6 Reasons Ali was a Master Brand Builder and Thought Partner

Abena Perryman
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A week ago today Muhammad Ali, born Casiuss Clay, died at the age of 74, having lived a full life. Father of 7, Olympic and professional athlete, activist, he touched many lives. Ali is a legend, and as the world mourns the loss of a boxing great, I have been swept up in the stories and accounts of his legacy.

What I found most interesting about the stories and recounts was although he made his name within boxing, he transcended sports and was a true marketer, master brand builder and influential thought partner.

Master Brand Builder

Three elements that I admire about Ali tie right back to critical elements in a strong brand:

Element 1: Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”

Ali had an unwavering belief in himself and he wasn’t afraid to tell the world. He said he was the greatest boxer in the world, and he backed up his claims. Ali won Olympic gold in Rome as the Lightweight champion at the tender age of 18, and then went on to win three world Heavyweight titles in 1964, 1974 and 1978. His professional career spanned 21 years and boasts an impressive 56 wins, 37 by way of knockout, and just 5 losses.

Element 2:  Create a Memorable Experience

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

He believed in customer experience and always gave his fans a show, whether it was his dancing in the ring, or trash talking in pre fight banter. Ali was a natural entertainer and a charismatic boxer.

Element 3: Stand for Something

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

His brand was tied to strong beliefs: whether it was denouncing the Vietnam war in 1966, converting to the Muslim faith, or speaking out as an active proponent during the American Civil Rights Movement. When Ali believed in something he wasn’t afraid to challenge the ‘establishment’.

Influential Thought Partner

“The man who has no imagination has no wings.”

While we never truly know who a man is – the demons they may be fighting or all the lives they may have touched – when reading stories about Ali the man, I read comments from one side of the spectrum to the other, loving him and his impact to denouncing his refusal to join the armed forces.

I wonder, what would happen if instead of trying to judge his accomplishments or faults, we started thinking of Ali as a thought partner. Thought partners help you become a better version of yourself, help companies reinvent themselves and improve the world we live in. With this lens, it’s clear that Ali:

  • Challenged assumptions that people accepted as norm;
  • Sparked conversations and often heated debates; and
  • Inspired others to do the impossible.

I believe that the world has become a better place due to the attention and conversations he sparked with his outspoken actions.

Today in Louisville Kentucky, the world buries a a boxing legend. Love him or hate him, Ali was more than the greatest boxer in the world, he was an influencer, a provocative thought partner, and a master brand builder. Goodbye Champ.

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