How to use Instagram to build your personal brand

The FLEX Personal-Branding Week


Kati Ernst's top personal branding tips

1 - Consciously and actively build a brand

Every product in the consumer facing business can be duplicated, differentiation can only be achieved through a strong brand.

2 - Build trust

Trust in the founders leads to trust in the brand.

3 - Just get started!

Choose the most relevant social media for you and get started.

4 - Use your unique skills

Define the themes you want to stand for. These themes should then consistently run like a thread through everything you do on social media.

Kati Ernst

About

Kati Ernst and her co-founder Kristine Zeller have built their company ooia to focus on innovative female products. Currently, ooia is best known for their period underwear, a new type of product that they launched successfully in Germany almost three years ago.

The company has been bootstrapped and has grown rapidly since its foundation in 2018. Currently, ooia is achieving eight-figure sales. Prior to her life as an entrepreneur, Kati spent twelve years in management consulting at McKinsey, working primarily in apparel fashion and luxury. Her co-founder Kristine was previously at Zalando. The two founders have been friends for years and are also mothers.

Facts

Interview

Personal branding: "You should question what you want your name to stand for."

Social media platforms are more important than ever for building a personal brand. In an interview with FLEX managing partner Peter Waleczek, ooia co-founder Kati Ernst reveals what is important when building a personal brand on Instagram and how you can share your everyday life without becoming too private.

Peter Waleczek: Hello Kati! I am very pleased that you are taking the time to talk to me today about personal branding. As an entrepreneur, founder, and influencer, you stand for various topics such as female funding, equality, and the balance between work and motherhood. 

This makes you a role model for many entrepreneurs who want to build a personal brand via social media. To achieve so much in three years is really remarkable. 

In previous interviews, you have talked about how you put a lot of thought into branding right from the start: 50% branding and 50% product development. Why?

Kati Ernst: My firm belief is that nowadays every product in a consumer-facing business can be duplicated. If you really want to survive in the market, you need a powerful brand or patents. But patents are not relevant in many areas. It was therefore clear to us from the beginning that we not only had to invest in an innovative and superior product, but also in the brand. 

It was (...) clear to us from the beginning that we not only had to invest in an innovative and superior product, but also in the brand.

Kati Ernst

Was this path a conscious decision?

Kati Ernst: When we started building the company, we looked a lot at how we could get people to try our product.

Period underwear was fairly new to the European market and we knew there would be a lot of mistrust. We realised that trust had to be one of the brand’s core elements. We also ensured the quality of our products by certifying them and understood that as two strong founders, we were another asset. 

We ourselves are a good representation of our target group and realised that trust in us would also lead to trust in the brand. I wanted to make sure that potential customers got to know me and hence, I started using Instagram. Before, I had actually never used the app. Through Instagram stories, I took my followers into my everyday life as an entrepreneur. That was very interesting for many, which resulted in a high profile. We now have 85k followers on Instagram. 

We quickly realised that with such a huge profile, we can also have a social influence. In our case, we wanted to use this influence to stand up for issues such as gender equality, the financing of female founders, and the reconciliation of family and career. I have recently started to position myself as a female entrepreneur in the business community. Other channels then became relevant, such as LinkedIn and appearances at events. These are the different phases I have gone through up to now.

We ourselves are a good representation of our target group and realised that trust in us would also lead to trust in the brand.

Kati Ernst

Were these phases strategically planned or did they just happen? How did you choose the channels?

Kati Ernst: Instagram was the most important for our personal branding phase. It has interactive possibilities like the story format or the chance to get in touch with potential female clients.

Did the positioning for socio-political issues start with the #pinkygate scandal, or was it before that?

Kati Ernst: No, we got a lot of PR for the product right at the beginning. We didn't have any money for marketing when we started because we were bootstrapped. So we created a detailed digital press kit, which we sent out to various press lists. The folder also contained topics on which we could say something, such as female funding and explaining taboo subjects. This led to a lot of media approaching us. So we were already on rbb television when we started our company. 

Once you start to achieve media presence, the interest of external media often takes on a life of its own

Do you have any other learnings from the initial phase?

Kati Ernst: Not everyone has to go through this personal route via Instagram. LinkedIn would be the best channel to establish yourself as a personal brand in the business world. Therefore, you first have to ask yourself which channel would be suitable. But with Instagram, you should set limits for yourself—specifically, what you wish to talk about and not. We have a rule that private things remain private and only our core topics should be in focus. Since we already cover a large part of our everyday life with these topics, the audience doesn't really become aware that we don't let them look deeply into our private lives.

The larger the number of followers, the harsher the tone because you make yourself vulnerable. Therefore, you have to decide how much attack surface you want to offer.

But with Instagram, you should set limits for yourself—specifically, what you wish to talk about and not. We have a rule that private things remain private and only our core topics should be in focus.

Kati Ernst

Were there any posts in the past that you regretted?

Kati Ernst: Yes, a few weeks ago I accidentally leaked a future product. I talked about a product in a story in response to a question from the community, which wasn't supposed to be communicated yet. I quickly deleted that story.

As far as political issues are concerned, we take it very seriously that we don't simply pass on headlines without first taking an objective look at the issue. You have a big responsibility when people who trust you follow you every day. You should always question what you choose to stand for.

Do you still manage Instagram alone or do you now have a team behind it?

Kati Ernst: Until December last year, Kristina and I did it as a team. We took turns on a daily basis. It used to take us a few hours every day to post pictures and film stories, which were also transcribed to be viewed without sound. 

We have now handed over two days of the week to the team. We have what we call Team Wednesday, where the team introduces themselves and takes the community through the day. This is very well received since we have very interesting teammates. On Fridays, we have our so-called Content Friday, where we discuss content-related topics, currently endometriosis. 

Was this step also a conscious decision to decouple yourself from the brand in order to make it more internationally scalable?

Kati Ernst:  We are indeed looking at how we can make the company more independent in all dimensions. It is also healthy for founder-led ventures not to be too attached to individuals. There should be a certain autonomy of the company, because you never know what will happen in life. We have been dealing with this more since last year and are trying to build systems to make the company more self-sufficient, which also concerns Instagram, for example. But the time has not yet come for us to pull out of Instagram. There are still a lot of people who have never heard of period underwear. We want to continue to inform these people via social media and convince them of our product.

Do you have any role models in personal branding?

Kati Ernst: There is actually hardly anyone who has built up such a strong consumer facing brand through their own person as we have. Johannes Kliesch from SNOCKS does this very well, but with a focus on business. Franziska von Hardenberg is also very strong and probably most similar to us in her approach to building brands through personal branding.

Do you have any tips for founders who want to build a brand via Instagram?

Kati Ernst: First, just start! You have to find out what you feel comfortable with and what it's like to speak in front of the camera. Second, ask yourself what topics you want to talk about. What competence do I have that no one else has? Because every person is unique.

Finally, the specific topic should consistently run through all communication measures like a red thread. That's how the feeling of a brand is created, that's how brand building works. 

Peter Waleczek: Thank you very much for your insights, Kati. I can really feel your passion for the topic.

Kati Ernst: Thank you very much from my side as well. Of course, I invite everyone to drop by our channel @its.me.ooia on Instagram.

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