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How did ‘the Iceman’ become such hot property recently?

How did he take something as ordinary as breathing and turn it into one of the most extra-ordinary personal brands on the planet?

And why is it so important to be a ‘C’ word when it comes to challenger-brand communications?

This is Xtra-Ordinary Marketing – a series which explores how innovative brands are shaking up their industries with the most credible, creative and compelling comms around.

And in this episode I’m looking at Wim Hof – the Dutch extreme athlete and motivational speaker who has risen to prominence in the UK recently since featuring in a new BBC TV series, Freeze the Fear.

Hof’s predominantly famous for his breathing techniques which enable practitioners to endure extremely cold temperatures. This – he claims – can help reduce the symptoms of several diseases as well as improve mental health.

But here’s the funny thing about Hof’s method. At its essence, what he’s teaching you, is how to breathe and take cold showers.

And if that sounds like I’m being flippant, I’m not. I’ve been trying his method for a few weeks now and I can honestly say I’ve found it incredibly useful for increasing my energy levels and alertness.

But the point I’m trying to make is that there’s nothing revolutionary about it. There’s no specialist skillset required to learn how to breathe. He didn’t invent cold showers. We are all able to do what he recommends, provided we have the bravery to give it a go and the willpower to stick with it.

So, what fascinates me is, how did he take something so ordinary and turn it into this extra-ordinary personal brand – one that inspires and energises people all over the world? And, if we can work out how he’s done it, can we apply his tactics to the way in which we – as marketers, and founders of innovative, challenger brands – communicate?


So, as I said, I’ve been studying Hof for a few weeks and I think I’ve distilled the power of his personal brand down to three things; credibility, creativity and how compelling he is. Let’s take them one by one.

Hof is credible. He’s allowed countless scientists to study his techniques and physiology as well as spending decades studying a variety of different approaches on his own including Tummo Meditation and Pranayama (or, yogic breathing). He’s talked about this at great length and it’s clear he’s done his homework.

So, while some have questioned the science behind some of his work, no-one could claim that Hof’s made this stuff up on a whim [pardon the pun]. This dedication to studying his craft gives him credibility and helps others to place their trust in him.

The second reason he’s been so successful at sharing his message is the creative ways he’s found of bringing it to life. Hof has run barefoot half-marathons on ice and snow. He also climbed Kilimanjaro wearing only shorts and sandals.

These entertaining and eye-catching challenges are a great way of bringing his core messages to the masses. They illustrate the key point that his techniques can help you overcome an aversion to the cold but they do it in a way that doesn’t require the audience to have to go into the science behind them.

Finally, Hof’s method has become famous because of who Wim Hof is. Though less than six feet tall, he’s a larger-than-life character with an excess of hair all around the facial region and a questionable taste in fashion. But the way he talks is absolutely transfixing. His message is clear and concise and expressed with amazing energy. In short, as a character, he is unbelievably compelling.

As early as Episode 1 of Freeze the Fear, Patrice Evra appears utterly transfixed by him, saying “As soon as I saw Wim, he brought the beast out of me. If Wim hadn’t been there, I’m not sure I would have [jumped in freezing cold water]. I was straight away connected to him.”

Even Hof’s sceptics – people like Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, in his National Library of Medicine article ‘Who is the Iceman’ – praise Hof’s “passion” and “conviction”.

And so, these three ‘c’ words – credible, creative and compelling – are the foundation of Wim Hof’s personal brand. But they can also be the cornerstone of your company’s communications and, in the next section, I’ll explain how.


Pablo Picasso said we need to “learn the rules like a pro, so that we can break them like an artist”. In other words, learning the rules gives us credibility. This credibility, in turn, allows us the creative licence to break them.

And yet, we all know people who are extremely talented and artistic but who never achieve the recognition they deserve. And this is because they are missing the third part of the trifecta – which is the requirement to be compelling.

The UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian has conducted numerous studies into human interaction and he’s found that only around 7% of effective communication comes down to WHAT you say.

A massive 93% of how your message is received and how well you are liked comes down to HOW you talk, and how you LOOK when you talk. In other words, the vast majority of being an effective communicator is how compelling you are.

Here’s the thing. Credible, Creative and Compelling can be linked to the three types of stories we’re able to talk about as marketers: Product, Lifestyle and Brand.

So, when telling a Product story, our job is to be credible; to prove the effectiveness of the product in doing what it needs to do. Stats and data are a great way to do this but where that isn’t possible, you can still create a reason why your product is superior in some way to alternatives within the industry.

Pepsi’s ‘taste test challenge’ is a great way of ‘proving’ that more people prefer the taste of their product to Coca Cola.

When telling a Lifestyle story, our job is to be creative. Lifestyle content takes the product and applies it to the customer’s life showing how it will make things easier, better, happier etc.

Airbnb’s product is an app. An app on which you’re able to book one of a collection of mostly bland rooms and apartments, no less. So what they sell is the lifestyle – from “favorite places to grab coffee” to “the best tacos in the city”. The great thing about Lifestyle content is that the potential opportunities for applying your product to people’s lives are often endless.

When telling a Brand story, our job is to be compelling. This means having confidence, clarity and consistency in how we appear to the world. It means knowing what we stand for and articulating that time and time again.

Wim Hof knows who he is and how he wishes to come across. He then just does ‘Wim Hof’ to the max.

When Red Bull tell us time and time again that their product gives you wings. When they show extreme sports athletes flying through the air or Felix Baumgartner skydiving from space. These are expressions of Red Bull’s brand and help us – as brand custodians – to feel an affinity for who they are as a company.


Finally, I quickly want to address the question of why being extra-ordinary matters. It matters in marketing because that is what marketing is.

In a world where our competitors can be based anywhere across the globe and having a genuine USP or first-mover’s advantage is practically impossible, it’s no longer enough to build websites, make ads, manage communities or do customer service in the same way everyone else does.

You have no option but to stand-out. You must be extra-ordinary. And being credible, creative and compelling in your communications is the way to do that.

If Wim Hof can turn something as ordinary as breathing into an extra-ordinary brand, you can do the same for whatever you’re selling.

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