Magic Johnson on His Winning Ways
- Magic Johnson at NRF Big Show. Magic Johnson’s determination in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals exemplifies how attitude and willingness to go the extra mile can lead to success.
- Embrace innovation. The NRF Big Show showcases quirky technologies, reminding brands to be open to new, unconventional solutions while understanding their customers’ evolving needs.
- Instinctive adaptation. Trusting a brand’s instinct, rooted in customer understanding, is crucial for adapting and developing experiences that resonate in an ever-changing market.
Some stories have a way of staying with you. Take, for instance, the time Earvin “Magic” Johnson, in his rookie season, steered the Lakers to an NBA championship victory. This was despite the absence of his teammate and league MVP, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was out due to an injury.
Few, particularly among Lakers fans, believed that the rookie sensation would step up to guide his team to clinch the coveted NBA trophy on that memorable night — but Magic did just that.
NRF Big Show: Magic Johnson on Being Magical
This past week found me at the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) “Big Show” in New York City, and guess who was one of the speakers? Magic Johnson himself. As a sports fan I couldn’t wait to hear Magic talk about what makes him so magical.
Magic began by revisiting the story of the 1980 NBA Finals (as mentioned earlier). He recounted how the team’s spirits were somewhat dampened following Kareem’s ankle injury, but emphasized that he never allowed a shred of doubt to enter his mind.
“You know after Kareem went down, I knew that the team needed new energy to keep us on track. So, on the flight to Philadelphia for Game 6, I sat in Kareem’s seat at the front of the plane and told every player that walked past me, ‘No need to fear, Magic is here’ with a big smile.”
That sparked a hearty, unanimous laugh from the NRF Big Show audience.
What you may not know is Magic is part owner of various professional sports teams. The Washington Commanders, The Los Angeles Dodgers, The MLS soccer team Los Angeles FC and the WNBA team The Los Angeles Sparks.
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How Magic Approaches Business
Magic approaches his businesses the same way he approached that infamous 1980 Game 6.
“In all seriousness though, that Game 6 story is an important lesson in how I run my businesses today,” Magic said. “And it applies to all of the brands in this room too. Whenever you’re a player or a business and you’re swimming up stream against a new competitor or adversary, the stakes are always going to be higher,” Magic said with a serious tone. “But you have to remember what got you to that moment, that game, that chapter in your life. You must rise to the challenge and embrace the role that’s needed to take it to the next level. Today, I only hire people who can run with me and have the attitude that we can beat anyone — regardless of the situation.”
Magic Johnson’s insights offer a fitting introduction to the current journey of retailers. The stakes are at an all-time high, competition is fiercer than ever, and numerous brands are rapidly emerging, positioning themselves to compete with the top-tier players in the industry.
But no need to fear, there’s some magic here that can guide your brand through the unpredictable seas of delivering exceptional customer experiences. Let’s dive into the key insights and themes from NRF that brands should zero in on for the year 2024.
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NRF Big Show Lesson 1: Keeping the Lights on an Extra 3 Minutes
Hal Lawton is the CEO of the Tractor Supply Company. One of the super cool things Tractor Supply does is their team members start every meeting with a customer story. Hal decided to follow tradition and start his keynote presentation with a story. Hal described how a store stayed open an extra three minutes one night so a farmer could pick up some products as their new baby calf wasn’t able to feed from it’s mother. Hal read a letter from the customer who expressed extreme jubilation and happiness that their local Tractor Supply store kept the lights on an extra three minutes so they could pick up their order.
Every brand has the potential to deliver this exact kind of experience. Remaining open just three minutes longer might seem like a minor detail, but in truth, it presents a significant opportunity for a brand to offer that little extra touch, which can mean the world to a customer.
Encourage a culture of “an extra three minutes” within your brand. It could be as simple as answering a customer call late in the evening, personally arranging for a product return, or even recommending a competitor’s product if it’s a better match for the customer’s requirements. No matter the circumstance, customers will deeply appreciate and feel connected to the authenticity of such experiences — and they’ll have immense respect for your brand for going that extra mile.
NRF Big Show Lesson 2: Embrace the Weird
Each year at NRF, you’re guaranteed to encounter an array of new, quirky and weird technologies and solutions. From an AI robot whipping up french fries to an augmented reality setup that lets you virtually try on dresses and clothes to see how they fit — the trade show floor is always brimming with the unexpected.
While some of these concepts might seem, let’s say, a bit far-fetched, they do carry some weight and deserve a closer look. Listen — not so long ago, the idea of having a computer device that fits in our pocket, or wearing a headset to roam around in a virtual world, seemed like a stretch. Yet, here we are.
Brands must embrace the ever-evolving landscape of new and seemingly peculiar technology and solutions. However, it’s crucial to apply these unconventional solutions with a thoughtful approach. Make sure you really understand your customer — know what matters to them, what they want, and where they are in their journey. With this knowledge, you can discern which weird tech to experiment with and which will meet the unique needs of your customers.
NRF Big Show Lesson 3: Trust What Got You There
A key theme resonating through the NRF Big Show was the importance of trusting your “brand’s instinct.” At its heart, a brand’s instinct is what got your brand to where it is today.
But at the core of your brand’s true self is one simple common element — your customer. Your brand instinctively knew what experiences your customers wanted, what products would resonate with them and how to deliver this experience across multiple channels.
With that said, what got you where you are today — won’t get you where you need to be tomorrow. Every brand has its origins, a period when it was just a concept, unknown to customers. During those early stages, your brand relied on its instinct to forge connections and resonate with customers.
I’m here to tell you the time has come again to move into the unknown. Trust in what has brought you this far — no one has a better grasp of your customers than you. Rely on that instinct to craft and develop new products and experiences that will truly resonate with your customers.
Listen, Magic Johnson could have lost Game 6, and the story could have been written differently, and though his skill and ability got him and the Lakers to Game 6, it was his attitude and willingness to do whatever it took to win that won him and the team the championship. Magic is a keep-the-lights-on-an-extra-three-minutes, embrace-the-weird-and-unorthodox, and “trust-in-what got-you-there” type of guy — and that’s how he achieved success.
Ultimately, competition breeds innovation — as Boston Celtic Larry Bird once said, “A winner is someone who recognizes his god given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.”
Find your brand’s talents, curate these talents into skills, and use these talents to achieve exceptional brand experiences for your customers.
(Sorry Magic, as a Celtics fan — I couldn’t resist…)
(Editor’s note: Thank you for the Bird inclusion, Justin. It was hard for this Boston-based editor to get through this Magical story.)
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