Ripken Belongs in Branding Hall of Fame
Cal Ripken has been inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame — not so much for his baseball numbers as for the fantastic brand he created. Cal’s career batting average is not even close to .300, and he did not average more than 25 home runs or 100 RBIs a season. Yet he is one of the most popular, memorable, and most marketable players of recent history. Why?
Throughout his 21-year career, Cal Ripken has been a living example of what marketers need to do to build a successful brand. For Cal, building his brand came naturally. It flowed from his love for the game. Let’s look at the incredible, almost textbook branding lessons to be learned from Cal.
Stand for One Thing
You can’t be all things to all consumers. It never works. You have to carefully determine what you are selling, and I’m not talking about whether you are selling software or accounting services. What is the soul or the vision behind what you are selling – what are you asking your consumers to identify with emotionally?
Hundreds of baseball players are selling baseball skills, but that doesn’t turn them into a popular brand like The Iron Man. Throughout his career, Cal was always selling RELIABILITY and DECENCY. Consumers identified with his blue-collar work ethic and “bought into” his brand. Day in and day out, everyone knew what they were getting from Cal.
Clarity of Message
Once you have determined what it is you are selling, you need to make sure that this is clearly communicated through all that you do — from your PR and marketing messages to your people on the street to the products and services you provide. Not 9 to 5. But 24 hours a day!
There is no room for confusion or mixed messages here. You can’t sell RELIABILITY one day and FLASHINESS the next. This creates “cognitive dissonance” for the consumer and always results in poor or unsuccessful branding. This is the beauty of the Cal brand. Whenever or wherever you see him, he always bespeaks RELIABILITY and DECENCY — never anything else.
Consistency and Repetition of Messages
Building a brand requires patience. A long-term successful brand has never been and never will be established overnight. The key is consistency and repetition of your core message.
Cal relentlessly repeated his selling point until it was crystal clear that he was the embodiment of the blue-collar work ethic. Seven years into Cal’s career people in the Baltimore/Washington area knew that he was reliable and decent, but people in Oklahoma and California did not. Continual repetition of his unique selling point changed this over the next ten years to the point where Cal became known throughout the country as The Iron Man.
Be Best, Better or Different
Once you have determined what you are selling, you need to determine how you can position yourself as best, better or different from your competitor. How do you stand out from the crowd and why should the consumer pay attention to you?
There have been many other ballplayers over the past 20 years who were reliable and decent.
Cal chose to make himself the best of this group by not missing one single game during a 16 year period. In addition to shattering Lou Gehrig’s “unbreakable” record for most consecutive games played, Cal further differentiated himself by playing for one team his entire career – the Baltimore Orioles. For a superstar to do so in today’s sports world is virtually unheard of.
The fact that Cal played for only one team his entire career is also a great example of consistency of message. Cal is an Oriole. Had Cal played for a couple of different teams during his career, his brand would never have been as strong.
There is no question that we in Baltimore were privileged to be a part of something very special. We were allowed to witness firsthand the birth and career of one of the greatest baseball players of all time – one of the few really good guys in sports. A ballplayer who epitomized what it meant to be a ballplayer and the type of athlete we need more so now than ever before.
As a former baseball player I loved watching Cal play the game the way it was meant to be played. As a PR and marketing professional it was a joy watching him create a brand the way it was meant to be created. See you in the Hall of Fame, Cal – the branding one as well as that one in Cooperstown.