A brand vision is meant to inspire and guide a team. We often look to other businesses for inspiration – what makes Pret so special? – and try to come to one answer for our customers: this is the best vision for you because of X, Y and Z.
What always interests me is that there’s never one direction a brand could go in. There’s always more than one valid answer.
This really came to life for me this season in the Premiership. Now, I usually watch the hoof and rush of Wrexham in the National League, but the battle between Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premiership – with both teams achieving 90+ points – has been captivating.
Here are two football teams with multi-millionaire players. They both play exciting, attacking football. And yet the two teams are led by coaches with starkly different characters and attitudes towards the game. Effectively, they have different brands.
Pep Guardiola, of Manchester City, is the technician. He’s the football purist who refuses to comprehend why the opposition should have the ball. He wants to dominate possession, his players to move relentlessly, and carve out openings with a high percentage likelihood of scoring.
Klopp’s Liverpool is a more overtly passionate beast. His charisma and enthusiasm is infectious. The supporters respond, the players are lifted. He also wants the ball, but he wants to make things happen with it faster, he gets bored, he wants action, blood and thunder.
The two different approaches were wonderfully brought to life in the final week of the Premiership season. With Manchester City struggling to breakdown Leicester City their captain, Kompany, brought the ball out from the defence. The team was running out of ideas, movement was unusually sparse, so Kompany, a full 35 yards from goal, shaped to shoot. The shot was perfect, powerful and arching into the top corner. City won the game, and, effectively, won the title.
After the game, Guardiola revealed that as Kompany strode forwards, he was shouting “no, Vinnie, no shoot”. For Guardiola, a shot from that range is anti-precision. It ranks very low expected goal spectrum he uses. The most likely outcome is that you give the ball back to the opposition. It isn’t the logical thing to do.
Klopp sees it differently. He celebrates long shots. He loves them. Because they fire up the crowd, the team can respond. The blood starts pumping. The passion is flamed. They play to the emotions.
Their attitude to these long shots perfectly encapsulates their brand.
What’s interesting for both, however, is that each team has an incredibly strong ‘social identity’. A team at Sussex University studied this, and found that teams with a strong, shared identity had an increased performance of 53%. Wow – that’s no small improvement.
Guardiola and Klopp understand this, and that’s why world-class players who don’t fit into the social identity are quickly moved on. When Guardiola was at Bayern Munich, and in the middle of a record-breaking run that would see them win the Bundesliga title, he dropped the club and league’s top scorer Mandzukic, because he didn’t fit into the social identity, and replaced him with Lewandowski, a player with an equal work ethic but better technical abilities. Replacing one superstar with another doesn’t sound like much, but to drop the top scorer in the entire league, and improving things, is pretty much unheard of.
Klopp did the same. Many Liverpool fans were dismayed when the Brazilian Coutinho left for Barcelona. Not Klopp. He replaced him with Mo Salah, who’d been a failure at Chelsea but who understood what he wanted to achieve at Liverpool. Unlike Coutinho, whose allegiance, like many Brazilians, is often more to their nation and Nike than their employer, Salah completely understood and became the figurehead of Klopp’s Liverpool, scoring more goals than Coutinho and winning the Player of the Year trophy.
So, what are the implications for brands?
1. There’s never one way. At the very least there’s a rational and emotional argument to consider.
2. It’s imperative that the entire leadership team buys into the new brand. We often talk about getting the CEO on board, but it won’t work unless everyone’s on the bus.
3. Delivering the vision is as much about what you stop doing as it is what you start doing. Both are crucial.