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Michael Jordan Is a Case Study in Building a Powerhouse Personal Brand

The NBA legend and prolific businessman can offer a roadmap for growing your brand, too.

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I know so little about sports that the "sportsing" meme you see show up every year around Super Bowl time is a pretty good depiction of my knowledge on the topic. But despite my near-complete ignorance, even I recognize one athlete who is so iconic that nearly 20 years after his retirement, he is still the name and face most associated with basketball — even among people who don't follow the sport.

Catherine Steenkeste | Getty Images

That man is Michael Jordan.

Related: Why Michael Jordan Proves Passion Must Precede Leadership

What was the impact of Michael Jordan's personal brand?

Jordan propelled the NBA's popularity to new heights in the late-'80s and early '90s. Fans were enthralled by his elegant moves and ability to seemingly fly across the court and effortlessly dunk a ball. It's worth noting that his ability to do these things was possible due to his absolute commitment to being the best, as detailed by Tim Grover, his former personal trainer, in his book, Relentless. (I recommend reading it because the principles apply to how you perform in your own business.)

His commitment extended to his relationship with the fans as well. Jordan would routinely engage with them in ways most other players wouldn't, which cultivated a fiercely loyal tribe of fans. (There are some great stories about this in the book, too.) These factors were the foundation of his personal brand, and it's how he, almost single-handedly, transformed the NBA into an organization with global mass appeal.

That same aura was responsible for making Nike's Air Jordans the best-selling sneaker in history. To put this in perspective, in 2012 — a full nine years after Jordan played in his final NBA game — Air Jordans still made up 58% of all basketball shoes bought in the U.S. and 77% of all kids' basketball shoes, according to ESPN. And even it remains a best-selling product today.

His endorsements weren't limited to Nike, though. Gatorade, Hanes, Upper Deck, McDonald's and others tapped into the power of his personal brand, too. The sales-driving impact of his likeness was so powerful that he earned $1.7 billion from endorsements throughout his career.

In 1998, Fortune estimated that Jordan had a $10 billion dollar impact on the U.S. economy, and that number has likely only grown since then. That's the power of a strong personal brand.

Related: Michael Jordan's Rookie Sneakers Expected to Sell for Record Price at Auction

How can you build a powerhouse personal brand?

I was recently talking to a prospective client about a public-relations campaign, and after evaluating their situation, I told him he did not have a personal brand and we would need to fix that before beginning his PR. He responded by saying, "No problem. I'll go to Fiverr and get a logo."

Let's be clear: A personal brand is far more than just your logo. It's more than all of your marketing materials combined. These things are all a part of your brand and are certainly important, but they are the surface on top of the following foundational layers.

Define exactly what you stand for

Who you are is the foundation that every other part of your personal brand is built on. So before you can build an effective brand, you have to first know and be able to communicate exactly what you stand for.

Most people know the answer to this question, but they also tend to be scared to put that out into the world. They think, "Well, if I take a stance that someone doesn't like, they might not do business with me." Welcome to the entire point of branding.

An effective brand not only attracts the right people; it also repels the wrong ones, and that's a good thing! This helps you build a loyal tribe that will eagerly buy what you sell and help spread the word. It also helps your business run more smoothly and profitably because your clients will be more aligned with your brand, so they'll usually be more satisfied.

5 core topics

The way I break this down is to first identify five core topics you're most passionate about. These should play a significant role in who you are. Here's a tip for narrowing it down: If you don't truly feel a topic in your soul, then it doesn't belong on the list.

I'll share mine as an example:

  • Business
  • Marketing/PR
  • Overcoming adversity
  • Veterans issues
  • Freedom

Your core topics are what you will talk about in your content to convey exactly who you are and what you stand for. Everything you publish must relate to one of these topics in some way. This may sound difficult, limiting and boring, but it doesn't have to be. It just takes some practice and creativity, and you'll be able to connect almost anything to your core topics.

Build a network that aligns with your personal brand

Jim Rohn is famous for saying, "You're the average of the five people you spend the most time with," and while this is an important principle in general, it's especially important to your personal brand. It may be tempting to connect with people simply because they're powerful and influential, but if they don't align with your brand, that could hurt you in the long run.

The people you allow into your network should be carefully and intentionally cultivated. They don't all need to be in your industry or at your level, but they do all need to share your core values. Too often though, I see people networking with others based on nothing but the impact they think those people could have on their business. That's a tremendous mistake.

It's difficult to work with people who don't share your core values, but more importantly, by aligning yourself with them, others will assume you share their beliefs. That will attract the wrong type of prospects and connections, and before you realize it, your business will be in absolute chaos.

Design an image that represents your personal brand

This is the fun and exciting part of creating a personal brand, and it's the culmination of all the strategic work that we did earlier. When we design an image that will be used across all of our marketing collateral, we need to consider numerous uses, including:

  • Logo
  • Website
  • Email signature
  • Headshot
  • Social media profiles
  • Video outro

The graphic elements you design will need to work seamlessly and consistently regardless of how and where they're being used. Obviously, you will need to modify the layout a bit in each case, but the general theme should be consistent. Whether someone is visiting your website, Twitter profile or YouTube channel, it should be clear that each is an extension of your brand. This means using one headshot, the same colors and a similar cover photo everywhere. Take a look at these examples from my social media profiles for an example.

Related: Michael Jordan's New NASCAR Venture Is Another Slam-Dunk Business Move

Consistency is key

Simply having a brand is not enough. People need consistent exposure to it before you can earn their recognition and trust. So you'll need to consistently publish content, earn publicity and engage with your audience on social media in order for your brand to have an impact. And that way, you can just maybe be a bit like Mike.

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