Tell the truth, you think branding is about marketing, logos, and identity, don't you? That's a common misconception perpetuated by advertising, marketing, and graphic design people. They make their money on materials they create, and produce. Contrary to what the marketing community would have you believe, all marketing is a subset of branding, not the other way around. Branding is the space in a person's head where they define your importance to them. It is a reflection of every touch point that forms an experience, and every experience that constitutes a relationship.
Great brands like Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's and Whole Foods found fame with virtually no formal advertising or marketing. How did they do it? In the case of Starbucks they focus not so much on competing with other coffee purveyors, but rather on delivering an experience that helps their customers see Starbucks as a third destination in their life. That's right; they deliberately focus on being a place with which their customers identify in addition to home and work. Maybe that is why their locations resemble someone's family room, and are the setting for so many business meetings. Maybe that is why Starbucks is becoming one of the leading purveyors of recorded music in the country, having just signed Paul McCartney to their new recording label. Beyond the coffee, it's a place where you can feel good sharing a little self-indulgence.
If you shop at Whole Foods, you know how much importance the company places on its in-store shopping experience. Unlike other grocery stores, Whole Foods does not rely on newspaper supplements filled with "loss leaders" to drive its business.
Ben & Jerry's figured out that it could wear its social, civic, and political convictions on its apron to attract a crowd that wants more than 31 flavors of vanilla. A friend of mine in the ice cream marketing business once told me that nearly all ice cream, including exotic combinations like rocky road, begin with a minimum of 40% vanilla. How inviting would it be if a retailer announced it was selling 31 versions of vanilla? Distinctive, consistent flavor is what sells.
So why does soccer continue to sell itself as "exciting, action-packed, and wholesome family fun," as if Americans are yearning for one more sport to compete for their ever-shrinking entertainment time and dollar? The great brands listed above had clear, distinctive values to which they are wholeheartedly committed. They looked for ways to articulate and manifest those values through an experience in ways that a customer could say, "I see me!"
It is time for professional soccer to create a truly unique experience for its audience and stop trying to "one up" the slick entertainment antics of professional baseball, football and basketball. Give us a truly different experience, not one where all the hoopla and hype around the sport resemble everything else in the marketplace.
Even youth and club soccer could benefit from creating meaningful, distinctly different experiences for their members. Do not be afraid to declare what you are not. In a sense, each soccer club should have a character and experience unique to its constituents, not unlike a neighborhood church. To push the religious analogy further, "Dare to be Daniel, dare to stand alone, Dare to have a purpose firm, dare to make it known."
Soccer needs to have the courage to step beyond the tired claims to define an experience where players, coaches, spectators and the public have a relationship that instills loyalty and commitment for the long haul, and goes beyond "the flavor of the month."
Jim Paglia is a nationally recognized brand strategist who lives outside Chicago. He has an extensive background in soccer ranging from the NASL, to NCAA Division I, to World Cup 1994, and 30 years of club administration and coaching.
SOCCER BUSINESS INSIDER Letters To The Editor
I would like to set the record straight regarding a recent publication from Soccer America. In "Soccer Business Insider: Sponsorships and the RSVP Rule" (Aug. 29, 2007) your author, Warren Mersereau, looked to provide insight into the sponsorship world for those involved and for those considering a partnership in soccer.
US Youth Soccer does have over 3,000,000 registered players in its database and can provide information to a sponsor if permitted under the sponsor's contract with us and the sponsor wants to do a distribution to that large a number (and in most cases, sponsors do not).
Larry Monaco, President
US Youth Soccer
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