Building your personal brand like Apple

Herman Singh says building your personal brand has a significant impact on your career journey.

What most of us miss, is that we ourselves are a brand. And probably the most important brand in our lives. We think of products and firms from a branding perspective, but rarely think of ourselves in the same context.

A key insight in repurposing ourselves for the great reset is that we become aware that we are a product with a brand and that we should manage ourselves as such. We are engaged in competition between other individuals with their product attributes and brands too, and employers or clients are constantly making comparisons between your product and brand, and that of others. This comparison leads to key competitive outcomes, winners, and losers if you will, and this has a significant impact on your career journey as an individual.

Defining a brand
So, what is a brand in the traditional sense? The best definition that I have ever heard is that a brand is an emotional and visceral bond between a business and a consumer of that business’s products and services. This bond is based on trust and ensures customer retention and repurchase.

Importantly it means that you become the go-to firm for satisfying key elements of a client’s life needs. The more you achieve this and promote your firm, the greater the awareness of the firm, which allows the firm to become a consideration in purchase decisions. For organisations, brands are valuable over time and often can represent a major chunk of their valuations, as brands sit in the goodwill component of the balance sheet. Brands have real value and often are sold for billions of dollars in consideration.

The two key elements of a brand are awareness and trust. How famous are you and what impression do customers have of you? Where do these two components come from? They come from years of consistently making promises that you meet. In other words, you are walking your talk.

Practically this means that you are an authentic organisation, in that your promise of the experience is fulfilled by the execution engine, which includes the entire value chain of the company as well as the actual product and service itself. And it does this consistently, exceeding customers’ expectations every time. This keeps them coming back time and again because of satisfaction on every moment of truth. That is trust.

Building brand awareness
Awareness comes from self-promotion: shout-outs to the market that you exist and making promises about what customers can expect from you. It’s about creating occasions where you brand can be presented and where your promise can be explained.

The best firms only create those opportunities in context, i.e., only showing up when your mind is open to that message. Then, of course, there is basic advertising and the making of offers to clients. Offers are basically promises and trust and brand equity only arise when a firm delivers on that consistently. The Rolls Royce of xxx. The Google of xxx. The Apple of xxx. The Uber of xxx.

When analysts and other firms start holding you up in this iconic fashion then you end up owning that space. This is also the power of WOM or "word of mouth". When a brand goes viral it does so because it resonates and creates a buzz that is authentic. This WOM is highly efficient, especially for intangible products. We tell seven people when we are happy but 21 people when we are unhappy. So WOM works both ways. Hence the evolution of the net promoter scores (NPS) score.

These high NPS scores are not guaranteed to remain high forever due to competition and rising customer expectations: expectations that rise consistently and never come down. So this means that your product has to consistently be in a state of innovation.

What is a product and how would you manage a product over its lifetime? You do this by breaking products down into features, attributes and benefits and assessing how well this aligns to the buyer purchase criterion, as well as what the competitive advantage of the product is versus your competition. This then creates the gaps that innovation and product enhancement and extension will fill.

In summary, a brand is built on trust and the creation of awareness. Trust comes from meeting all promises made and exceeding client expectations consistently, and awareness occurs from self-promotion and from WOM with positive mentions exceeding negative ones sufficiently that you create a highly positive NPS score. This creates customer retention and repeat usage for more of their wallet, and over time makes you the go-to firm for that need.

This is only possible when the firm is in touch with their clients’ needs and wants and their changes over time, and then innovates and enhances its product and services as well its brand positioning to take advantage of that evolution. Over time this brand has value due to the annuity income that it creates, and becomes an asset on the balance sheet and partly ensures the firm’s survival into the future.

People as brands
Extending that to people is quite simple. The objective of every professional should be to build that same level of trust and awareness amongst their key stakeholders and communities.

The ultimate objective is to assess how you can create a high personal NPS score. How do you become the go-to person in your firm, industry, or profession? How do you create viral WOM and a buzz around you as a person? How do you innovate yourself as a product to remain the best in class or to have a competitive advantage of a product that makes you stand out in your field or industry?

Let’s start with you as a product. The product side of you is the sum total of four items: content, container, usability interface (UI) and learning agility. The latter item is the key lever for personal product success!

Content refers to what we know, i.e., your skills, knowledge, qualifications, working history, deliverables achieved, academic distinctions achieved and association affiliations. This is often the area where most of us focus, whether it’s our CV, LinkedIn profile or even our bio – it’s all about what we know and have done. These are the foundation stones in today’s world, but many of us mistakenly think it’s the finish line.

This is just the ante to get into the game. Table stakes. Any skill you can get, I can get too – especially in a world of billions of wannabe professionals who have easy access to the education and training programmes that you did, and many of whom may be more dedicated in studying than you.

The container is our physical and verbal representation. The packaging. Our looks, tone of voice, presentation ability, presentability, dress code, height, jawline, hairline, build, etc. This is the way that we pitch up and the manner that we carry ourselves. It's about our presence. Accents, for example, have a massive impact on perceptions, as do references, alumni both professional and academic, and the firms that we have worked for.

The UI is the behaviour and aura that we carry around us, but also the engagement that we have. Our listening and collaboration ability. Our ability to create on the fly and to connect and engage with clients. It talks about how easy it is to engage with us and how likeable we are.

The final attribute of us as products is our underlying self-improvement DNA. It is our ability to learn and enhance all the above over time. We call that learning agility. It is the innovation process that we have that allows us to constantly sense the needs of the market and enhance and improve all product attributes of ourselves over time. It is this, in the final analysis, that guarantees our relevance going forward.

Brand is about self promotion and WOM and will arise in the personal world in a similar way as in the business world. But exactly as in the business world, a brand without purpose is empty, a hollow shell. So what’s key in both aspects of brand building is being authentic to your purpose and ensuring that your purpose resonates with the community that you serve. Get this right and Apple will be coming to you for advice!