Although as a lifelong New England Patriots fan it was satisfying to watch the Pats figure out Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow in a little more than a quarter and proceed to throttle him, I still came away impressed with the hottest story of the 2011 NFL season. Tebow displayed some legitimate, if unorthodox, QB chops, and even if he didn’t, he still remains a media fixture whose brand relevance extends well beyond the sports pages. Don’t believe me? Tebow was the subject of a December 17 “Saturday Night Live” spoof that has already become a massive viral hit, and regardless of how funny you find (or don’t find) “SNL,” it remains a pretty accurate cultural barometer.
All that said, watching the game got me to thinking about the branding lessons Tebow offers the rest of us who may not be professional athletes, or devout evangelical Christians, or good-looking and wealthy 23-year-olds with limitless possibilities. Or maybe you are some or all of these things and wonder how Tebow is taking it to the next level. So I have put together a few thoughts on how you can “Tebow” your brand.
Nice Guys Don’t Always Finish Last. I don’t know Tim Tebow personally and am always skeptical when a celebrity is lauded as a “nice guy” (remember that OJ Simpson was long known as the “nicest guy in Hollywood”), but from all accounts he is the real deal in terms of being humble, polite and down-to-earth.
While brashness and cockiness may seem to be key attributes of developing personal buzz, as evidenced by Donald Trump, Mick Jagger and LeBron James to name a few, nice guys don’t always have to finish last. If Tebow were another arrogant, trash-talking jock, you probably wouldn’t hear half as much about him. His apparent good nature makes him stand out as a compelling figure in today’s shallow, self-obsessed media culture. As a novice newspaper reporter some years ago, the best advice I ever got was to be nice to everyone, it would make them want to help me out. I tried it, and it worked, plus it actually felt good to treat people well. You don’t have to be a saint, but don’t assume being a jerk is the automatic route to success, either.
Be Yourself. Tebow’s run-first, second and third quarterback philosophy has been compared to that of a high school quarterback, but in six of eight tries this year, it has worked. While Tebow’s arm showed signs of improvement against the Patriots, clearly he is not the second coming of Dan Marino. Rather than force himself into the pass-happy QB mold which predominates in today’s NFL, Tebow instead bases his game on his innate running and ball-handling ability to advance the football on the ground, often in huge gulps of yards, to get to the end zone. Tebow is succeeding by being himself, and the Broncos coaching staff also deserves a lot of credit for allowing him to do so.
Everyone Loves a Scrapper. Tebow’s “never quit” attitude has been lauded ad nauseum so I don’t want to spend too much time here, but a lot of his popularity is based on his clear conviction that no game is out of reach and you should never quit. People love fighters, especially fighters who are underdogs. Everyone wants to believe they are a scrapper, even though many are not, and being scrappy will both push you through hard times and gain you respect and admiration in most any marketplace.
Obviously it is too soon to say whether “Tebow-mania” will last or he will become another one-season NFL wonder like William “Refrigerator” Perry or “Ickey” Woods. But right now, Tebow has created a brand which could generate huge off-field income. While it is hard to picture him doing a beer commercial, there is an endless variety of family-friendly products he could endorse for big bucks, and at 23 he could already write a memoir which would surely hit the best-seller lists. Whether you think Tebow is the Second Coming or just second rate, you can still learn from his branding example.