This summer Cal Ripken will be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame -- not so much for his baseball numbers as for the fantastic brand he created.
Ripken's career batting average is not even close to .300. He did not average more than 25 home runs or 100 RBIs a season. Yet he is one of the most popular, memorable, and marketable players of recent history. Why?
Throughout his 21-year career, Cal Ripken was a living example of how a successful brand is built. 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 the soul is 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 (a nickname given to Ripken in honor of his durability). Throughout his career, he was always selling reliability and decency. Consumers identified with his work ethic and "bought into" his brand.
Clarity of message. Once you have determined what you are selling, you need to make sure that this is clearly communicated through all that you do - from your products and customer service all the way through to your PR and marketing messages. 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 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. A long-term successful brand has never been - and never will be - established overnight. The key is consistency and repetition of your core message.
Seven years into Ripken's career, people in the Baltimore/Washington area knew that he was reliable and decent, but people in Oklahoma and California did not. Over the course of the next decade, Ripken's relentless repetition of his unique selling point made him the embodiment of the blue-collar work ethic throughout the country.
Be best, better, or different. Determine what you want your core consumer to connect with emotionally, then figure out how to stand out from the crowd.
There have been many other ballplayers who were reliable and decent. Ripken chose to make himself the best of this group by not missing a single game during a 16-year period. He further differentiated himself by playing for one team his entire career - a nearly unfathomable feat in today's sports world. Cal is an Oriole. Had he played for a couple of different teams during his career, his brand would never have been as strong.
As a former baseball player, I loved watching Ripken play the game the way it was meant to be played. As a PR and marketing pro, it was a joy seeing him create a brand the way it was meant to be created. You belong in the Hall of Fame, Cal - the branding one, as well as Cooperstown.
David Warschawski is CEO of Warschawski, a PR and marketing agency based in Baltimore, which previously worked on a three-month project for Ripken Baseball, the business and philanthropic arm of Ripken Jr.'s endeavors.