in Branding

Going your own way

I didn’t watch Michael Jordan’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech last week. But after reading a bit about it, I took a look at it over the weekend. While some will say the speech was a bit out of place, I think it was just right.

People these days go through great pains to protect their image against all sorts of things they consider harmful. What ends up happening is you get a sanitized version of what they are. You think that speech is going to prevent MJ from selling more shoes? I doubt it. This is the guy who was once asked to campaign for a Democratic candidate for Congress and replied, “Republicans buy sneakers too.”

There’s value in being yourself. In differentiating yourself in a world where sameness and keeping up with the Joneses is the soup de jour. Maybe he’s not the best example of that, but…your institution (or maybe just you) could be.

Wasn’t it years of careful image control and brand management that drove his brand to exceed any athlete before him? No, not really. If he stopped being competitive on the basketball court, had failed to have success athletically it’d be unlikely that it would’ve lasted as long as it did. His success was very much tied to his image as a marketing icon. They were one in the same. The message? Excel at what you do, stand out and people will start to take notice. The flip side of course, if people will notice when you mess up too. But better to be relevant than not, no?

The story of the day here? Authenticity is everything. In a world where there are tons of choices, people yearn for institutions that stand out. Your can’t expect your message to differentiate itself in a world where everyone is saying the same things in a slightly different way. You have to be bold and sometimes and take risks.

Most of all, everything you say has to have meaning. Buzzwords don’t have much value after a while, because like the latest internet meme, they get spin cycled so fast they lose their impact.

Clarity is better than spin.

  1. I don’t think it was disrespectful. They jacked the prices up because people were going there to see him be inducted and he knew it. For a guy that had been holding back forever, it was probably his one chance to say “you wanted to know why I wanted to keep going and wanted to be great? What kept the fire burning inside of me? It was your lack of belief in me.”

    I think that was a powerful statement. And it started when he was just a kid. Now he went about it the wrong way probably by signaling so many people out, but I think the revelation of what that intense hurt, pain and frustration did for him…and how he channeled it to fuel his greatness is a powerful message for folks who feel so compelled to follow the company line, to do what other people expect them to do even when it doesn’t make any sense or to mold themselves after what other people hold up as greatness and then tell you “oh, you can’t do that. This or that is wrong with you.”

    It’s an incredible message. But yes, the hubris he demonstrated probably was a bit uncomfortable for folks and yet…that made it all the more delicious to watch for me.

    Thanks for commenting. :)

  2. What made the speech strange is that he took the opportunity (on a day when many people came out to honor him and his induction into the Hall of Fame) to dig up one old grudge after another. Maybe that’s what made him great, this inner drive that took in these perceived slights and used them as fuel for making himself better, but it made him look disrespectful. If he had said the same things in an interview, I don’t think his comments would have been received quite the same way by many. But he did it at his Hall of Fame induction.

    Look, I’m no fan of canned or overly-sanitized comments from athletes. Charles Barkley is one of my favorite athletes. I really appreciate his candor and honesty. And I couldn’t agree more that authenticity is important for colleges, even more with the growth in social media. But as I watched Jordan, I just felt like he was going through a laundry list of all these slights in his career and saying “in your face”.

    I don’t think that Jordan needed to hide this ultra-competitive side in his speech. While I admit this is a pretty bad analogy, it’s like College A mentioning how bad College B is in its brochure to demonstrate why it’s the best choice for prospective students.

    I will say I found the speech entertaining, but in a bizarre, “I can’t believe he’s saying this” kind of way.

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