Effective brand building requires creating a network of raving fans who will support you and your organization in good times and bad times. This article by NMC Account Executive Greg Glynn talks about Red Sox Nation, which is a great example of a cult-like following for a brand. The book The Culting of Brands, by Douglas Atkin, analyzes how strong brands are built on the foundation of a strong cult of brand followers.
As a sports fan, I enjoy watching the success of a championship sports team at any level. What the Boston Red Sox accomplished in 2013 was completely different from any other championship sports team in history.
From a marketing perspective, there is a lot we can learn from their season. Based on the Red Sox success, here are 4 lessons related to their season that can help improve your marketing efforts.
1. There is always room for improvement
The Red Sox were the worst team in baseball in 2012 finishing with a record of 69-93. Their team batting average was .260 and their defense allowed more than 800 runs during the season. As a result, attendance plummeted and the team’s consecutive sell-out streak of 820 games came to an end.
In evaluating those numbers and the negative energy that the fans showed toward the team, ownership acknowledged that the current situation wasn’t working—they fired manager Bobby Valentine, cleared out the players and personalities that had high-price contracts and low production (not to mention eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse). In evaluating the statistics and sentiment from fans at the end of the 2012 season, the organization made significant changes and off-season moves to improve the quality of the players on the team, both on the field and in the community.
In marketing, we always need to be constantly evaluating what is working and what isn’t. The use of measurable tools such as Google Analytics, traceable phone numbers and data from Facebook Insights are just some examples of ways marketers can better understand the numbers that are important to us to decide what might need to change.
2. Adversity can be an opportunity
The tragic events that occurred at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April marked a very sad day in Boston, but in typical Boston and New England fashion, the city rallied and the Boston Red Sox helped in the healing process and gave the city strength.
|Photo credit: boston.com|
It was just a few days after the marathon that the Red Sox returned home to Fenway Park from a road trip and superstar slugger David Ortiz addressed the crowd. He said “This is our (expletive) city,” as part of his speech to the fans. It was at that very moment that the team publicly addressed and acknowledged the adversity the city was facing. It was clear from that moment forward the team took on the mission to show the world the strength of the city, the state and all of Red Sox nation. It also led to the slogan “Boston Strong” which turned into the mantra for the team the entire season.
When marketers face adversity, whether it is an underperforming product or negative customer feedback, public relations crisis or sad emotional time for the company, it is important to find your inner strength and find the best way to handle the adversity. While it is never easy, in some cases it might be a defining moment for your business and a chance to demonstrate the passion behind your brand. In other cases, such as a company error or mistake, it means an opportunity to learn from what went wrong and take ownership of correcting it.
Just look at what happened in Boston and how the city rallied. Days after the bombing, The One Fund was created for victims of the Boston Marathon attacks and today more than $71 million has been raised through donations from across the country.
Days after the marathon, the Boston Red Sox organization stepped up and made a $100,000 donation to One Fund Boston and made several more contributions throughout the season through charity events and promotions that raised additional awareness and funds for The One Fund. They didn’t have to raise the money or organize the events they did, but they chose to and that showed their fan base and the world exactly how much the team supports its fans and the city of Boston.
3. Be unique
If you thought playoff beards were only for hockey players, you’re wrong. The 2013 Boston Red Sox proved they could pull off the bearded look and it became a part of their identity all season long. By the unique look, it gave this team an identity that will be remembered forever.
It was originally players Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Dustin Pedroia that came up with the crazy idea in spring training to grow beards for the entire season. By mid-season, several other players had adopted the Paul Bunyan look and it brought the players fun-loving attitude to the park each night. The players had created a unique sense of chemistry around the beards and the fans of the team adopted it, as well.
The team ownership recognized the marketing opportunity to embrace the look and get fans involved. In fact, on September 18, the Red Sox as an organization hosted “Dollar Beard Night” at Fenway Park and all fans that came to the game with a beard could get a ticket for just $1.
During the World Series, there were even women wearing pink beards, kids wearing colored-on beards and, during the championship parade, even “Wally the Green Monster” was wearing a beard. Needless to say, it caught on with everyone and became a distinctive quality of this team that fans will never forget.
4. Build an emotional attachment to your brand
While this lesson sits at number 4 on the list, it is one of the most important. Branding is a lot about emotion, and the feeling people have about your product and the values of the company.
After the events that took place at the Boston Marathon, the Red Sox players and ownership stepped up and helped the city handle the sadness and adversity by showing their passionate commitment to the community, and in the process, created a strong affinity for their brand because they became immense emotional leaders for the city, region and country. During the course of the year, the team honored several of the unsung heroes, as well as the victims and their families, which showcased the passion of the players and ownership during what was a very, very difficult time.
Visually, the Red Sox brand also became a part of the city’s strength. After the marathon, the team wore patches with the team logo and the word “STRONG” under it the rest of the season. The team put the same logo on the 37-foot-high Green Monster and mowed the logo in the outfield grass for the World Series. All of these were constant visual reminders of what was motivating this team and that this season was bigger than baseball.
|ESPN.go photo. Credit: ESPN|
The emotional climax and perhaps most moving moment that many fans (and non- baseball fans) will remember is when Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes stopped the championship parade in the streets of Boston at the finish line of the Boston Marathon (where the bombing took place just seven months before) and placed a team jersey with the phrase “Boston Strong” and the number 617 (area code in Boston) on it over the World Series trophy as “God Bless America” played over the loud speaker.
This was a powerful moment for the Red Sox brand. At that very moment, it wasn’t what the Red Sox had done on the field that fans were cheering for, they were cheering because of how that moment made them feel.
You might not be able to put a championship ring on your finger like the Red Sox, but you do have the opportunity to find new ways to engage your customers and make them feel a stronger emotional connection to your brand.