Personal Brand Lessons from Mohammad Ali

MarketingProfs writes about what we can learn about personal branding from boxing champ Mohammad Ali. They call him "the world’s greatest personal brand". Excerpts below. Here’s my earlier post on the importance of creating and projecting a personal brand.

  • Think international: At a time when most Americans could not find Canada on a map, Ali had fights in Toronto, London, Zurich, London, Jakarta, Kinshasa, Munich, Kuala Lumpur, Dublin, Manila, and elsewhere. Whatever you are doing now, think about doing it internationally, especially since globalization makes it not only easier but also crucial.
  • Live your principles: At a time the powers-that-be were saying we had to fight the enemy abroad so we wouldn’t have to fight them at home, Ali said, "I got nothin’ against them Vietcong." Because of his beliefs, he was indicted for refusing induction into the Army during Vietnam, and lost his heavyweight title for almost four years. That was when he was at his peak as a fighter, and it meant the loss of millions of dollars. After winning a gold medal for his country, he came back to his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky; and after being refused service in a restaurant because of his color, he went outside and threw his gold medal into the Ohio River. Contrast him to Tiger Woods, who did not boycott the Masters because of its gender- and race-based exclusion, and Michael Jordan, who did not support the black opponent to segregationist Jesse Helms because "Republicans buy sneakers too."
  • Feed the media: The best PR strategy boils down to this: "Feed the media." Ali actively courted reporters, symbolized by his long-time friendship with Howard Cosell. He knew the value of promotion. He once locked up his gloves in a Malaysian jail before a bout, and wore T-shirts that read "Manila guerrilla." He gave copy that wrote stories by themselves:
    • "It will be a killer, and a chiller, and a thriller, when I get the gorilla in Manila."

    • "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
    • "Joe Frazier is so ugly that when he cries, the tears turn around and go down the back of his head."
    • "I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark."
  • Train hard for your moment in the sun: …George Foreman had won 37 of his previous 40 fights by knockout, almost all within three rounds. So Ali came up with his rope-a-dope strategy, training his body to take the worst punishment Foreman could throw. By the seventh round, Foreman was exhausted, and Ali took him out. To toughen his stomach for the bout, Ali did a thousand sit-ups a day even though he "hated every minute" of training.
  • Do good: Ali has delivered food and medical supplies to children in Cote D’Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, and many other countries. His Web site claims Ali has helped provide more than 232 million meals to feed the hungry. He has helped free US hostages from Iraq and delivered food and medicine to Cuba, Afghanistan, and North Korea.

  • Rise above your difficulties: Ali has Parkinson’s syndrome, a debilitating disease that likely resulted from fighting long after he should have stopped. But he just celebrated his 65th birthday, and still travels more than 200 days a year in support of the causes he believes in.

2 Responses to Personal Brand Lessons from Mohammad Ali

  1. Dave says:

    “Live your principles” – your comment shows that what you really mean is “Live principles Ben agrees with.” Self-interest is also a principle, and it looks to me like Tiger and Jordan live it.

  2. Ben Casnocha says:

    To be clear, those words from excerpts from the article, not my own. I should have blockquoted.

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