According to Forbes, Michael Jordan—who hasn’t played the game since 2003, need we remind you—pulled in a whopping estimated $90 million in 2013. The same article goes on to point out that MJ’s personal brand is still more popular than almost every current or retired players’, and is second only to Floyd Mayweather in that regard. How did he do it?
Join forces with other brands
One of the biggest reasons Michael Jordan’s brand became a success was through his partnership with Nike, which was a mere startup when MJ signed on (and even then, he took convincing not to go with Adidas). Gatorade, a company of similar size, was another great partner to him. Having partners multiplies your visibility, doubles your own efforts to stand out and creates legitimacy. Plus, it can be the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship: Nike currently is a $90 billion company, and it has MJ to thank in large part.
Create a lasting image
It wasn’t enough that MJ had skills out on the court, he needed a way to remind people of his greatness that translated across media. Hence, Nike slapped the Jumpman logo on its third Air Jordan release. The logo was part of Nike’s effort to retain the player, who was thinking about quitting the brand at the time, and convinced him that the company had his best interests at heart. And boy, did they ever. The logo became instantly recognizable and was soon on everything you could buy, and continues to be as identifiable as the golden arches.
Don’t be afraid to break a few rules
The Air Jordan 1’s were the first signature shoe in the NBA. At the time, the league enforced a rule that stipulated that players could only wear white shoes on the court, which didn’t quite vibe with MJ’s red colourway. The shoe and, in effect, Jordan’s personal brand got a lot of attention when he started wearing the shoes during games. Nike footed the $5,000 bill every time, and the little bit of controversy helped make a name for the player. Safe stunts can always improve visibility and capture the imagination of the public.
Take your brand in different directions
Before Jordan was the basketball player we know today, he was a baseball player. And before that, he was a basketball player (for the first time). His short-lived experiment playing for the MLB helped him see that his personal brand and skillset fit best in the basketball niche. His experiment prompted Jordan to stick to his core product—and when he did, he helped Chicago three-peat for the first time in NBA history. By pushing your brand’s boundaries, you may actually find that it scales well, but you’ll never know until you try.
Play the long game
Everybody figured that the Air Jordan brand would fizzle out when Jordan retired. They couldn’t have been further from the truth. Instead, the Jordan line became it’s own brand when number 23 was hung up for good. Strong brands are somewhat modular—the successful, long-lasting aspects can be separated from the parts that will inevitably come to an end. Steve Job’s ethic of simplicity and function lives on with Apple. McDonalds is trading its fast-food model for a more premium, fast-casual experience, but retaining its ubiquity and speed. You get the picture.