Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The day was May 19, 1997. Bill Clinton was president, the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize" was atop the Billboard charts, and ABC premiered "Street Magic," the first TV special from then little-known magician David Blaine. I hadn't heard of David prior to the special, but I remember tuning in and simply being amazed. His brand of up-close magic was the antithesis of big stage acts of the time, and he wasn't trying to make the Statue of Liberty disappear. Nope, David was this dude from Brooklyn WHO COULD LEVITATE OFF THE GROUND!!! RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!!!
In the 15 years since "Street Magic," David has pushed the limits of up-close magic and human endurance. He's been buried, frozen, and drowned alive. He's broken the record for holding one's breath underwater. He's spent 44 days without food in a Plexiglas box above the Thames River in London, and most recently he was ELECTRIFIED for 72 hours straight in NYC. Simply put, he is a man who inspires us all to wonder what is possible when we put our minds to it.
So when we booked David as our closing keynote for Connections 2012 last week, I was excited as anyone to hear his remarks. I just didn't realize what a great seat I'd have as I was tapped to accompany David on his Connections journey both onstage and off. Spending 24 hours with David Blaine was not only highly entertaining but also incredibly inspiring both personally and professionally. As I replayed the day in my mind, I began to see the magic behind the magic--the marketing lessons of David Blaine. Here they are, in so specific order:
- Be Authentic. You know that Zen-like baritone that David uses on stage and in his performances? That's him--it's not an act. He speaks thoughtfully and always has. In fact, he shared that when he was younger, adults thought he might be a bit off due to the cadence of his speech. Now, it's part of his personal brand--and a real asset that allows him time to think when others might rush to speak.
- Be Accessible. Whether it was walking into the hotel, around Victory Field or in the hallways after his keynote, I was blown away at how David shook hands, took pictures, and did magic with fans who approached him. There were no walls, no handlers, and no diva moments--even when he found himself surrounded on all sides.
- Be Appreciative. David made a point to thank every fan that stopped him. And when there was a snafu with his outbound flight, he not only thanked the airline representative who fixed his problem, he gave her a personal magic show--right there past the TSA screening checkpoint at the Indianapolis Airport. He made her day--and the days of everyone he came into contact with during his time in Indy. If only all keynote speakers--and brands, for that matter--were that appreciative to their fans. The world would be a far better place.
- Learn from Everyone. As his keynote made clear, David is a lifelong learner who was practically raised in the library. It was interesting how this passion for learning translates into his conversations with fans. When time permitted, he asked the fans who approached him about their lives and interests. His quest for knowledge, insights, and ideas from fans got me thinking about how insular our brands can become if we don't get out there, actually interacting face-to-face with our customers. If David Blaine can do it, what's stopping your brand?
- Everyone Is Important. In those 24 hours at Connections, David interacted with executives, marketers, entrepreneurs, fellow speakers, stagehands, hotel staff, security guards, and airport staff. Each person was treated with the same respect and appreciation regardless of role, responsibility or any of the other characteristics that sometimes shape our behavior. To watch this was refreshing, and a lesson that the best brands unite rather than divide.
- Ignore the Haters. Throughout his career, David has had to deal with skeptics, Internet trolls, and critics who question his brand of magic and feats of endurance. In his keynote, he shared how he ignores "the haters" in favor of focusing on his positive goals. In this age of reactionary social media, it is a lesson that many brands could take to heart. Reward doesn't come without risk...or haters. The question is whether you let them shake you from your chosen path.
- Do Something Magic for Someone. One line from David's keynote continues to resonate with me today--"To a kid with nothing, a deck of cards is everything." You don't have to do magic to be magic in someone's life. It's up to all of us to find the magic that we--and our brands--can deliver to the communities we serve. Sometimes, its as simple as a deck of cards.
Even if you missed David at Connections, you can see his brand of personal magic on his new DVD, David Blaine: A Decade of Magic and--rumor has it--when he goes on tour later this year. While you may not get 24 hours with him, try to grab at least a minute in line for a signature, and you'll quickly see the magic of treating people with the respect and genuine appreciation.