In order to truly understand what makes the fans and media who follow your sport and program tick, you need to do research—a lot of research. Sit in the heart of your student section during a game; go to a sports bar during another. Spend half of one game sitting with boosters and the other half with the media. Spend an entire game monitoring your team’s message boards and social spaces. To truly make a positive impact on your audience, you need to see what they see, hear what they hear, and feel what they feel. Once you can think like them and empathize with them, you can tell a story to them.
This article is excerpted from Brands Win Championships by Jeremy Darlow. For more info, visit BrandsWinChampionships.comOnce you understand your audience better, it’s time to get to know your program. Go through everything you can find about your program through present day, including old statistics, former and current player rosters and bios, coaching bios, written articles, media guides, and team monikers.
Your objective is to discover and reveal the essence of your program. What makes it special? What is it about your program that keeps fans coming back? In some cases a journalist following your program will have put that essence into words in a previously written article. In other cases the idea will be completely buried in the hallowed halls of your stadium or arena. Find your program’s essence and set it free.
Here are a few places to start looking:
1. Crosstown Rivals
Looking at what, in many cases, is your program’s antithesis can make your program’s essence more apparent. For example, your program may be your rival’s exact opposite.
2. Former Coaches And Players
Many programs have had a revered coach or player at some point in their histories, and in many cases it is what these individuals stood for and how they presented themselves that is remembered most. Think about former football coach Bear Bryant at Alabama, former basketball coach John Wooden at UCLA, and former wrestling coach Dale Thomas at Oregon State. Similarly consider former soccer player Mia Hamm at North Carolina, former baseball player Reggie Jackson at Arizona State, and former football player Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee. Your program’s essence may lie in the character of someone who once walked your halls.
Your program’s essence may be in your own backyard. What makes your city, town, or community unique may be what makes your program unique.
College sports are about tradition, and there is a good chance your program has a tradition or two. Do a separate dig into the core of those traditions, and you may find the essence you’re looking for.
Put Pen To Paper
Once you’ve discovered your program’s essence, you are ready to write your story. Make it short, make it simple, make it relevant, and make it memorable. Your brand story should be no more than a sentence long and should communicate in an understandable and concise manner what makes your program special. Remember these examples (my words, not theirs):
The story you write will not only drive your marketing communications, it will act as the internal mantra for your program. Every person in your athletic department, from the coaches to the team’s part-time assistant, must live by your brand story or it will not succeed. Your story will be as successful as you make it.
Break your story and your program down to the DNA level, dissecting target, frame of reference, position, reasons to believe your story, and brand values.
You Have 8 Seconds
When I say story, I don’t mean you have to write a novel. Your message to parents, fans, recruits, media, whomever it is, has to be quick and to the point. Research suggests you have at most eight seconds to capture the attention of the audience you are speaking to, which, according to data site Statistic Brain, is the attention span of the average person as of 2013. One second less than that of a goldfish and four seconds less than the average human attention span back in 2000. We as a society do not have the patience to decipher a message. When I’m judging creative, my rule is that people need to “get it” in three to five seconds; that is how simple the story has to be. If it takes work from our brains, we move on. It sounds obvious, it sounds narrow-minded, but it’s very important.
Jeremy Darlow is a brand marketing pro who, during his time at adidas, has worked with schools like Notre Dame, Michigan, and UCLA, and athletes like Jimmy Graham, Dwight Howard, and Lionel Messi. He works to help NCAA athletic programs and athletes build and elevate their brands to elite levels. In 10 years, the most consistently successful college athletic programs will be those with the strongest brands, not simply the strongest defense or most explosive offense from year to year. It’s not just about Xs and Os anymore. It’s about polarizing uniforms on the field and massive billboards in Times Square. It’s about making your brand sexy to 17- and 18-year-old blue-chip athletes. Brands Win Championships is your guidebook on how to reach them. Inside, you’ll find three simple brand-building steps that can take your program from bad to good or from good to great.
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