What can brands learn from Michael Jordan?

Now the nationwide obsession with Tiger King is all but a distant memory, another, very different American documentary has become a national obsession on the other side of the Atlantic.

However, being American, and the focus of a multi-part Netflix documentary at a time when people suddenly have a bit more time on their hands, is where the similarity between Michael Jordan and Joe Exotic ends.

After savouring every minute of the almost ten-hour-long story of the “Last Dance” for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, we came to realise that, unlike Joe Exotic, businesses can learn a lot from MJ’s public image when it comes to building their brand.

Trust the process

If you’re building profile and a reputation you can’t just expect to be an overnight sensation with millions of likes across every social platform. MJ ‘s celebrity reached that Beatles-esque crescendo in 1997–1998 (the year which was the focus of his documentary) because he had built his aura consistently over almost 18 years in the public eye.

Know your audience

MJ clearly defined the audience he was targeting, famously demonstrated by his much-criticised statement “Republicans buy sneakers too”. Whether he was right or wrong about that (and the heir to his throne Lebron, MJ has been far more politically active in his public profile), you can’t argue with his marketability and that comes down to the fact every decision was made with a view to appealing to as wide an audience as possible.

Different messages for different people

While MJ was laissez-faire with the freewheeling Dennis Rodman, he bordered on a bully towards the more laidback Scott Burrell. That’s because he knew the importance of tailoring a message. This translates to social media platforms and how you engage the audience and game the algorithm. Facebook only really reacts to a bribe (paid advertising), Instagram is mostly about looks (don’t just think any photography will do) and Twitter needs to be badgered to make any headway (the 2–3 posts a week used on other social channels won’t move the needle.)

Define your mission and purpose, then value it above all else

Michael Jordan had unparalleled success both on and off the court because all that mattered to him was winning. Every single decision was viewed through the lens of how to win. While some of his behaviour would be unpalatable now, he is so admired and remains so relevant because he single-handedly stuck to his mission and never wavered from it.

Manifest enemies

I’m not suggesting companies should make enemies of other companies, but they need to look at their rivals and constantly think how they would steal a march in the eyes of clients and consumers. What are they doing that you’re not? What can you do that they’re not doing? Think about how they could steal your clients or customers, and feed that into your strategy.

More is not always better

Only say as much as adds value. Adding to social media because you feel you should is a fast way to boring your customers and clients, and it only shines a light on lack of originality, a case in point being the past two months of businesses bombarding social media with pictures from their Zoom calls. It quickly became noise. When Michael Jordan had actual valuable news to give, one of the biggest pieces of news in sporting history, he did it with a press release saying: “I’m back”.

Control what you can control

Many businesses are struggling. These are unprecedented times and the old ways to build your brand won’t necessarily work. Michael Jordan knew he wouldn’t win an NBA Championship without dedicating himself to adding muscle so he could match the more physically impressive Pistons. Companies which focus on building their platforms during this time while many other contract will come out of this stronger.

Back yourself

He wasn’t happy with his offer from Converse, so when it came to choosing his shoe deal, he knew his value and had faith in his eventual marketability, so he went with a plucky little challenger brand called Nike, and the rest is history.

There’s another blog to be written about the aspects of Michael Jordan you would do well to avoid, but there’s a reason his story resonates with millions that goes far beyond sport.

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