By now I’m sure mostly everyone has heard about the homeless man with the golden radio announcer voice, whose video went viral across the Internet. The man’s name is Ted Williams. He was offered a position doing voice work for the Cleveland Cavaliers because of that video. While this is a great human-interest story, in my opinion there is a lot we can learn from Mr. Williams approach about personal branding, marketing, business networking, and social media.
In many ways Mr. Williams was like a lot of other Americans. He was down on his luck, out of work, and a victim of the bad economy (and some of his own personal choices). Like many, he was doing what he could to survive. In the video he claims to be clean and sober for two years now, which is hard work (especially when one is homeless and has no visible support structure). He was out on the street panhandling to acquire some money to cover his living expenses. Yet, what makes his story different than millions of others is that Ted Williams is aware of his personal brand.
Many of the people trying to get money from passers-by carry signs. The signs often tell about how they are out-of-work veterans, or they describe their family situation — how many children they have to feed. The hope is to get people to donate based upon our feelings of compassion for others. Mr. Williams also carried a sign. His sign also asked for help, but it started with a bit of advertising. The sign claims that Mr. Williams has a “G-d given voice.” In making that claim, Ted Williams differentiated himself from the others holding similar signs. Because of that difference someone with a video camera stopped, and asked him to display his golden voice for the camera. A key to getting noticed is by differentiating yourself from the crowd.
In business networking it is recommended that one have an elevator speech prepared. That is — if chance has it that you get on an elevator with the head of a company you want to work for, or a client that you’d like to impress, you should have a speech prepared that you can tell before the elevator opens on the next floor, or you may lose the opportunity. Mr. Williams had his elevator speech prepared. Had the person with the video camera asked him to speak, and Williams stumbled over his words, then no one would be talking about him. Nor would he have a job offer from the Cavaliers. Rather, Mr. Williams knew exactly what he was going to say in case someone who could help him find employment in the radio industry would stop. He was clearly well practiced, as if he knew someone would stop. He was right. Someone eventually stopped, and Williams was prepared to give his elevator speech.
It may be noted that his speech came off as honest. He admitted that his problems were somewhat of his own making through using drugs and alcohol. Yet, he also expressed his sobriety, and talked about his formal radio training. It’s ok if we are not perfect. If we come off as too crafted, too polished, then we don’t seem real. Mr. Williams has a living, breathing, human brand. That is what everyone found so remarkable (aside from his amazing vocal qualities). We can learn from Mr. Williams to allow our own personal brand to be flexible enough to be real.
Finally, one of the biggest lessons we can learn from this story is the reach of social media. YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and others have the potential to spread information at incredible speeds, which were not possible a short time ago. While Mr. Williams didn’t plan on the YouTube video, he certainly benefitted from the scope of its network. The problem is social media can be a double-edged sword. As quickly as YouTube created a positive reputation for Ted Williams, so too can it ruin a person’s standing in society. If you have a compelling message that you want to get out quickly, you can spread it fastest using social media. However, it is important to learn how to use social media to your advantage. While you can’t control everything that is said about you on various networks, you can make every effort to be aware about what is being said about you, so you can control it to the best of your ability.
That is the marketing lesson that I gleaned from the Ted Williams story. If there is anything I missed, or if you can add to the conversation, please add your comments below.
Copyright © 2011 Ari Sutton