Building An Athlete’s Personal Brand — Part 1

How do you define yourself?

Who are you?  Where do you come from? What are your goals? What makes you unique?

These are big questions and it’s important that you are able to answer each of these when taking stock of your professional, personal, and athletic personas.  Yes, we all have multiple personas.  This is a psychologically healthy way of establishing boundaries between the areas of our lives where we use our different talents, skills, and expertise to be successful.  Whether it’s creating a compelling presentation that lands a new account for your employer, changing an infant’s wet and smelly diaper without getting poo all over the child (and you), or generating 2,000 watts over the last 100 meters of the criterium while sprinting for the line, it is your unique attributes that help define you.  Another way to think of this compartmentalization is titles: at work you’re Master of Marketing; at home you’re Commander of the Kitchen; on the bike you’re Attila the Quadzilla.  You get the picture.  And, so it is with brands, too.

What makes Starbucks better than Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf?  What makes Honda better than Nissan?  What makes the Chicago Cubs better than the New York Yankees?  Even if you don’t agree with these questions, I’m sure you can recall any number of factoids to support your opinion on which brand is better and why.  How can you do this so quickly and easily?  You can thank branding for that.  Yes, branding.  Not the type of branding that applies white-hot metal insignias to livestock haunches (although that’s the conceptual genesis of this whole thing); rather the art and science of marketing.  Marketing is the process through which a brand is established and developed.

You are a brand.  As a professional in a dynamic workplace, you are a brand: Master of Marketing.  As an athlete in competitive sport, you are a brand: Attila the Quadzilla. Developing the whole person that is you is about building the brand personas that are part of you.  If you want a promotion at work, you need to be comfortable promoting, or marketing, the brand that is your professional persona.  If you want to secure product sponsorships or a position on an elite team, you need to be comfortable promoting, or marketing, the brand that is your athele persona.

So, how do you do this?  The most successful brands are built.  So, too, must you build your own personal brand.  To do this, you need a toolbox — a collection of strategies and tactics you can use to show others just how bitchin’ and groovy you are.  But, before you start this process, you must shift your thinking away from you seeing yourself as a person and adopt the mindest that you are a brand.  Why is it important to make this distinction?  For most people, we perceive our self-image to be inherently flawed — too fat, too thin, too hairy, too short, too tall, too pale, too slow, etc.  It could take years of psychotherapy to accept and overcome the vestages of negative self-image.  So, in this personal brand building effort, give yourself a way to refresh how you see yourself.  As a brand, you have the ability to look beyond your perceived shortcomings and start building an athlete persona based on your strengths.  This is an essential component of establishing and developing your personal brand as an athlete.


Startbucks is a great example of a brand.  Everyone knows Starbucks.  The company’s ubiquitous logo can be found in the most amazing places: in grocery stores, on the space shuttle, in the Oval Office, in China.  Every brand aspires to be like Starbucks — to be known, to be preferred, to be profitable, to be useful, to be valued.  These goals are achievements to which you should aspire when building your personal brand as an athlete.  As an athlete, you need to be known and recognized, not just another face in the crowd (“Hey, isn’t that ____ running up the hill?  Wow! She’s fast!)  As an experienced competitor, your sage advice needs to be preferred over that of others (“____ said this was the best way to stretch out my hamstrings.  She definitely knows her anatomy.”)  As an individual known to be an athlete, you need to be profitable,  a good investment for sponsors (“She looks great on our bike and she wears our branded podium shirt at every event!”)  As as an athlete, you need to be useful, a resource for other aspiring athletes (“We ran together for six miles.  She told me I need quicker leg turnover and I need to keep my head up when I run.  It was great advice!”)  As an athlete, you need to valued, so give back to the people and communities that support you (“____ was here volunteering all day.  She spent the whole day serving the homeless.  What a wonderful person!”).  Lots to keep in mind, but important in setting and maintaining your brand-building direction.


In assembling your brand-building toolbox, what strategies or tactics should you add?  The five basic tools you need to begin to build your brand are: 1.) Establish your identity; 2.) Communicate your expertise; 3.) Build your networks; 4.) Serve your community; 5.) Learn continuously.  These five basic building blocks will fit together to provide a stable foundation upon which you can establish and develop your personal brand as an athlete.  It is important to note that, like Rome, a successful brand is not built in a day.  Hopefully, unlike Rome, it won’t take you 500 years to establish your personal brand.  Following these strategies and tactics, your brand could be established and begin to see development in six to nine months.  Of course, a sustained effort of implementing these concepts over a longer period of time (12-36 months), will result in the growth of a stronger, more rubust personal brand.  For the athlete, an example of this would be the number of top three finishes you will achieve over the course of three years of progessively effective training and competing.  You will learn much in three years — knowledge of yourself and your sport that can only be gained through experience.  Through your own efforts, you will turn this experience into podium spots. Plus, after three years of showing up and competing in local, regional, and national events, other athletes and event promoters will come to recognize and know you.  Bonus!

In Part 2, we will examine the first three brand-building strategies: 1.) Establish your identity; 2.) Communicate your expertise; and 3.) Build your networks.


About The Author


Aaron Hanson (a.k.a The Cap’n) is manager of the Southern California Colavita Regional Amateur Team.  A 25-year veteran of the sport and lifestyle of cycling, Aaron has raced both road and mountain bikes, advocated for bicycle transportation funding and facilities at the city, county, state, and federal levels, planned and facilitated numerous bicycle events, and helped several municipalities and counties create viable bikeway master plans.

Aaron has been honored by IMBA, CORBA, Clif Bar, the City of Los Angeles, the County of Ventura, the City of Simi Valley, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate for his bicycle advocacy work.  He has even won a bike race or two.

Aaron can be contacted via e-mail at:

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