Never underestimate a strong brand

November 6, 2012 by Mike Goff

If I asked you to identify a brand that you admire, how would you respond?  Chances are the usual suspects would be identified—Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Google, and perhaps an automotive brand like BMW or Audi.  If I asked you why you chose the brand you mentioned, what would be your rationale?  My guess is it likely would be due to the promise you feel from that brand—that the promise, the experience, and the attributes, whether real or perceived, amount to why you feel an affinity towards that brand.

Now, let’s move that focus from brands in general to brands in sports. Which sports brands appeal to you?  Is it the NFL, with its 75-plus years of history and far-reaching appeal across all demographic audiences?  Or, is it a brand like NCAA basketball and its three weeks of tournament action that has merited its own set of brand descriptors—March Madness, Sweet 16, Elite Eight and Final Four?

For 20 years, I had the pleasure and challenge of trying to ride herd on a brand—Sprint—which experienced changes in technology, market focus, pricing strategies, distribution and consumer expectations and behavior.  And, during my time at Sprint, I worked with many partner brands that were chosen for marketing relationships that would help lift the equity, and relevance, of the Sprint brand.

So, it’s frustrating to witness companies, and sports and entertainment properties, underestimating the power of what a strong brand can do for their business. And, in the world of sports and entertainment, the importance of a strong brand has become even more acute given the number of options vying for the viewership and financial support of consumers.

When speaking on the topic of branding, I usually incorporate my favorite quote on the topic, from Scott Bedbury, author of A New Brand World.  Bedbury, a former senior marketing executive at Nike and Starbucks, wrote this about brands:

“A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off-strategy. It is defined by your best product as well as your worst product.  It is defined by award-winning advertising as well as by the god-awful ads that somehow slipped through the cracks, got approved, and, not surprisingly, sank into oblivion. It is defined by the accomplishments of your best employee—the shining star in the company who can do no wrong—as well as by the mishaps of the worst hire that you ever made. It is also defined by your receptionist and the music your customers are subjected to when placed on hold. For every grand and finely worded public statement by the CEO, the brand is also defined by derisory consumer comments overheard in the hallway or in a chat room on the Internet. Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings. They become psychological concepts held in the minds of the public, where they may stay forever. As such you can’t entirely control a brand. At best you only guide and influence it.”

It’s a wonderful quote, isn’t it?  Bedbury does a great job summarizing the many ways a brand can succeed, and even more easily fail.  And, those in sports and entertainment should pay heed to the variety acknowledged in Bedbury’s quote.

What if we turned the focus on sports?  The quote might be re-written as:

A sports property’s brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off-strategy. It is defined by your team’s best performance as well as the ugly loss at home to the league’s worst team. It is defined by the creative campaign devised for this coming season, along with the pitiful performance on the field, which contradicted what the marketing and ticket sales campaign described. It is defined by the smiling customer service representative at the fan information booth as well as the grouchy—and slow—concession attendee who’s doling out popcorn and soft drinks. For every promise made by your team’s general manager in the off-season, the brand is also defined by fan message boards and negative comments made by those who financially support the franchise and haven’t experienced a winning team in over a decade.

You get the idea, don’t you?  Sports brands and entertainment brands cannot forget that they too are subject to the vagaries of performance and other conditions sometimes impossible to control.

I see way too few sports brands who truly get it. That’s why I’m excited about the work that Premier Sports is doing on behalf of the new College Football Playoff, which will kick off in 2015 after the conclusion of the 2014 regular season. The four-team playoff is in place after fan and media outcry about the need to determine a true national champion on the field of play.

A new brand.  A new name.  A new brand identity.  A new promise.  Here’s hoping the College Football Playoff becomes the brand standard by which other sports properties are measured.

Mike Goff is chief marketing officer at Premier Sports Management in Overland Park, Kansas.  He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).