Jeremy Bloom is a real life Rocky Balboa. As young man, he was a legend in professional sports. National champion skier at 17. Olympian at 19. All-American football player both his freshman and sophomore year of college. Then one mogul on a ski slope changed everything.
Bloom had his eyes on gold when he stood at the top of the Olympic freestyle mogul course in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. When the bell went off and he started tearing down the mountain, it looked like he was going to get it.
But then, halfway through the course, he hit one mogul wrong and lost his balance.
It cost him everything.
He finished sixth, falling far short of his gold medal aspirations. It was the first in a long chain of setbacks.
Weeks later, he would be drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles only to get sidelined after tearing his hamstring during training camp. When he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008, an injury sabotaged him again.
Within just two years, Bloom went from unstoppable star athlete to an injured player with tenuous prospects.
So what became of Jeremy Bloom? Is he now a washed up has-been?
Far from it. Today, Bloom runs Integrate – a wildly successful marketing and advertising technology provider with a client list including Dell, Quicken Loans, and Mediavest.
Now CEO of a thriving business, Bloom is the epitome of a comeback story. And his incredible story can teach us a thing or two about branding.
Your Biggest Failures Can Be Your Best Moments
At the time, losing the 2006 Olympics and getting snuffed in the NFL were crushing for Bloom. He had been an athlete all his life, and his career looked to be going down the drain.
In hindsight, however, all those failures may have been a good thing.
Going from fallen athlete to successful entrepreneur gives Bloom a story. By being open about his failures and how they ultimately led to his success, Bloom lets people connect with his personal and company brand through a compelling narrative.
The same strategy applies to any brand.
Emotional investment comes from a compelling narrative. A compelling narrative comes from conflict – and that means being open about failures.
Anyone who’s worked with Bloom touts his humility, and it’s well deserved. He openly admits that he “would never have accomplished anything in sports” by himself.
That’s a pretty stark contrast to many hot-shot business leaders, but it plays to Bloom’s advantage from a branding perspective.
Bloom’s humility makes him likeable. One of his lead investors, Seth Levine of The Foundry Group, says that on meeting Bloom, “You think, ‘I kind of hate this guy; this guy is going to be full of himself.’ But he couldn’t be further from that. He’s the most likeable guy you’ll ever meet in your life.”
Bloom’s humility is an asset to his brand – it makes people take his side, identify with him, and root for him. There’s nothing wrong with creating a brand based on confidence and bravado, but for Bloom, staying humble has been a successful strategy.
Celebrity Isn’t Always an Advantage
Coming into business after being a star athlete, it’s easy to assume that Bloom’s previous success opened doors for him in business. The truth isn’t as clear cut.
“Ironically a lot of the people who do take a meeting with us because of his background, they’re not the ones who end up doing business with us,” says Bloom’s cofounder, Michael Cunningham. “It’s actually helped a little bit less than you would think.”
The lesson here is that celebrity alone isn’t an advantage. Bloom’s star status may have helped him get initial meetings, but because it was in such a disparate field – athletics, instead of his new field of marketing technology – it didn’t play to his strength.
He might be famous, but would you really trust this guy with your taxes?
For celebrity to be an advantage, it needs to align with your brand. A digital marketer famous for holding the most #1 rankings on Google is sure to close a lot of business – but one famous for being a world champion hot dog eater? Less so.
Charity Can Have an ROI
In addition to Integrate, Bloom also runs a charity called Wish of a Lifetime. It’s similar to the Make a Wish Foundation, but instead of children, Bloom’s organization helps seniors do the one thing they’ve always wanted to do.
It’s unlikely that there’s a clear business ROI here. Bloom probably can’t point to his foundation as a reason for Integrate’s revenue growth.
But for an out-in-front, charismatic CEO like Jeremy Bloom, charity initiatives can work to strengthen his personal brand and build trust both with the public and would-be clients.
It isn’t a good move for everyone, but if it fits into the ecosystem of your personal or corporate brand, charity initiatives can be a boon.
Know Your Part and Play It
Bloom and cofounder Cunningham play opposite roles for the company.
Bloom is the face: he’s appeared in GQ photoshoots, the cover of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, and in ads for Under Armour and Tommy Hilfiger. Cunningham, however, stays further from the spotlight, preferring to run logistics on the backend.
This is a classic branding strategy, and it’s one that both cofounders execute beautifully.
The lesson from this is that whatever your branding strategy and your personal role in it, what’s important is to know that role, understand it, and play it. Know who you are, how you contribute to the overall brand, and what you should and should not do to contribute in that role.
From All-Star Athlete to Entrepreneurial Maven
Jeremy Bloom’s journey is a comeback in the classic style, and there’s plenty to be learned from him about branding and entrepreneurship in general.
So while he may never get the gold medal he dreamed of, he’s an inspirational lesson in what it means to get back up after being knocked down – and how a compelling narrative and a cohesive brand can help turn any failure into a comeback story.
This article written by : Will Deane is the CEO of Unstoppable.co and a lifelong entrepreneur, with several successful startups under his belt.