By Emily Soccorsy

This month, a huge moment came for phenom Caitlin Clark, 22, of Iowa, just minutes after she became the all-time leading scorer in NCAA basketball history. 

When asked on the sideline about the free throw that put her on top, Clark chose to reflect on the game as a whole, her feelings about her team and the strength of her opponents (Ohio) – instead of centering on herself and her incredible achievement.

“It was a good half. I’m proud of our girls,” she said, then went on to admire how Ohio’s defense was posing formidable challenges. 

Pexels by Markus Spiske

Taking a beat when asked what she would say to her teammates as she headed to halftime, Clark ended with, “Every possession matters…take care of the ball, play smart basketball, and have some fun!”

Her words were simple, direct and clear, and remained focused on the work at hand, despite the reporter opening the door for discussion about her accomplishment. 

At just over two decades, Clark handled this brand moment with judicious wisdom. 

She made it about the current mission (Iowa playing well and winning the game). 

She focused on the fundamental details she and her team could control (paying attention to each possession, protecting the ball).

She chose to stay grounded rather than getting swept up in self-congratulations or focusing on her achievement. 

She’s showed composure and care in her choice to present her voice in this big branding moment.

With Clark soon-to-begin her professional career in the WNBA, this moment set the tone for her personal brand in a way that will surely resonate for years to come. (And WNBA teams with the top draft picks are watching carefully.)

She branded herself as focused, team-player, and a humble leader.

She branded herself as dedicated to her craft and respectful of the other people who were joining her on her journey.

Finally, she impressed the importance of fun, of enjoyment, and therefore also put her achievement in the context of sport – not elevating it beyond. 

Most of us are not going to encounter such huge, anticipated branding moments. 

And yet, we can still stop and reflect on how we would like to be perceived in spotlight moments and we need to say something significant to set a lasting tone.

Clark’s approach gave me some thoughts on this:

  1. Make it about the mission. When challenges or successes occur, it’s very easy to get drawn into the good v. bad arguments, or get drawn into elevating a win without tying it to the larger mission. Only you can tie this win to the larger mission you, or your organization, is pursuing. Example: “Yes, we’ve achieved this milestone of 10,000 customers, and we’re so grateful for the progress this gives us toward our goal of changing the way people think about brand.”
  1. Focus on the fundamental details you can control. Be specific with what got you to this point and what you’d like to focus on moving forward. This presents an opportunity for some small storytelling. Example: “We’re here today because of all the years we put in studying language and neurology, dedicating time to our clients in sessions and reviewing brand messages for hours on end. These are pursuits we plan to continue, each day, one client at a time.”
  1. Stay grounded.  We all get swept up in our pursuits, and in moments of achievement, our joy can cause us to levitate higher. But when you express you’re a piece of the whole, you’re acknowledging the many people and circumstances that got you to this moment. It’s gracious and makes you, as a brand, significantly more accessible. Example: “It’s humbling to step into this moment as a direct result of the mentors, supporters, teachers, colleagues, family and friends who believed in this little brand strategy team that could. There were tough moments, even for me, but we made it and I’m proud of that.”

Far too often, we don’t give any thought to these kind of moments. 

Most leaders fail to take the “pull the car over” time to really stop, breathe, let traffic pass you by, and just consider what it is you want to represent as a brand.

In the busy-ness of running businesses, taking care of your team and client, it can be intellectually hard to justify that investment of time and attention. 

We may dismiss thinking over how we might use our voice in this space may seem ridiculous or self-aggrandizing. In fact, it helps to prepare us for our own moments, albeit smaller.

And a mishandled opportunity could do our brand years of harm. 

So give yourself a moment to imagine hitting that record-breaking shot, and consider what your shaking, or in Clark’s case, very steady voice, might say.

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