Full Disclosure: I do not condone any atrocious acts Evel Knievel performed. There are stories of him being abusive towards others that make me question his glorified status. I want to note this, while still taking a moment to look at his life.
Evel Knievel was in a class of his own. He didn’t abide by laws, often hurt people and damaged property. He was reckless with the hearts of those he loved. Evel is most famous for launching his body over stacked objects and across long distances—all while hugging a heavy Harley between his legs. Today his legacy lives on in biking, BMXing, skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing and other extreme sports.
How did a man from badass Butte, America become the father of the extreme sports movement, especially when he was often engaged in other activities? Did you know that Evel worked in the mines before he was famous? He also won a ski jumping championship. And after Evel started a semi-pro hockey team in Butte, he convinced the 1960 Czechoslovakian Olympic team to come play them! Butte lost the match. Evel was ejected from the game. And, the Olympic committee paid the Czech team to avoid an international debacle. Truly fascinating. The real story is not who won or lost, but that a man from Butte convinced an international Olympic team to travel to Montana.
Hanging up his skates, Evel turned his attention to hunting and opened a hunting outfitting business called Sure-Kill. Not surprisingly, this led to a disagreement with the National Parks Service (NPS) about alleged poaching practices. Around this time, Evel had learned that thousands of elk were going to be slaughtered in Yellowstone. In protest, Evel hitchhiked to Washington, DC and lobbied to have these elk relocated to areas where people hunt. To this day, the practice exists.
Evel was also an insurance salesman, he owned a Honda bike dealership and he dabbled in a few other professions, too. What allows a man to be this legendary? At his core, Evel was a brilliant businessman.
In Business—Evel Taught Us:
1. Believe Anything Is Possible: I applaud Evel for going where no man had ever gone before—time and time again. With plans ranging from outlandish-to-genius Evel always had his eyes set on the next big horizon. So many of our obstacles are self-created, self-imposed limitations that don’t even really exist outside of our heads. Evel just went for it. He didn’t doubt himself. Maybe he had a tiny voice inside his head that told him he wasn’t good enough—but he didn’t let that voice sway his conviction. Instead, he sculpted his reality and created one of the most fascinating legacies in American history.
That’s how it goes in owing my own business, too. There are moments when I think the parachute isn’t going to open and I’m going to sink into a river of despair, much like Evel when he tried to fly over the Snake River. And there are moments when I’m soaring high and think, “see, anything is possible!”
2. Produce a Compelling Product: Whether he was lobbying for elk, coaxing hockey teams to Butte or jumping over 14 Greyhound buses, Evel’s product was himself. And boy-oh-boy was that quite the mesmerizing product.
In business marketing we ask companies:
-What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
-What do you best?
As marketers we ask business owners these questions to figure out what message we’re going to portray to the public so that potential customers will want to buy your product.
And here’s Evel Knievel: A daring man who smiled confidently while informing us about the next impossible stunt he was going to perform. His stunts were never-seen-before feats. That alone would be compelling. But, they wouldn’t have had the lasting impact that Evel has had on us were it not for the man himself—for who he was as a person.
“The product” known as Evel Kneivel exuded talent that people couldn’t look away from and kept us captivated with unparalleled showmanship, personality and charisma.
When Evel would make speeches shortly after breaking bones he did so in a trendsetting way that left people talking. He was so unique that people are still imitating him today—over 30 years later. (His videos remain some of the most viewed stunts in media history.)
As business owners we can be like Evel Knievel and put forth our best offering. Whether your business produces the most durable product, the cheapest product, or the most useful product—the point is to be unique and be great at what you do.
3. Promotional Genius: Many of Evel’s shenanigans and accomplishments were achieved thanks to his brand of promotional genius. The stuntman gave charismatic speeches, sometimes shortly after shattering both records and his own human bones. He taunted the Federal Government and set the media afire with his claims that he’d jump the Grand Canyon. The Feds refused to grant him airspace, though. There he was—the hero of every rebel in America—and now the Federal Government wouldn’t allow him to jump. I can’t think of a more convincing media campaign to solidify his fans’ love for him. He not-so-subtly employed counter culture heroism, an “us versus them mentality” and over-the-top sensationalism, tipping the scales in his favor. The marketer in me applauds him!
He was a media sensation, and largely by his own making.
And let’s not forget about Evel’s other stories…
Hitchhiking to DC to lobby in Congress is a bold way to make a statement about government policy that will turn heads in your direction. And, convincing an entire Olympic Czech hockey team to come to Butte, America is a sure-fire way to draw attention to your semi-pro hockey league.
Evel wasn’t a news story. He was the news.
And in business marketing—we can learn from this!
Business marketing should promote the unique elements of your business in a way that appeals to your target demographic. Evel’s demographic was daredevils. Your businesses’ target demo might not be daredevils, which means you likely don’t have to jump over any Greyhound buses.
But—your business will benefit from NOT blending into the other media noise and advertisements. That’s the powerful lesson here.
How can you best present to the public what is most unique about your business—and in a compelling way?
4. Constantly (Re)-Create Yourself: One of the things I admire most about Evel’s life is how diverse his interests were. This was a man who built business after business under complex circumstances—time and time again. Although the stuntman role is tied to his identity the strongest, what Evel revealed to us through his variety of careers was that he wasn’t just a label. He wasn’t tied to one role or identity. Evel wasn’t just a former convict. He wasn’t just a former mine worker. He wasn’t just an alleged poacher and hunting guide. And he certainly wasn’t just a stuntman.
Underneath all those labels are characteristics that can be extracted from Evel’s professional and creative endeavors. We’ve learned that Evel was a man of great genius who trail-blazed an unprecedented path. Sometimes aided by his unscrupulous character, he employed non-traditional means to devise creative solutions around obstacles that persuaded many others to give up. Evel may not have had a “5 year business plan”. But, he had a brand based on genuineness and was able to overcome adversity because his creative and professional endeavors were, in the end, one and the same.
We’ve established that Evel was his own product. And, he used his own resources to continually reinvent what he would offer. Ultimately, he found his place in history as the Father of Extreme Sports and the King of all Stuntmen. But, this wouldn’t have happened had he settled for mediocrity or decided that he’d accomplished enough in life rather than continuing to pursue his interests.
While I haven’t launched myself over any buses or canyons (yet), I can relate to experiencing the benefits of constantly re-inventing my business (and myself). Since owning my business I have explored different roles to determine what services I want to offer. I’ve experimented with different products to identify what I can offer the best. Interestingly, what I thought I’d do best wasn’t fun or captivating to me. Now that I’ve revamped my business strategy and offerings– I am enjoying my work. And when I enjoy my work, I’m highly motivated to create kickass marketing strategies, perform daily operations and to offer the best product possible.
Summary: Thanks, Evel Knievel for your contributions to my understanding of business and marketing. As both a small business owner, and a marketer by trade, I’m fascinated with your legacy the way a teenaged boy is fascinated by footage of your 1974 attempt at jumping the Snake River Canyon. In business your legacy teaches us to:
- Believe In Yourself
- Produce A Compelling Product
- Employ Promotional Genius
- Constantly Recreate Ourselves
…and I for one am mesmerized!