It’s a new game in the NCAA. Will your personal brand make the cut?
Updated: Jul 29
“In 99.9% of cases, college is when the value of athletes’ brands happen to be the highest,” — Ayden Syal, CEO and co-founder, MOGL
The door is now open for NCAA athletes to profit from their names, images, and likenesses. Although the laws are a bit hazy on a state-to-state and even university-to-university case, the road map to endorsement and advertising opportunity is NOT.
Strong personal branding by student athletes will be the deciding factor of who profits from this new marketing gold rush.
Additionally, athletes with a solid team of an attorney, accountant, financial adviser, mentors, and brand developers will have the best opportunity to capitalize and create a lasting legacy.
There is a huge difference between being known as a college athlete within that space to becoming an icon. Similarly, there is a massive chasm between being featured in an ad for a local car dealership versus being the face of one of the largest automakers.
How does a student athlete stand out? Differentiate? Scale their visibility?
Building THE Brand — Who are you? What makes you interesting? What separates you from the pack? What makes you fun, inspirational, instructional? What causes and organizations do you support? How do you give back to the community? What do you stand for!
I recently interviewed the Jones brothers, identical triplets with the passion for people, sports, and fitness. After their first year in college, they created their brand of Triyo Fitness. They tapped into the disciplines gained from their family and collegiate sports as well as resources from friends, classmates, and advisers to become one of the most sought-after fitness brands on and offline.
Your personal brand is everything from your past and present as well as your future goals perfectly packaged. It is your persona that you show and leave behind when interacting with others. It is how others catalog you in their minds. Is your personal brand top of mind or simply an afterthought? A memorable and profitable personal brand starts with you.
Get Comfortable being Uncomfortable
When was the last time you did an online search on yourself? Stop reading now and do a simple search. Do you have an active digital footprint? Can your personal events be easily found? Does your online persona live up to your offline and is it helping or hurting your legacy?
Whether an athlete or not, you can take a few steps to build a profitable personal brand.
Authenticity and Transparency
Perfectly curated content makes us want to avert our eyes. What your audience wants to see are everyday moments in the form of photos and videos. Not a Hollywood production, but images that represent your honest moral and social values.
Show BOTH your triumphs and your failures. Again, nobody wants to see a phony perfect life. We are drawn to well-intended people who have bumps along the way. Vulnerability is a tightrope act, real and compelling. According to Forbes, “Eighty-six percent of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support.”
Research your life and develop content that persuades, informs, and engages your audience. Make content about you, not your school/institution. People trust people, not organizations. Seventy-five percent of social media discussions revolve around consumers seeking recommendations, information, and advice, according to Mention. Sharing accomplishments, strengths, and industry knowledge can garner a large following.
Social media guru Gary Vaynerchuk emphasizes, “document the journey, don’t create.” Show behind the scenes. Get your audience involved with open-ended questions, contests or surveys, creatively revealing your day-to-day.
Own Your Truths
Many students are shocked by what they find online about themselves. They have no idea what some of their friends, family, and colleagues are posting and not tagging them on. You do not always know who innocently, enthusiastically, or recklessly included you until you stumble upon it, or someone mentions it. One wrong post, whether you are responsible or not, could literally make or break an opportunity and eliminate the potential for a major advertiser to reach out to you.
Avoid derailing your personal brand by avoiding those skeletons in the closet. Things happen. That is just part of the human condition. Try not to cover them up or dismiss it. Own it with yourself and with your community. Get out in front of the situation/problem by truthfully explaining or apologizing and accepting the consequences. Forgiveness usually comes quickly — people love transparency.
Consider the social platforms that you want public verses private. Un-tag yourself or even block people who are not supporting your personal brand. Delete anything that takes away from your narrative. You can ask people to take down an embarrassing post, un-tag you, or you can turn and incorporate the post into a great story. There is nothing better than owning your truth.
Location, Location, Location
The savviest individual can quickly amplify their personal brand worldwide on the most popular social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and LinkedIn — giving us a front-row seat to their athlete inspirations and personal lives.
But just because the platform exists, and everyone is on one or another does not mean you have to be in the same place. Stand out! Go back to your mission and goals, align yourself with like-minded individuals, and be there for your supporters by following their breadcrumbs. Make it easy for your audience to find you. Select platforms that are mutually beneficial.
Build Your Team
You have now designed and executed your brand through persuasive, informative and engaging content. Aligned your truths and consequences and selected social platforms to reach a wider audience. But before you sign contracts or make verbal promises to endorsement deals, make sure that you know your value and build a trusted team to assure your success.
Mentor — an experienced and trusted adviser.
Brand Developer — develops strategies to target audience, predicting behavior, and conducting surveys or trial studies to research new messaging strategies.
Lawyer — practices or studies law, an attorney, or a counselor.
CPA — certified public accountant. Maintains, inspects, and analyzes financial accounts.
Financial Adviser — employed to provide financial services or guidance to clients.
The right team will have your back, they will educate you in each area of their expertise, while supporting you and your growing brand(s).
With young Olympians in Tokyo and many student athletes preparing for their last years in college sports, your peak value may be right now. Do not overlook a great opportunity. Start today, build the personal brand that will become your road map for tomorrow.
Jodi-Tatiana Charles is founder of LCG Brands (www.lcgbrands.com), a full-service research, consulting and communications firm.