With the recent passing of the man, the myth, the legend: Muhammad Ali, I thought it would be interesting to write a post covering what we can learn about marketing from the boxing great.

Promote yourself

The first thing that stands out about Muhammad Ali in terms of marketing, at least in my mind, is his self-promotion.
Ali wasn’t shy about promoting himself. Whether you like the way he went about it, by declaring himself the greatest and verbally assaulting his opponents, there is no doubt that he brought a lot of attention to himself through those endeavors.

As internet marketers, you should know that bringing attention to your brand is a crucial element to your success. You need backlinks, mentions, and to develop relationships in order to be successful online. The more attention you get (provided it is the right kind of attention), the more successful you’re likely to be. After all, the internet is somewhat of a numbers game. You want targeted traffic in bulk and to have a high conversion rate.

Not only did Ali use self-promotion to gain attention, but he also used it as motivation. When he said, “I am the greatest,” that was partially Ali setting a goal that he had to spend the rest of his life living up to. I think that could be a useful technique for anyone managing an online brand, as you could do the same type of thing. Say what you want to be, then become that thing.

Perhaps you want to be the go-to resource on some topic. After putting together content on that subject, you might declare yourself the greatest expert on that topic. You then need to work to make sure that is and remains true.

Stand behind what you say

That brings me to my next point, stand behind what you say.

Muhammad Ali once said:

Some people say I’m cocky, they say I talk too much, and that I need a good whoopin’. But anything I say, I’m willing to back up.

Ali stood behind what he said. This is also vital to anyone running an online brand or engaging in internet marketing. In fact, building up your trust and authority might currently be the most important aspects to running an online business. How can your readers trust you if you don’t stand behind what you say?

Now, there are always going to be instances where maybe you make a mistake or say something you later find out to be incorrect. In that case, you of course don’t want to continue to defend a position you no longer believe to be correct. Before you edit or delete your incorrect content, I think you should own your mistake. Typically, when editing something, I would just add a note about what you changed. If it is a major mess up, you might want to notify users or write an apology.

Doing so not only shows that you care about having correct, updated content, but it also shows that you are a person or team that is human and makes mistakes, but you have enough integrity to claim those mistakes and are doing everything in your power to have the best possible content for your users.

Ali with the Beatles

Look for cross promotional opportunities

I’m not really sure that Ali sought out cross promotional opportunities away from advertising partnerships, but he certainly benefited from them. From the time he won the heavyweight championship to his death, celebrities the world over clamored for photos with Ali. All of that cross promotion helped to keep Ali in the thoughts of the public and to even grow his legend.

For an internet marketer, there are basically infinite possibilities out there for cross promotional opportunities. The easiest way to do it is probably just social media mentions. Simply mentioning someone in a tweet or on Facebook will bring you to their attention and maybe their followers too. Other cross promotional opportunities could be interviews or guest posts, which can drive traffic and give you valuable links. You could even work with other brands (or websites) to create content.

Giving back

Ali worked with various organizations to give back. He had partnerships with WebMD and Partnership for a Healthier America, and also gave to various charities and attended charitable events.

Ali once said:

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.

For internet marketers, giving back not only is a way to feel good about ourselves and to contribute to society, but it also is a way to frame our brands in a positive light and, potentially, even a way to bring more attention to our brands.

Potential clients love to see that the money they are paying you is partially spent on a good cause, and they like to know that they are working with a good person.

Don’t be afraid to take a stand

Besides being a great boxer that was the record three-time lineal world heavyweight champion in history, part of why Muhammad Ali is so world renowned had more to do with his principles and what he stood for more than anything to do with boxing.

In 1966, the reigning heavyweight champion Ali was drafted into the military. He refused to serve, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the war in Vietnam. This ultimately led to Ali’s arrest and being stripped of the heavyweight crown. It was 1971 before the ruling was overturned and Ali resumed his boxing career.

Ali essentially gave up four years of his life, which fell right during what could have been his prime as a boxer, between the ages of 24 and 28, just to stand up for something he believed in. While this drew criticism from many, it also made Ali an icon and a symbol.

For online brands and marketers, I think we can learn from Ali that taking a stand can be a good thing. Sure, you might drive some customers, clients, or users away because of what you stand for, but you also will draw attention to yourself and the people that agree with you are more apt to love your brand.

Once you have a platform, use it to make the world a better place

Ali once said:

I want to fight for the prestige, not for me, but to uplift my little black brothers who are sleeping on concrete floors in America, for black people who have nothing to eat, for black people who have no knowledge of themselves…I can help a lot of people…God is blessing me through this accident of boxing to help me get to all these people. I can get all these films and take all these pictures and I can bring all of this back to America to help our people…but it is good to be a winner. All I have to do is whip George Foreman.

I got a power now. I’ve got a power even I’m not going to realize until after (the fight). I might look at the film and say, ‘how did I do that?”. Allah, God, I’m his tool, God got in me. My purpose is my people. This man (Foreman) looks slow. God has made this man look like a little kid. A so-called right hand ain’t nothing now. I don’t even feel it! I’ve got no fear. I walk right in and take my shots because I have God on my mind. I’m thinkin’ about how my people have been free and how many people I can help with just one fight. Now he looks little in comparison to what I’m getting’ from it! He ain’t nothin’ now!

But if I think just about me, I get scared. If I think about how George Foreman knocked out Joe Frazier like he was God, and he knocked out Ken Norton, and the white press, the power structure, ranked me to get tired in 5 or 6 (rounds)…then I go in (the ring) like Norton and Frazier and get scared.

But I’m not lookin’ at the world and what they say. My God controls the universe.

Muhammad Ali is remembered as the greatest not just because of his boxing achievements, but because he was a cultural icon that stood for something.

In my opinion, it really was Ali’s position as a social icon and a symbol of opposition to the Vietnam War and as a symbol of the civil rights movement that solidified his position as someone that will forever be remembered as the greatest.

Ali wasn’t happy with just being a great boxer. As shown by the quote at the top of this section, he wanted to use his platform as a celebrity and cultural icon to make the world a better place.

Too often, I think online brands just don’t stand for anything. Many aren’t out to help anyone but themselves. There is a case to be made that having brands stand for something and working to make the world a better place leads to them getting more press and more devoted customers, but, more than that, it is just the right thing to do.

If you are one of the many online brands with tens or hundreds of thousands of users following you on social media and visiting your website, I would highly encourage you to take Muhammad Ali’s lead and try to use your platform not just to benefit your business, but also to make the world a better place!


In conclusion, there is a lot that internet marketers and online brands can take away from the life of Muhammad Ali.

In this post, I discussed how Ali promoted himself, stood behind what he said, used cross promotional activities effectively, he gave back, stood up for his beliefs, and used his platform as a celebrity and icon to make the world a better place.

These are all things that big brands should look at and try to replicate, as it really can be the difference between being a good company that makes a profit and becoming a great company that is loved.

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