The Sweet Brand

by Don Yaeger

College football is ready to kick off another year loaded with opportunities for greatness.  But the countdown to kickoff goes beyond the usual sell-out crowds or the frequent clashing of helmets and shoulder pads.

For the last 5 years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of college student-athletes, discussing with them the “brand” that they will leave behind when their playing days are behind them.  This summer, the journey my team and I have taken has spanned from Cal-Berkeley to Michigan to Ball State University (greatest school on Earth—although as an alum I might be biased).  Through examples, we convince them that each of them is CEO of their own brand and it is in their interest to define their brand before others do so.  We challenge each athlete to identify his or her brand NOW, choosing five words that they hope will be used to describe them when they leave campus.  Then we show each of them how to use those words as the backbone of every media interview and their social media profiles.  The impact for them is huge… and there is a great lesson in the discussion for all of us.

Jarrett Payton, the former University of Miami runningback and son of NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton, joined our team this month for media training at Ball State.  As one of our presenters, he spoke to the athletes about the power of his brand. That’s easier than converting on 3rd & inches for a guy like Payton.  Even though he played in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans, the NFL Europe in Amsterdam, the CFL with Toronto, and the IFL with Chicago, Jarrett Payton’s brand has always been as simple, classic and powerful as his last name.

Known as “JP”, Payton knows he was blessed to be the son of Walter, but I’m constantly amazed by his drive to keep enhancing and re-defining HIS personal brand.  With the same kind of focus that helped him run to MVP honors during the 2004 Orange Bowl as starting tailback for the Miami Hurricanes, JP has run full speed into the social media realm.  His usage of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter to promote his efforts has now become the main factor that fuels his brand—and his life.

JP methodically and consistently sends out tweets of encouragement, inspiration, and promotion.  Now the man who touts himself as “Motivational tweeter, host of The Jarrett Payton radio show, entrepreneur, and the son of the Great Walter Payton” has a Twitter fan base of more than 16,000 followers.  His relentlessly positive branding even sparked an interest from the ESPN brass; now JP has been recently hired to appear as a regular on ESPNU programming.

But my amazement in this story of greatness is his intent to handoff the brand concept.  No, I’m not referring to the common desire to build a brand just to sell it to the highest bidder; in this case JP is focused on branding the next generation of “Sweetness” —Walter’s first grandchild.

The legacy lives on now that JP and his wife have a 4-month-old baby boy who is fully equipped with his own twitter account and more than 200 followers!  As you can imagine, the son of Walter Payton couldn’t stop gushing over the potential for greatness in his own son.

“I want him to have his own brand before he can walk,” said JP.  “I don’t know where Twitter will be ten years from now, but I want my son to already have a built-in following long before he realizes what a brand is.”

It’s that kind of foresight that can often times take an athlete, a coach, a team, a franchise, a company, or a brand from good to great.

How much thought have you given your brand?  What are you doing to make your brand great?

Your Behaviors are Your Brand

“Your Behaviors are Your Brand”
by Libby Gill

When I was growing up, most people had no clue who the big deal CEOs were in this country.  In some cases, it would have been a fair bet to assume that people didn’t even know who the CEO was of the company they worked for.  In those days (and it wasn’t that long ago), it didn’t really matter. No one talked about culture or corporate values then.  As for leadership style? Forget about it! 

Today we know many CEOs like they’re superstars. Steve Jobs, for instance. Donald Trump, of course. Meg Whitman, surely.  How about Tony Hsieh? The CEO of the online shoe giant, Zappos?  Unless you read business books like I do, you may not know his name. But you certainly know his influence. He’s the one whose leadership style has infused his company’s culture with excitement, positivity, and over-the-top customer service.


Ever since Steve Jobs died last year, a trend among leaders has been to ask themselves, “How can I be more like Jobs so I can have the success that Apple is experiencing?”  Believe me, only Steve Jobs could pull off being Steve Jobs. If you tried some of his less popular but nonetheless effective behaviors, you’d risk losing your talent – not to mention your customers – or maybe coming off as downright mean.

You might not want to be like Tony Hsieh either.  Oh, he’s very nice and deeply authentic as a wonderful, inspiring leader. (In fact, you can read my interview with him in You Unstuck.) But you may not be in a position to let your salespeople chat at length with an indecisive customer, only to not close a sale at the end of the marathon call.  That works for Zappos, but it might not work for you or me.

But here’s what you can do: You can be yourself. This is the only way you can deeply and authentically connect with both your employees and your customers. And inspire them to buy.

No one can tell you how to be you except you, of course. But if you’ve been busy adapting the behaviors of your favorite CEO (or if you haven’t thought about it at all), I can help you walk yourself back to your authentic self. These steps will help you uncover what I call your Leadership DNA – that code that is uniquely you and that no one else can copy.

  1. Study your company’s values statement, like you’ve never seen it before. If you’ve been with your company for a year or so, it’s likely that the values statement has lost its freshness, and has faded into the background like white noise or easy listening music.  If you’re a business owner, write or rewrite your values statement – in people speak, not corporate jargon.
  2. Ask yourself what specific behaviors bring the values statement to life– not only for your customers but also for your employees. How far are youwilling to go to make that statement real for all your stakeholders? Do those behaviors even feel natural to you? Or would it be like putting on a costume?
  3. Discuss the values statement with your trusted staff, colleagues and even some hand-picked customers.  How far do you want to go to bring those values to life, when it comes to working with each other or serving your customers?  How far do they expect each other to go?  What do they tell you that they need from you to feel supported to consistently deliver the quality of work that you are looking for?  Are you willing to take your leadership behaviors and style that far? (If you think this might be a silly question, imagine the Apple staff telling Steve Jobs, “We want you to be nicer.”)

Being a leader these days is more than just driving your team to deliver a product or service that’s consistent with your company’s brand promise.  It’s about modeling behaviors and a personal style that will inspire your people to take personal initiative to fulfill your company’s best vision.

When you do this exercise thoughtfully and with specific intention, you will be connecting with your customers and employees in a deeply authentic, inspiring and sustainable way.  And then it will be your Leadership DNA that will be the stuff of stories and legend for generations to come.