Last week, soccer fans in the Atlanta metro area received the long-awaited announcement from Major League Soccer that their city had finally been awarded an expansion team. Arthur Blank, the owner of the new Atlanta soccer franchise, will have some interesting decisions to make in the coming months and years that will mold the brand, and ultimately the success, of the team.
Brand management is one of Blank’s strong suits, as he has shown throughout his tenure as owner of both Home Depot and the Atlanta Falcons. Blank bought the Falcons in 2002 and transformed them into one of the NFL’s more successful franchises, despite naysayers claiming Atlantans were not capable of such support. However, those naysayers point to low attendance numbers from Atlanta sports franchises such as the Hawks (basketball), Braves (baseball), and the now-defunct Thrashers (hockey) — none of which Blank had or has any involvement. After buying the Falcons, Blank showed his commitment to rebranding the team by implementing new uniform designs, investing millions of dollars in renovations to the team’s stadium, and many other internal changes. It was an unqualified branding success.
So the question that looms now is how this team will look and feel when it takes the field for the first time in the Spring of 2017. As I write this, almost everything is up in the air. The only thing anyone knows for sure about the franchise is that they’ll play in Blank’s new stadium, and their color scheme will combine red, yellow and black.
Given what we know about Blank and how much work is yet to be done, this franchise will be an excellent case study to follow. Who exactly does Blank see as his fan base and how will he market this team to those people? How will he reach out to non-soccer fans in the area? How will the atmosphere of the games be in such a cavernous complex? Heck, what will he name the team? We can use this case as a guide as to how one of our modern titans of industry can leverage his product through the use of strategic marketing and brand management. I, for one, wouldn’t bet against him.
Sometime in my late teens, I was forced to think critically for the first time about something I’ve seen every day of my life — typefaces. It happened when I showed up to my graphic design class in college and my professor showed us the brilliant film Helvetica. I distinctly remember looking around the classroom about 20 minutes after it had started, expecting to see numerous faces concentrating on the screen and beaming with intellectual passion. Instead, I mainly saw heads lying face down against desks, with only a few ambitious students finding some time to get ahead on some of their other assignments. I didn’t understand why they weren’t as enthused.
“Graphic Design is the communication framework through which these messages about what the world is now, and what we should aspire to — it’s the way they reach us. The designer has an enormous responsibility. Those are the people, you know, putting their wires into our heads.”
Rick Poynor, designer and author, Helvetica.
I’m not kidding. Typeface is the most important aspect of design, if for no other reason than because we are totally surrounded by it. But just because we take it for granted like the air we breathe doesn’t mean it isn’t having an effect on our opinions and choices.
Steve Jobs once said, “…focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Keep that quote from Jobs in mind as we look at a case study of the famous “Cola War” between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Pepsi has never been able to outsell Coke. Granted, Coke has at least one considerable advantage in that it was already selling a million gallons per year by the time Pepsi appeared on the market. But let’s examine what those companies looked like, literally, when Pepsi appeared in 1898.
Now think about Jobs’s quote again. Coca-Cola came up with a clear and simple design early on, and moved mountains with it. Pepsi’s logo, on the other hand, looks like it was designed by Tim Burton, and they’ve spent more than a century and nearly a dozen more logo designs trying to catch up.
Graphic design, and specifically the typography used therein, was a fundamental aspect in Coke’s stranglehold of the cola market. This is a lesson for any company out there, no matter its type or size. And don’t think it’s just down to logos either. Just about all communications a company has, either internal or external, can either reinforce or conflict with its brand.
Sadly, this is the same, basic solution that corporations around the world frequently rely on when it comes to solving problems, improving engagement, recognizing employees, etc.. And it’s for a perfectly good reason — it often works. It’s too bad this isn’t a sustainable way to solve every problem in the book.
I was fortunate enough to work with several dedicated individuals with InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) on their Celebrate Service project this year. Celebrate Service is one of the broadest employee recognition events in the world, reaching out to more than 345,000 of their employees at hotels and offices in 100 countries. (You’re probably familiar with IHG’s brands, which include InterContinental ®, Crowne Plaza ®, and Holiday Inn ®.) In short, the goal of Celebrate Service is for everyone to take one week per year to celebrate how hard they work on a daily basis.
With this being my first year as a part of the project, I remember a question posed at the first Celebrate Service Meeting:
“How do we execute this project better than before and spend less?”
The answer was remarkably basic. Simple, genuine “thank yous.” It’s a concept that’s so rudimentary that it can be bypassed by our brains sometimes, which are usually trying to come up with the next big thing to impress our bosses.
Without delving into the minutiae of the execution of the project, the results were some of the best ever for Celebrate Service (est. 2010). IHG had more than 95% participation globally, their people loved it, and they spent less to do it.
Money helps, but sometimes it’s important to K.I.S.S.