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The Sweet Brand

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 five 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 Ball State University (greatest school on Earth—although as an alum I might be biased). Through examples, we convince these athletes 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 running back and the 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 a brand. That’s easier than converting on 3rd and 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 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 sparked an interest from the ESPN brass; 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 hand off 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 10 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 oftentimes 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? Join the Conversation.

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