What Michael Clarke Duncan Taught Me About Branding & Business Relationships – #RIP

If Michael Clarke Duncan could pass away at just 54-years old, what in the world is in store for the rest of us…?

If you haven’t yet heard, Academy Award Nominated actor Michael Clarke Duncan died in the hospital yesterday morning as a result of lingering complications from a myocardial infarction (or heart attack, in layman’s terms), which he’d suffered in mid-July. He appeared to have been doing better as of late, recovering since the attack.

Best known and loved for his roles in Armageddon, Planet of the Apes, and others, his break-out role was as John Coffey in The Green Mile, one of Stephen King’s most popular movie adaptations. One of my favorite actors simply because of the person that he was that shone through his movie roles, and interviews, and photos… this sweet man will be missed.

But Why Here? Why Now?

You might ask yourself (or, more appropriately, me) what in the world you’re doing reading about this beloved Hollywood star on a local business and marketing blog. However well-respected … how relevant is he to the topic at hand?

That’s as legitimate a question as any. The tie-in is this:

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Michael Clarke Duncan found his lane.

While some may say he was “typecast” as an imposing “bouncer”-type personality in many of his popular movies, I disagree with the label. Somewhat. On the other side of that thinking, I believe he played those roles because they were so well-tailored for who he was – not the other way around.


Everything about Mr. Duncan that commanded attention was in all of those things that made him such a great “bodyguard” or “warrior” type in his films:

The height.

The build.

My God, the voice

I can still hear his deliciously gravelly, booming baritone in my mind as I write this and it makes me, honestly, quite melancholy.

All of these things that we remember about Michael are things which comprised his personal brand.

It almost seems as if these characteristics (and roles) sought him out, and not the other way around. Yes?

Certainly. Because they were “naturally Michael.”

He didn’t study endlessly to learn to encompass the roles he acquired. He fell into them with an ease and grace that only someone destined to be those things could ever have hoped to achieve.

And that’s the point.

Too many businesses out there are trying to hijack the branding strategies of another. They see a clever branding strategy and try to gaffle it and make it their own.

But it doesn’t work that way.

The reason so many marketers struggle is that they’re trying to overtake someone else’s brand. No. BE YOU, flex the muscles God gave you, and everything else will fall into place:

You’ll fall into and onto your own brand, not the other way around.

When it all comes down to it, it’s not at all about a “clever branding strategy.” (Literally, I LoL at the very thought.) It’s about having your brand become second nature to you, something that comes so easily and freely that it’s not something you have to aggressively “strategize.”

It’s just who you are.

Business Relationships.

Another piece to this puzzle was the role of one other actor, beloved by many (and definitely by me), in Michael Clarke Duncan’s movie life. Fox News reports that Bruce Willis put in a good word for Michael, referring him for the role in some of their shared movies, like Sin City and the hilarious cult classic, The Whole Nine Yards.

Yes, Bruce seems to have been the friend who gave Michael Clarke that “little extra” on a couple of occasions to help further solidify his career.

Now, I don’t believe everything I read in the news by a long shot…

But if not Bruce, and if not in these ways, there was someone in Michael Clarke Duncan’s life that gave him a little extra push.

Because that’s just how life works.

So let’s take this at face value and use Bruce for the sake of example.

“All lasting business is built on friendship.” ~Alfred A. Montapert

Ah. Now, it’s coming together.

I don’t imply that any person but Michael Clarke Duncan was responsible for his own fame. However, again taking this story at face value, we can’t ignore the importance of business relationships – and their role in seeing us through.

Being successful in your industry is about building business relationships. Period. ”It’s not what you know; it’s who you know”… to a very large degree. Sometimes a friend is just the little nudge we need to help us finally crack through that glass ceiling and reach the next level of our potential.

And that’s what all “the experts” are harping on about. Including me.

It’s not about “social media marketing.”

It’s not about the latest flashy new term, “inbound marketing.”

It’s not about “blogging.”

It’s certainly not about “SEO,” not now.

What it IS about is building the business relationships that help sustain us each time the Web grows… and changes… and leaves us in the dark… and morphs into yet another unfamiliar creature that inspires a little bit of fear, that leaves us feeling overwhelmed and disheartened at “yet another thing” we’re left to learn, or to change toward.

When technology and industry transformations flip us the bird, the business relationships we’ve built are what provide a firm foundation on which we can continue to BUILD.

Whether that be joint ventures, or existing customers, or colleagues we’ve met through networking… or “the list”… these are all just more specific terms for the foundational phrase “business relationships” that sustain us as we grow.

Now do you see…?

What Michael Clarke Duncan Taught Me About Branding and Business Relationships

Whether or not you knew who Michael Clarke Duncan was before this writing, I hope that you’re able to look into his life, and his legacy, and take away these lessons. He may not have been the most famous star, and he surely could have reached even greater potential if given time, but consider the roots of his story.

He always wanted to be an actor. In fact, he was pursuing university studies in his early life, when he had to come out to support a mother who fell ill. Like any dutiful son, he went immediately to work to help better support the single-parent household after his father left, and he later began to immerse himself in show business by association, as a bodyguard.

Immediately, he began to build relationships. He began surrounding himself with people who were where he wanted to be, (yes, starting out by working for them, for a time).

And with time, sheer will, and simple determination, he got there: the role of renowned, Academy Award nominated Hollywood actor.

And it appears that he achieved everything he had in the film industry without benefit of a university degree.

So let nothing stop you from pressing toward the mark. Build relationships. BE YOU. Be authentic in your every interaction… and watch where the currents of life take you.

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