they will appear in public, and how their audience should be addressed, in print and on the web.

Like teens, businesses struggle to break out from conformity. They need to conform to their business sector, yet convey to the public that their market offering is both unique and meets their needs.

It’s a fine line. Customers want to categorize businesses easily–find a baker when they need bread–yet find value that’s above the mere commodity of generic bread.

How to walk this fine balance? How to combine innovation, value, and the reliability identity that generates repeat business? The key is being aware of customer culture, not only their product need. Businesses need to speak to customers in their language. This creates an identity of trust, builds brand awareness, and starts a relationship.

Language is where it starts. Knowing what to say, when to say it, to what people – with a touch of distinctive style that creates a memorable identity. Even a child knows this.