Like millions of people around the world, I was shocked and saddened by Michael Jackson’s untimely death last Thursday.

I found out on Twitter. And,  it’s true, I’m a ‘closet’ Michael Jackson fan.  I realized that as his music and videos filled the airwaves – he was the backdrop of my life for decades.  And every song has memories – Beat It, Thriller, Bad, We Are The World….on and on.

Setting aside his trials and tribulations, his brand is so strong and well defined that his legacy truly will be that of a genius artist and a true humanitarian.  In fact, it’s not hard to see that his brand will most likely have an enormous resurgence and the positive will absolutely outweigh the negative.

The gold standard

At the core of a gold standard  brand is a passionate consumer/fan base. And this passionate community lives and breathes both offline and online.  That made the speed of the news of Michael’s death a new phenomenon…once people received the news they shared it with their networks, who shared it with their networks….and so it goes.

I think everyone was surprised at just how passionate Michael’s fans are:

  • Google had so much traffic, it thought it was being hacked
  • Nearly 65,000 texts per second were sent according to AT&T – more than 60 percent over normal volume.
  • 100 new friends were added per minute on Michael’s MySpace – the site’s highest increase in one day
  • Approx 5,000 tweets per second were going out over Twitter

A global brand icon

I think Harvard Business School’s John Quelch captured it well in his post on June 26, the day Michael died.  Among other elements of a global brand icon, he identifies this:

  1. Be visible. All memorable brands have their unique visual trademarks. Jackson understood brand image and how to build it with his fans. The moonwalk that we could all try to imitate. The glove. The uniform. Neverland.
  2. Go global. Jackson’s music and videos easily transcended national boundaries, as well as race, age and gender. “We Are the World”, written by Jackson and Lionel Ritchie in 1985, cemented his global appeal. Jackson sold almost half his 750 million titles outside the United States.
  3. Be vulnerable. We cannot relate to icons without imperfections. Jackson was quirky, eccentric, mysterious. For all his wealth and professional excellence, he was – perhaps understandably – flawed, misguided, and sad, but none would say unkind.

Good advice for all building a personal brand.

Michael Jackson, you were many things to many people, but most of all you are etched in decades of people’s lives and memories.  You will be missed.


Beverly Macy is the Managing Partner of Y&M Partners and teaches a social media class at the UCLA Extension.  She also co-hosts Gravity Summit events and provides personal branding coaching.