As a young boy, I used to watch Muhammad Ali's boxing matches on TV with my dad. I remember watching the “Thriller in Manila” and “The Fight of the Century” in Madison Square Garden, just a few miles from where I grew up.
I remember how excited my father, Joe, a New York City Police Officer, used to get by Ali’s poise and power. Seeing my dad be so riveted made an impression on me. At the time I thought I was just watching a guy who knew how to fight. I did not realize I was not just watching a boxing legend -- but also a marketing genius in the making.
Having proved himself to be the best boxer in the world at the 1960 Olympics, Muhammad Ali knew that he now had a platform where he could affect issues outside the ring. After winning the Heavyweight boxing title in 1965, Ali’s career took off like a rocket. He immediately seized the opportunity to use his newfound celebrity to inspire people and create change in the world. During the course of his career Ali’s beliefs and ideals touched the lives of us all whether we realized it or not.
In business, the lessons and examples set by Muhammad Ali are endless. It is said that Mr. Ali, is one of the most recognized personalities in the world. This is because he built a brand. The brand was Muhammad Ali. People knew who he was and what he stood for, and whether you agreed with his stances or not, you clearly understood his mission.
In business, the goal of marketing and brand building should be just that -- effectively communicating the company’s mission and what it represents. The way I see it, the ingredients Ali used to build his brand were the following: practice, belief, goals and tenacity.
Another boxer, Joe Frazier, said, “champions are not made in the ring -- they are merely recognized there.” Like in any great feat, the talent is mastered in the preparation. Muhammad Ali prepped and trained and then trained some more. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he proposes that to achieve greatness in any field, one needs to practice 10,000 hours. If that’s the case, Mr. Ali must have devoted 1,000,000 hours to his preparation.
Along with all that training comes unshakable confidence. He once said: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, don’t quit. Suffer now, and live the rest of your life as a champion.” You see, Ali had a clear vision for his life and lived his days accordingly. As a business owner, once you know that you’ve put in the hours and perfected a seamless business strategy, you can go out and face your competitors with confidence -- like a champ.
Confidence about your abilities will give you courage. Ali said, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” And in business, it’s ALL about risk. Believing in your product or service gives you the confidence to say to the world: I have the greatest product or service, and I dare you to challenge me!
Can you be a great self-promoter like Ali was? Is it possible for you to be so confidant in yourself or your product that you have no fear of competition? Do you have a sureness deep in your heart that you have the best product in the market? If not, go back and invest more time into your 10,000 hours of training and adjust your business plan. Figure out what part of greatness is missing, and then practice that piece. Strive for perfection, like Ali did.
In business, having goals is paramount. You need to have a vision for your company, and setting goals will help get you there one step at a time. I think we all can agree that Muhammad Ali had clear and well-defined goals. He said, “I know where I'm going, and I know the truth, and I don't have to be what you want me to be. I'm free to be what I want.”
When a rule inhibited his freedom, he challenged it. In business, you sometimes have to push the envelope on status quo to make success happen. It’s ok, and at times, necessary to do that.
Ali was the poster child for tenacity. He said, “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.” Ali was defeated several times and came back over and over again. It’s not how many times you’re knocked down -- it's how many times you stand up again, right?
In business, there are always setbacks. If you can overcome an obstacle, you will ultimately be stronger for the next fight. Each setback that you overcome is adding to your 10,000 hours. When the next challenge comes your way you will have more knowledge, strength and confidence to fight the good fight.
Ali had a mission, a purpose and a dream. He was a man who took the fight for the American Dream to new levels. A man who came from humble beginnings and perfected a memorable and legendary brand. Take lessons from the Champ, and implement some of his mantras into your business.
I will leave you with this Ali quote, “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.” Apply, what I call, “Ali’s four greatest rules of brand building” into your business -- and get prepared to throw that knock out punch to your competitors!