|photo by Aaron Frutman|
Guest post by Mike Consol
Much has been made of the personal branding of individuals. It's been a hot subject In recent years. One of the great failures of personal branding has been playing out in public view for years.
Enter basketball great Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers.
His monumental failure to turn himself into a sterling brand is largely attributable to a predecessor who has one of the world's strongest personal brands.
Enter NBA legend Michael Jordan, formerly of the Chicago Bulls.
The overarching theme is this: Michael Jordan was an original and Kobe Bryant is a knockoff. But there's more to the storyline than that, and it contains lessons for professionals in businesses other than sports. Learn from Bryant's mistakes and you're likely to avoid the same fate.
From a professional, on-court performance standpoint, the discrepancy between Bryant and Jordan shouldn't be so vast. Bryant has put up huge numbers during his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, including having just won his fifth NBA championship, just one short of what Jordan posted with the Chicago Bulls.
Bryant has scored more than 25,000 points, and will likely equal or surpass Jordan's 32,000-point career total. Bryant also shocked the basketball world in January 2006 when he scored a staggering 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, eclipsing Jordan's 73-point performance years earlier. It was the second-biggest scoring night in NBA history; only Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points in a 1962 game was bigger. (Some sports analysts said Bryant's performance was even more impressive than Chamberlain's.)
Lastly, Bryant has proven himself every bit as competitive and professionally disciplined as Jordan. He work ethic and refusal to quit on any play during any game is evident.
And what has Kobe Bryant gotten for all this? Just one Most Valuable Player award compared to six for Michael Jordan. He has received far fewer product endorsements, while Jordan is still pitching Hanes underwear and other products years after his retirement. And virtually every NBA announcer and analyst still keeps Michael Jordan in separate company. It was a big milestone for Bryant when television analysts acknowledged during this year's NBA playoffs that Bryant should "at least be part of the conversation" as to whether his greatness is equal to Jordan's.
He has just now earned the right to be part of the conversation? After all those accomplishments?
Yes, and here's why. From Kobe Bryant's earliest days in the league his admiration for Jordan was evident because he so closely emulated MJ's playing style. Everything about Bryant's manner said he was determined to become the next Michael Jordan - to prove he was as good as the man widely considered the greatest ever. Maybe even better.
And that spelled the end of any chance that Kobe Bryant had to create a brand of his own, one that could equal or surpass Jordan's and endure the test of time.
Contrast that with Michael Jordan's experience. Jordan was original, in part because the superstars immediately preceding him - the Boston Celtics' Larry Bird and the Los Angeles Lakers' Magic Johnson - were very different players stylistically. Bird and Johnson were marvelous talents, to be sure, but Jordan brought an athleticism and stamina the league had never seen the likes of - until Bryant came along.
There were other factors that made Jordan such an indomitable brand. He established several trademarks, including changing the NBA's attire. Jordan - still enamored with his college basketball uniform - wore his North Carolina University shorts and jersey under his Bulls uniform. To conceal the shorts and avoid violating the NBA's dress code, Jordan started wearing baggy shorts. The entire National Basketball Association soon followed his lead.
Jordan's far warmer, more playful personality and electric smile created better media, as well.
This two-person drama is a testimony to the power of personal brand. A strict numerical analysis of the two players would certainly place Bryant and Jordan on the same lofty pedestal. But that's only half the story. Factor in their personal brands, though, and Jordan wins in a blow-out.
There are several lessons to be culled from this saga. They include:
>> An enduring personal brand requires originality.
>> Imitating an icon is a surefire path to finishing in a distant second or third place.
>> Pay careful attention to both your contemporaries and predecessors.
>> Differentiate yourself.
>> Establish some marks of distinction.
>> Be aware of the subtext created by every word and action.
>> Don't underestimate the importance of personality.
You can bet Kobe Bryant would have drafted a different game plan if he could go back to his career's opening tipoff.
Mike Consol is president of MikeConsol.com. He provides corporate training seminars for communication skills, business writing, PowerPoint presentation skills and media training (both traditional media and social media). Consol spent 17 years with American City Business Journals, the nation's largest publisher of metropolitan business journals with 40 weekly newspapers across the United States. While at ACBJ, Consol held a variety of key posts.