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It’s a childhood memory I’ll always have: the one time a year I got to be the one to go with Dad to use the second of our two Cleveland Browns season tickets. Going into Cleveland itself was treat enough, as was getting pancakes on the way (hey, I was seven.) Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium was enormous and awe-inspiring with a seating capacity around 80,000. And it was cold! Really cold. An open-air stadium on Lake Erie, it froze my toes and fingers every time.

My father was a diehard Browns fan and had the season tickets well before I was born. But due to year after year of disappointing returns, he gave them up after the 1979 season. Of course, much to his joy and horror, 1980 brought the Browns’ first division title in nine years, an MVP award for quarterback Brian Sipe, and the birth of the “Kardiac Kids.” Getting those season tickets back would take years.

I never caught the football bug, but I have always been fascinated by the passion it engenders, the loyalty it commands, and pomp and circumstance it employs. All ingredients to strong brands of any kind, not just NFL franchises.

With the NFL draft upon us, both the franchises themselves and the players they will select are thinking about their own brands. The young players no doubt have visions of creating their own profitable, historic, and personal brands like those of today’s Tom Brady or of former players like Walter Payton, Dick Butkus, and Joe Namath. (Good grief, could I date myself any more?)

What works for corporate brands, works for personal brands. The same applies to athletes, as well as to any of us in the professional world.

First and foremost, if you’re a running back, you have to have everything your team needs in a running back: vision, speed, quickness, ball security, etc. If you’re an accountant? You need to have the equivalent, such as accuracy, creativity, good listening skills.

Brady’s brand is not a party; Gronk’s is.

From there, you need to develop unique ways to bring that to life in the context of your team. If you’re Tom Brady, you exude an air of success and confidence even when you’re not. If you’re Rob Gronkowski, you make it clear that being a tight end is serious business but also serious fun. Brady’s brand is not a party; Gronk’s is.

If you’re an accountant, you could develop a client centricity that’s different from anyone else’s. If you’re not a people person, perhaps you’re the madly successful accountant who is also a thought leader on ethics. (But whatever you do, do not give out the Best Picture Oscar to the wrong film, that’s another topic and hashtag altogether.)

The point is, do what you are expected to do better than anyone. Then, add a layer of uniqueness to it that no one else can. Be as relevant and competitively differentiated as you can.

Want to talk through what’s involved in making your brand relevant and competitively differentiated? Let’s talk!

— Douglas Spencer

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