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Underexposure and Overexposure in Marketing´┐Ż So Much for Humility in Marketing

October 08, 2008

(This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions.)
 
I have always been extremely interested in sports because I feel that they offer not only a healthy mind, but also teach one about the importance of teamwork, determination, achievement, winning, losing and satisfaction. I feel there is a strong correlation between what we learn from sports and our ordinary lives.
 
Why I Love Sports
Since childhood, I have always loved sports, not only because a healthy mind is found in a healthy body, but also because we can learn very much about motivation, extraordinary achievements and greatness from sports, benefits that are transferable to our lives and our businesses.
 
What I Learned from Following the Greatest Achievers in the World of Sports
One of the most interesting and informative programs that I watch on TV is the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame program, which takes place in Canton, Ohio and is televised regularly. To me, the Hall of Fame induction represents being the best of the best of the best in sports or any other endeavor. I, therefore, feel it is extremely important to learn how the Hall of Fame inductees got to that point: why they are one in a million and have earned such high esteem among their peers. By learning what they have done, we can always apply the same principles in our own lives to help us achieve the highest possible position, in our businesses, in our jobs and in everything else.
 
About Humility and Its Significant Place in all Sports, Religions and Our Lives
In preparation for this editorial, I conducted a lot of research to find a good definition for humility. According to Wikepedia, on the subject of humility, I found the following description:

“Humility is a quality or characteristic ascribed to a person who is considered to be humble. Humility is derived from the Latin word ‘humilis,’ which means low, humble, from earth. A humble person is generally though to be unpretentious and modest: someone who does not think that he or she is better or more important than others.” In other research, I found that humility is described as “a sign of godly strength and purpose, not weakness.”
 
Having said all of that, it seems that society does not often reward the humble person. An important case in point is that of Gene Hickerson and the Hall of Fame story.
 
How Gene Hickerson Nearly Missed Being Inducted into the Hall of Fame Because of His Extreme Humility
By all standards, Gene Hickerson was one of the best, if not the best, offensive linemen in all of pro football. According to documents from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was regarded as one of the best, if not the finest, linemen in the Southeastern Conference during the end of his collegiate career. Hickerson was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the 1957 NFL draft in the seventh round. He quickly went from delivering plays to the huddle to establishing himself as the most valuable lead blocker for three future Hall of Fame running backs including Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly.
 
In plain English, Gene Hickerson paved the way for those three running backs to achieve extraordinary performance and, in fact, all three were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame nearly 25 years ago — thanks to the great blocking of Gene Hickerson.
 
Yet, because of his extreme humility, Gene Hickerson was neglected, overlooked, ignored or forgotten by the Hall of Fame committees because he was an extremely humble man. During the recent Hall of Fame induction program in the first week of August 2007, his colleagues stated that Gene was so humble, when people asked him, “What do you do?” he would say, “I am an astronaut, a teacher or a mailman or something like that.” He always kept a low profile with his lovable, down-to-earth personality.
 
Of course, we don’t know exactly why he was neglected for so many years, but in the absence of that information, if I were to guess, I would say it was because he avoided exposure or marketing his achievements that he did not enter the Hall of Fame until 2007, over 25 years later than the three running backs he was instrumental in sending to the Hall of Fame.
 
It was extremely sad to watch Gene Hickerson receive his Hall of Fame award while in a wheelchair, when he should have been inducted to the Hall of Fame over 25 years ago, preferably ahead of the other three Hall of Famers. Simply because without his legendary downhill blocking ability, it would be highly unlikely for the other Hall of Famers to have gotten theirs so early in their lives.
 
Humility in Marketing
Applying humility in marketing will also have near-disastrous consequences. As I have stated in my many editorials, if you don’t market, you don’t exist. In this case, and in my opinion, had Gene been more visible, just as other players were, no doubt, he would have been in the Hall of Fame much earlier. In business, too much humility in marketing will cost businesses millions of dollars, and there is no way to remedy the problem.
 
The Jack Youngblood Story Teaches Us About Courage, Persistence, Determination and Hard Work Beyond Imagination
A few years ago, during the Hall of Fame ceremony, the legendary Merlin Olsen, who was one of the teammates of Jack Youngblood, introduced Youngblood by saying that during the first practice in the rookie year of Jack Youngblood, at the end of the practice, the coach said, “Youngblood, you are the worst football player I have ever seen.”
 
Obviously, as a number one draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams in 1971 as a defensive end, he was expected to perform to much higher standards than he did in his first practice. Youngblood did not take these words lightly, and he decided to work very hard in the subsequent 201 consecutive games (which was a record) to prove to the coach that he was, in fact, better than the worst player the coach had ever seen.
 
Jack suffered a fractured left fibula in the 1979 first-round playoffs, but played every defensive down in the title game, Super Bowl XIV, played in five NFC Championship games, was an All-Pro five times and All-NFC seven times. The bottom line is that he was most famous for playing the entire 1979 to 1980 playoffs (including the 1980 Super Bowl) with a fractured left fibula — a broken leg! At the end of the game, the same coach said, “Youngblood, you are the greatest football player I have ever seen!”
 
Hopefully, you will agree with me that the success stories of these Hall of Famers give us a tremendous amount of inspiration and motivation for achieving higher and higher objectives.
 
Muhammad Ali’s Success Story
As we all know, Muhammad Ali was anything but humble. Yes, he had plenty of talent, but because he was always thinking out-of-the-box, which made him seem abnormal or weird to the public, he always stood out. Indeed, we all remember his rope-a-dope technique or his “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” saying, not to mention admiring himself, proclaiming that, “I am the greatest, I am beautiful and my opponent is ugly.”
 
Indeed, he was talented, but this type of clown-like behavior made him stand out and got him, perhaps, more fame and admiration than he deserved. I recall on his 50th birthday, the headline on the USA Today sports section read, “50 Years Old and Still the Greatest.” In reality, he was the only person who referred to himself as “The Greatest.” Nevertheless, this kind of publicity went a long, long way.
 
Some 15 years ago, when I visited the famous Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London, I noticed they had statues of all of the world’s leaders, including all of the kings and queens and prime ministers of the past. Included with them was a statue of only one athlete: that of Muhammad Ali. I’m sure had he been as humble as Gene Hickerson, he would not have achieved 10 percent of the worldwide renown he got.
 
Donald Trump’s New Book
Donald Trump’s recent book, No Such Thing As Over-Exposure, is probably not focusing on humility, but on master marketing, and I admit that he is, indeed, a master marketer and his accomplishments are exemplary.
 
The point is that one has mixed feelings about the subject: should you be humble and be respected by your colleagues, or should you take a lesson from some of the other people who reside on the other side of humility and endeavor to make yourself world famous? I leave the choice to you.
 
In marketing, however, there is no room for humility. You must dominate the media in order to dominate your market.
 
My Participation and Modest Achievements in Sports
In my teenage years, I was an average soccer player and an accomplished cyclist. As a cyclist, I came in second in a six-mile race among top high schools in Tehran. However, as a Little League soccer coach (ages 8 to 12), my team won the city championship in 1977 in Stamford, Connecticut. We played 45 games that year and our record was 45-0. Our average score was 18-0, and my team allowed only two goals all year. If you are familiar with soccer, you will know that such a record is unheard of in that sport. I guess you might say that I was a better coach than a player. Frankly, I think there is a strong correlation between coaching a sports team and managing a company.

Nadji Tehrani is Chairman and CEO of Technology Marketing Corporation.

Edited by Erik Linask

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