maintaining your relevance
Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
Your relevance is that you are the person people associate with a specific area of knowledge, insight and influence, and they trust you over time.
The effectiveness of ‘brand you’ is fundamentally about your relevance, as it’s through your relevance that you can make an impact. Your relevance is about what you can do, not who you are – about being something not just someone.
What exactly do I mean when I use the term ‘relevance’? The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘relevance’ as ‘the state of being closely connected or appropriate to the matter in hand’. At its most basic then relevance is simply having meaning or purpose, person- ally, professionally, or spiritually at a point in time.
To be relevant is thus to be important, but the term implies more than that.
To be relevant, an action or person must be connected to a larger scheme, a grander plan – the ultimate ‘matter in hand’. As leaders, we should bring meaningful and purposeful solutions to the many perplexing issues in our world.
In the business world, to be relevant means being an integral part of your organisation, of your company, of the economy, and of the future. It means being the kind of person on whom others depend, whether for leadership, expertise, acumen or emotional support.
As with consumer brands, the more relevant you are the more effective you can be and the more impact you can have. To be rele- vant to someone or to an organisation, you need to understand what is of utmost importance to them, just as a consumer brand or service brand must deeply understand what the customer wants.
The more relevance you have, the more opportunity you have to influence and make an impact for the better, because people who seek you out are more open and willing to listen to your ideas and thoughts and then implement them. This is not to say you are the ‘be all and end all’ in any given organisation, only that the more relevance you have the more you are able to make a difference. For example, I’m passionate about helping not-for-profit organisations find more sustainable ways to keep helping people. Because of my knowledge of branding and business I’m regarded as being highly relevant to such organisations. My reputation is also such that peo- ple know of my commitment to helping others, so that also supports my relevance. If I had left my business role, retired and gone fishing for years, my relevance would be considerably diminished, even though I’d still have the same knowledge and skills.
MORE RELEVANCE EQUALS MORE IMPACT
So how does relevance affect ‘brand you’? The value of relevance is in the ability to make an impact at scale.
You might want to change something about your community, company, city, the world – and we all know there are plenty of things that need changing. Let’s take something that impacts us all: climate change. You might want to do something to help bring change, but without relevance you’re probably limited to recycling at your home, working in a community garden, signing petitions, limiting your own power use – all worthwhile efforts but they do not have an impact at scale. Conversely, if you’re a scientist and you become actively engaged in scientific, public and inter-governmental discus- sions and policy making over a period of time, you’ll become more relevant and be able to make a larger impact.
Or, you might want to help improve the lives of women and children in developing countries. Without relevance you’ve got a range of options that will have an impact on a few lives through donating your time, money or both. If you had greater relevance in the charitable sector, for those organisations that could use your help and with potential donors you could magnify your efforts and make a significant impact. Just think, if you were highly relevant you might be able to secure the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and change millions of lives.
The value of relevance can also be seen in the workplace. The more relevant you are in your organisation the more you can effect change, and this doesn’t mean you have to be in the executive suite. You might be passionate about more diversity in your organisation but be a rela- tively new recruit or junior manager. Initially you may not have much relevance, but if you become engaged in the diversity programs within
the company, undertake research, and engage with others around this topic through seminars, conferences and online groups, you’ll increase your knowledge and relevance within your organisation over time. And then over time you could be promoted into more senior roles with oversight over diversity policies and actions.
The more relevant you are in whatever area you want to make an impact, the more impact you can make.
RELEVANCE AND TIME
The interesting thing about relevance is that you can have relevance at a moment in time as well as over time, if you manage your reputa- tion well.
Let’s have a look.
Relevance at a moment in time
With a consumer brand, if a customer wants, say, a car or television, that’s top of mind for only a short period of time. If you’re a car brand or television brand, at that time you are relevant when the customer has that need or want, then it’s gone.
Similarly with people. The skill sets, attitudes and behaviours you have form your reputation. These are often only relevant to peo- ple when they are focused on a specific outcome or goal they want to achieve, and the same goes for companies. An organisation might want a financial controller. There’s thousands of financial controllers available, but only a few who are highly relevant at that moment in time. Most individual financial controllers are not relevant as they haven’t focused long enough on making sure that they are, focusing more on their skills and not their ‘brand’.
Relevance at a moment in time is about being visible and top of mind when the moment occurs.
Relevance over time
This is a fascinating part of our journey through creating a brand new brand you, and forms how I’ve structured the book.
Each of us have different parts to our lives – some more, some less – that we are relevant in and therefore have more or less impact on, should we choose. For the purposes of exploring relevance over time I’ve chosen four key areas:
• community • country.
At any given point in time, your relevance to each of these areas is different and the pathways you travel are different.
Below is a graph that takes you through one relevance journey over time.
Let’s consider each of these four areas of relevance.
We start out (and mostly maintain) high relevance to our family. When we’re born and right through childhood and our late teens we’re highly relevant to our parents. As we grow older and become more independent we’re less relevant to them (loved, but less relevant) and them to us. As we start our own families (line 2 in the graph above), we become highly relevant to our new family and less relevant to our extended family.
Here we are talking about you as a business participant, not as a consumer. We all start out not being relevant at all in this area. We don’t become relevant until we enter the workforce, and if we man- age ‘brand you’ in a proactive way we can become highly relevant for a period of time (a business leader, if you will), and then become less relevant when we leave a company, or perhaps we maintain rele- vance by becoming an interim executive or board member.
Again we’re not relevant at all as a leader in this area until poten- tially somewhere in our late teens or early 20s, and even then it’s only those who actively take part in groups and organisations where leadership skills can be developed before your mid to late 20s (such as sporting teams, Scouts, Guides, cadets, community groups and political parties).
We become more and more relevant as we get older in these groups as our skills and networks grow and our reputation builds. More and more people ‘know’ about you and seek you out. And, for
some, our relevance continues through to later life, post business or work, as we retain engagement with and relevance for the specific groups we have chosen to focus on.
By this I mean representing your country in some way, shape or form, but not sports which would have quite a different pathway.
Most of us are not at all relevant as a leader for our country until well into our 30s, and probably later. Most elected politicians aren’t relevant till they are in the higher levels of their party’s leader- ship team or a minister. Most non-elected leaders (administrators, top-level bureaucrats, and trade, defence, security and financial rep- resentatives) are well into their 50s and 60s before they are relevant, and even then – given Australia’s role in the global political and economic environment – some may question the level of relevance … but that’s another discussion.
Relevance for your country (and the world) more often than not increases with age. Think Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Germaine Greer, Ray Dalio, Andrew Forrest, Elizabeth Evatt, Frank Lowy, David Attenborough, Sir Edmund Hillary, Catherine Livingstone, Graeme Clark … even Harry Vanda and George Young and Angus and Malcolm Young.
It is, however, also fickle, and many lose their relevance over- night when the political scene changes or their term is finished. And there’s always exceptions; in terms of age we have Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg. In terms of continuing relevance, Ronald Reagan remains so through the term ‘Reaganomics’, as does Margaret Thatcher with ‘Thatcherism’.
Here you have no relevance for quite some time and then it gradually increases (in most cases), at which time you might have a
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period of high relevance and then become irrelevant quite quickly, maintain a lower level of relevance, or shift your relevance to focus on business or community.
Of course, this chart shows just one example of a journey … each person’s journey will be slightly – or a lot – different. The point how- ever is that relevance is a journey over time and it changes across the different parts of your life. You can choose to just let it take its own course, or you can be aware of this and actively manage it.
For example, some people think they can maintain relevance with their business relationships when they stop working. But before long they’re talking about business issues and dynamics that are from the past and not issues of today and tomorrow. They start talking more and more about what used to be and not about now or the future. They become less and less relevant in business circles.
They become stranded.
Business moves incredibly quickly, even moreso now in the age of digital disruption and global connectivity. As a professional or business person you have to focus on current and emerging trends and knowledge to keep up and maintain relevance. When I stepped out of my CEO role I was very aware of the need to continue to talk about and operate in the here and now and the future, not the past. It takes a conscious effort and requires gaining a deeper understand- ing of – for example – AI, IoT, cyber security, privacy, cross-border financial and information flows, geopolitics and more.