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How the football score ‘East Fife 4, Forfar 5′ created a personal brand

August 19, 2014

James Alexander Gordon, one of the most recognisable names and voices in British broadcasting, died yesterday aged 78, having retired just last year after 40 years reading the Saturday afternoon classified football results on BBC radio.  He had surgery to remove his larynx after being diagnosed with cancer, and his voice was no longer strong enough to broadcast. It was a bitter irony that broadcasting’s most magnificent voice was obliged to step down after throat surgery. What a larynx it was.

Sports report football results were first read out by John Webster, and Gordon took over in 1974. He had a distinctive Scottish accent and unique style. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Saturdays at 5pm will never be the same again without the warm, melodious sound of his voice, just after the Sports Report theme on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Family legend has it that as a small boy he was listening to the results with his father at home, when the old man complained bitterly that they were being read too quickly for him to follow on his pools coupon. The young Gordon insisted that he would one day read the results and do it properly.

When he started, he recalled his father’s Saturday afternoon angst and decided that he wanted to sympathise vocally with the misery of the fan whose team had lost. So he announced the name of a defeated team on a flattening downbeat. Likewise to the winning side he gave an upward flourish, while a draw would mean both names were read without rhythmic adornment.

Immediately it struck a chord. For millions of us who grew up listening to the classified football results, the ups and downs added to the drama of the afternoon. Knowing your side had lost even before he had finished reading the result somehow increased the delicious masochistic pleasure of disappointment, which is so integral to football fandom. Even with the advent of the smartphone and the Internet, he was still the voice of authority and gave confirmation of the scores even though you had the result digitally.

Moreover, there was a romance about the less conventionally named teams with which he will forever be associated: Queen of the South, Hamilton Academicals, Plymouth Argyle, Partick Thistle, those were names to conjure with, and the Two Ronnies famously did. To relish their football results sketch – Dumbarton 1 Dick Barton 0, Motherwell 2 Dad Sick-as-a-Parrot 1, and the immortal half-time scoreline, East Fife 5 Forfar so far 4.  Now Forfar 5 East Fife 4 did occur in 1963/64 season, but alas not on a Saturday, and in October 2011 it came tantalisingly close with East Fife 4 Forfar 3. As for Threave Rovers 3 Strathspey Thistle 3…easy to say.

I loved the way he pronounced Wanderers with an extra ‘er’…Bolton Wandererers 2 Wolverhampton Wandererers 3. Nobody else will be able to say Wolverhampton Wanderers with quite such mellifluous tones. Never again will words as apparently mundane as Torquay United 1 Northampton Town 2 be invested with quite the same dramatic rhythm. For the many of us who grew up on his idiosyncratic vocal delivery it will be as if someone has turned down the volume at 5pm on Saturday.

Following Burnley FC with my children, we always rushed back to the car at the end of the match to ensure we’d be able to listen to the results, and to try and guess the away teams score after Gordon had given us Carlisle United 2 Oldham Athletic..’. Because of the tone in his voice you could at least get it right about 90% of the time. We always shouted ‘5’ for the away team score when we knew the inflection predicted an away win, and roared with laughter when we got it right. We also cheered a Burnley win he announced, even though we’d been at the match. Nice memories.

Even as technology changed and we all were aware of the scores via smartphone long before he took to the airwaves, his way of delivery retained its excitement.  With his departure we have lost a sporting institution. If you thought it was hard enough for David Moyes to follow Sir Alex Ferguson, spare a thought for Charlotte Green who, at 5pm, 3 August 2013, was obliged to read out the first set of football results after James Alexander Gordon has left the building.

Gordon’s definitive personal attributes and characteristics highlighted above create his own ‘personal brand’. It was a deliberate strategy, a true reflection of himself that emerged, making his mark, making himself memorable and standing out from the crowd. Creating a ‘personal brand’ is a positive way to stand out in an increasingly competitive world.

The term ‘personal brand’ first appeared in August 1997 in an article by management guru and author Tom Peters, who wrote, We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.

Personal branding is simply the way in which individuals differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their value, and then leveraging with consistent behaviour. In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in establish reputation and credibility. It’s what they are famous for.

Personal branding typically begins with establishing an inventory of core competencies, expertise and demonstrated abilities and consists of three elements:

  • Value Proposition: What do you stand for?
  • Differentiation: What makes you stand out?
  • Marketability: What makes you compelling?

Let’s look at this in a little more detail, how do you build a ‘This is me’ brand to help you be memorable and help answer the customer’s question ‘Why should I buy from you?’

Be first with a purpose. A personal brand is in many ways synonymous with your reputation, the way others see you. Are you an expert? What do you represent? What do you stand for? What ideas and notions pop up as soon as someone hears your name? People recognise your name, what you’re working on, what you offer and what you’re about. It answers the question how does working with me help them?

Be known for something specific. Meeting standards, however lofty those standards may be, won’t help you stand out. So go the extra mile. Be the business owner who makes a few deliveries a week to personally check in with customers. Be the manager who consistently gives opportunities to more junior members of the team. Be known as the employee who responds quicker, acts faster, or always follows up.

Build Your Expertise. The world is changing fast, make sure you are constantly learning and identify an area where you will be better than others, don’t be a ‘Jack of all trades’. Concentrate on your expertise. Once you have identified and developed this, make the most of it by seeking out opportunities to demonstrate your skills. Don’t be afraid to tell people about what you’ve created. Not to boast, but to demonstrate if you’ve genuinely innovated, people are will want to know about it.

Focus on the things that make you different. What makes you, you? Concentrate on the positives on both personal as well as professional level. Consider the way you react in everyday situations, whether it’s the way you communicate,your creativity, or the way you think and process information. Become really, really good at what differentiates you, or be so good they can’t ignore you!

Make yourself visible. This does not mean claiming undue credit or being anything less than humble, it means focusing on having a high-impact that will likely have visible results, knocking them for six and sharing the results. Blow your own trumpet, but be consistent – every move you make either reinforces your brand or violates it. Also participate in larger conversations and encourage those around you, it’s less about broadcasting yourself, and more about contributing as a community member.

Create your own side project. Excelling at ‘business as usual’ is expected, excelling at a side project helps you stand out. Experiment on a new process or service with a particular customer in mind. The customer will appreciate how you tried, without being asked, to better meet their needs.

Put your muscle where your mouth is. Lots of people take verbal stands, but few put the required effort in. Say you think a project has gone off the rails, instead of just pointing out its flaws so you can show everyone how smart you are, jump in and help fix it. Everyone talks about problems, the people who help fix them stand out.

Show a little of your personal side. Personal interests help other people to identify and remember you. Let people know a little about you, a few personal details add colour and depth to your professional personna.

Work harder than everyone else. Nothing – nothing – is a substitute for hard work. Look around: How many people are working as hard as they can? Very few. The best way to stand out is to out-work everyone else. It’s also the easiest way, because you’ll be the only one trying. I can’t say how many times I’ve been in a meeting where no one wanted to take on a task, even very simple ones. Be the guy that takes on stuff and gets it done. Being known for actually doing stuff and not just being the smartest is key.

Personally, I don’t really like the idea of consciously propagating a personal brand, but standing out from the crowd doesn’t mean that you have to do things around a blaze of publicity and self-promotion, or doing something crazy and wacky that gets you noticed. Instead, stand by your virtues and your beliefs and ensure that people understand you, your ‘brand’ and your work for what it really is. Going the extra mile and making that difference noticeable is what will in the end get you noticed more – and for the right things.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, be yourself. The more you try to be like other people, the more you will recede into the background noise. Don’t be afraid to let your own character show in what you do and in how you present yourself. Sure, you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but you’re not in this to make everyone happy.

Be authentic, be honest, be open and you will attract the sort of people you want to work with and have as clients or customers. Whatever you do should be authentic. Be yourself. Don’t think of your brand as anything other than you being you. Listen more than you talk. Help more than be needy. Share more than you take. Get to know people and continue to learn.

John Peel, James Alexander Gordon and Eric Morecambe were memorable voices from my childhood that have stuck with me, each has a landmark in my youth that resonates with me today, and makes me smile with fond memories of my formative years. Personality, passion and individuality – they all stood out from the crowd by being themselves, but also by being special by being themselves.

The best way to stand out from the crowd is to exemplify characteristics that are not always found in everyone: honesty, integrity, authenticity, tenacity, passion, humility and respect. When you live your life with these characteristics, people notice that you’re different, that they actually enjoy working with you and will cause them to come back to work with you again and again. Be honest. Be humble. Be passionate. That should do it. East Fife (downward inflection 4, Forfar (upward lilit) 5. That did it too!

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