Up For the Klopp: What can Football Teach Brand Builders?

Liverpool Football Club seem to have pulled off something of a PR coup by appointing Jurgen Klopp as their new manager.

Ever since his first beaming appearance at his press conference unveiling, the endearing German has had the British sporting press eating out of his hand in a way that a pre-insanity Jose Mourinho would have been proud of at his ‘Special One’ peak.

In his media appearances he has always come across as open, funny and approachable (all very popular qualities in and of themselves), but despite an underwhelming start on the pitch (played three, drawn three), the optimism seems to be born out of something more complex.

One of the most oft-cited endorsements which Klopp has been receiving is the belief that he’ll ‘fit into the culture’ of Liverpool Football Club. Now, on a very basic level, what do his backers mean by this?

Well, in a nutshell, the majority of people will be referring to some combination of the following traits:

  • His teams play attractive, attacking football
  • He gives young home-grown players a chance to prove themselves
  • He always makes a special effort to involve and connect with the supporters
  • His teams win trophies

Not a bad CV for a prospective manager.

But what’s really interesting to me is how a club like Liverpool, who with the exception of periodic flashes of brilliance in the Champions’ League and an ill-fated title challenge in 2014, have fallen well behind their traditional rivals on the pitch retain such a clear, recognisable brand ethos.

So how have they managed this?

Liverpool themselves are a good example of a team who have consciously, if not entirely business-mindedly, established points of difference between themselves and their Premier League rivals.

While the darker moments of their history have played their part in bringing the club and their supporters together, their most longstanding traditions, particularly the ubiquitous Anfield renditions of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ re-enforce their supporter base as a community, rather than a collection of customers.

This, in essence, is the hallmark of excellent brand marketing, where your customers become more than just the people who buy your products and they themselves become ambassadors and lobbyists for your business.

Now, I am aware that the brand loyalty that football clubs, particularly historically successful ones, enjoy is a pipe dream for the vast majority of brands. If you are a well-known Bovril brand and your product tangibly drops in quality for any great period of time, the consequence is unlikely to be disgruntled customers booing into their cups as they continue to buy it week after week. The consequence is much more likely to be: people stop buying Bovril.

However, as the almost religious following that brands like Apple and CrossFit have fostered over the last few years, through consistent branding, attractive product and tangible points of difference, has shown; such loyalty is not always out of reach.

The key to all of this, as is so often the case is consistency.

For instance, the success story of Swansea City is a perfect example of how clearly-defined brand values and consistent ethos messaging can filter through all company activity and breed sustained and enduring progress.

Purchased by their own supporters in 2002 (how many businesses can say that?), the owners’ group sat down and formulated a comprehensive strategy for what they wanted the club to become, crucially beginning from a fan’s perspective, rather than simply a businessman’s. They not only set in stone what they would look to achieve, but the style in which they would do it.

Their team would play possession-based continental-style football, invest in their youth academy and promote players from within, allowing them to live within their means, reconnect with the supporter base and build a team that they could be proud of and would get the wider world talking.

So that is precisely what they did.

Even when managers have been poached by larger clubs or removed due to slumps in fortune, their recruitment policy has remained remarkably consistent, with a succession of Spanish and Portuguese-trained managers taking up the baton and bringing about unprecedented success. Then, to top the process off, in 2014, they appointed club legend Garry Monk, a former Swans defensive stalwart whose understanding of the club, the supporters and the brand values is second to none.

If there is a real lesson we can all learn from the business of football, it’s that it isn’t only important that you and your brand have a clear, consistent set of values, it is just as vital that your customers share those values and can see them inform every piece of activity you run.

It may seem a little grand to say, but one of the most important and potentially life-changing things any brand or business can ever do is to take a look in the mirror and work out who they really are.

This is what propels you and your community into the Premier League.

By Jamie Stanley


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