Let’s start with a quote. “Some think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s more serious than that.” Said by late Liverpool manager William Shankly, it suggests that while scandals persuade us to switch corporate brands, football fans’ loyalty transcends such news. And Real Madrid, it seems, is the club to replicate if you want similar success.
Following a football club could almost be deemed a family tradition in the UK. Parents introduce their kids to the sport at a young age, with many choosing to support the same team. And given that most people follow their local club, the “tribe” expands beyond family to friends and colleagues.
Clubs feed on this community element, offering examples of how failing to stick close to your geographical roots can go awry. Just look at what happened when Wimbledon FC – now known as the MK Dons – relocated to Milton Keynes in 2002.
The move was picked apart by Jamie Vigrass in an article for The Frameworks, in which he explained: “Fans stopped attending games, lamenting the ‘death’ of their club. Many instead followed spin-off club AFC Wimbledon. Firms also have an unwritten responsibility to contribute to the community. Morrisons, for example, teaches local school children to grow produce through its Let’s Grow programme.”
Of course, identity plays an important role in branding success as well. If you thought a football club didn’t need one then you’re wrong. People still need to be able to identify.
An oft cited example is when Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan changed the “Bluebirds’” shirts to red. Fans weren’t happy. In fact, they protested so much that Tan changed the colour back to blue within two years.
In the same way, customers grow accustomed to logos, and radical changes impacting a brand’s identity won’t lead to a happy ending. In 2010, Gap launched a new logo without warning, swerving away from a design it had used for some 20 years. It had to change the logo, worth $100m, back to its original format within six days.
But while there’s much to learn from clubs across the world, Brand Finance recently crowned Real Madrid the King of football branding – it looked at stadium capacity, squad value, social media presence and fan satisfaction, among others, and assigned teams a brand ranking out of 100.
Real Madrid garnered 96.1, “basking in the glory of its unparalleled reputation”. But while it was deemed the most powerful football club brand – making use of all the above mentioned points – in terms of value, it finished second behind Manchester United. So how does the club manage to stay at the top?
The club essentially puts its fans and their expectations at the centre of everything it does, and seeks to build a global community around them. This fostered sense of belonging is best compared with Harley-Davidson. For its customers, the brand goes beyond the bike. It’s about wearing the hat, having the tattoo, and being part of how they define themselves. Similarly, Real Madrid fans aim to encompass the club in everything they do – and tweet/post on social media.
The latter is integral to what makes the club so successful, Fast Company’s Jeff Beer suggested. After unveiling that its digital and social innovation strategy was driven by Rebel Ventures, Beer spoke with the men in charge – CEO Craig Howe and its global head of digital, Rafael de los Santos.
“We are a football team, but we are also a brand and a company, not to mention a content provider,” de los Santos explained. “Being able to share things is important to our fans. And, always, the core thing is knowing our fans better and getting as much information about them as we can. Having this information benefits how we communicate with them, but also what we offer them, how we present our sponsors to them, and how we bring value to them.”
His emphasis on shareable content means going beyond games, in being able to capture footage that speaks to the fans – like live videos of warm-ups. The club is known, for example, for its use of Facebook Live and 360 vVideo, not to mention partnership with Snapchat.
But most of all, Howe emphasised to Beer that more didn’t necessarily mean better. In cutting down the number of social media posts, the Rebel Ventures team actually saw an increase in likes and shares. In this sense – and he deemed it a big tip for businesses – branding was more about quality than anything else.