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Know Your Customer: Business Advice from Magic Johnson

When Earvin “Magic” Johnson cold-called 20 CEOs and asked them to help him transition from the basketball court to the boardroom, he got a pretty good response. That is the power of being Magic Johnson. It’s easy to get senior level people to meet with you!

What is impressive though is the purpose and persistence that Magic has around using his star power to build businesses that help minorities—his Magic Enterprises has created millions of jobs and provided entertainment and food services to tens of millions of Americans—urban and otherwise.

Magic gave the opening keynote at the DMA14 conference this week. He posed for a lot of pictures with a signature grin and used his huge star power and physical presence to charm the crowd.

Clearly, however, this man also has a huge heart. He worked really hard to be a sports legend, and he is doing good with his fame and paying it forward in a big way. I really respect that.

He also gave us some very good business advice.

  1. Go after a big, underserved market. Magic did his research. He saw that blacks and Hispanics were spending $40 billion a year on products that were not marketed, packaged or tailored to them. He realized that by actually listening to and serving this segment, he could grow that spending and own it. He proved his theory right with a Starbucks franchise, co-branded AMC movie theaters and several shopping center projects.
  2. Know your customer. When he opened Starbucks stores in urban locations, he said people couldn’t believe he’d sell $4 lattes. He did, but said, “My people, we don’t eat scones.” He replaced the standard baked goods with sweet potato pie and crackling biscuits – and earned a higher per customer spend than the rest of the Starbucks stores.
  3. Hire and nurture great talent. As the CEO, Magic is clearly pretty distant from the details of the business. He never failed to mention the great people he has around him, and the many partnerships that helped him achieve his vision.
  4. Protect your brand. “Magic Johnson is Magic Johnson,” he said. “People know they have to deal with me.” He never puts his name on anything that he doesn’t believe in, can’t influence and control. An endorsement by Magic for your business or charity is sure to bring new attention and revenue, and he takes that role very very seriously.
  5. Partner for success. The real impact is made when Magic Enterprises brings services from outside the urban community to the urban buyer. He doesn’t reinvent the wheel, he just adapts what is already successful to the needs of this particular community. The theme of the DMA event, “Don’t market alone,” really resonated with him.
  6. Believe in yourself.  Sports legend turned business icon. It’s a real American success story.  Magic said repeatedly that his secrets are to work hard. Don’t take no for an answer. Prove them wrong, and then graciously bring the doubters into the fold.

While few of us have the opportunity or brand to move mountains the way that Magic has, we all have the ability to put our talents to good use. On the court as well as in the marketplace, Magic doesn’t wait for the ball to come to him—he is purposeful and clear in his mission to help urban America.

34_1I hope these lessons resonate for you, too, and that you can apply some of this to your own business and personal journey to Stay #TopRight.


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