Muhammad Ali — the athlete, the activist, the brand.

3 Knock-Out Lessons on Personal Branding from Muhammad Ali

Disclaimer: my dad is a black man who greatly admired Muhammad Ali — both
the man and the athlete.Growing up in virtually all-white Winnipeg in the ’70s, we’d watch Ali fights on the remote-less TV. I read my dad’s entire collection of Ali biographies while still a kid. And my dad was a recreational boxer who looked like Ali, talked like Ali, and was very politically-conscious like Ali. So this post isn’t just another celebrity story hijacking. This post is personal.

In this day and age when anyone with a smart phone and internet access can bombard us with the most mundane aspects of their life, Muhammad Ali’s legendary status spanned the globe as a result of his brain, his beliefs and yes, his brawn. In addition to his boxing championships and political activism, here are 3 lessons in personal branding — what I call the 3 V’s — that he left us:

1. Brand Voice — aside from Muhammad Ali, has any boxer or fighter ever been associated with lyrical lines, political poetry and inspirational orations like Ali? Ali quotes are ubiquitous: strong, succinct, compelling and emotionally rich. While his trash-talking served as great sound-bites, it also established his rep as a fearless athlete who understood the importance of self-promotion.

Personal Branding Implication — determine your style of voice and make your statements bold, brazen, clear and strong. Move hearts, motivate minds and make ’em laugh. Speak the truth, aways.

2. Brand Visual — Ali was pretty. And he knew it. He looked good in boxing trunks, traditional African kente cloth and dashiki or the iconic bow-tie of the Nation of Islam. His figure was a vessel for winning fights and for making a political and cultural statement. When you think of Muhammad Ali, you don’t think “sponsored by Brand X” or wonder what designer he wore to the awards gala. The man wore the clothes, the clothes never ever wore the man. And while tattoos today have become the equivalent of skin graffiti, Ali’s body was an unmarked work of art and physical perfection.

Personal Branding Implication — worry less about the label and more about the package. Hold your self in high esteem always, for everything that you do is a direct reflection of your personal brand.

3. Brand Values — Muhammad Ali was a champion in the boxing ring, but his legend has long-lived outside the arena. Ali spoke truth — particularly on civil rights — even when it threatened his sports career and personal freedom. Contrast this to the athletes of today, who seem to speak, instagram or tweet the legally-approved language handed down by their brand sponsors. Even when many of the same civil rights issues that Ali protested are as dire today as they were 50 years ago.

Personal Branding Implication — stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything. Whether your values are part of popular culture — or not — don’t be afraid to proclaim your passions. And fight for these rights — whatever the arena.

Muhammad Ali set a high bar for athletes, and an even higher bar for himself. Our world is a sadder place without this warrior.

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