Monday, September 28, 2009

Branding 101

The Red-Sox have worn at least nine different jerseys and three different hats on the field this year.

I have never claimed to be a marketing expert but I have been exposed to the basic principles and understand which ones have been tested and proven. I know, for example, that branding is a successful tactic for building an emotional bond with a consumer.

This is important because it has also been well proven that emotionally involved consumers are more loyal and more likely to exchange their money for your product. So how do you stir emotion and create a bond with your consumers? The answer is pretty complicated (translation: got me...) but I know that it starts with recognition.

Your audience must consistently recognize your product among the myriad of consumer messages that bombard them up to 10,000 times per day (according to reliable sources). In this regard, a consistent look is key.

In the corporate world, the term "logo-cop" is commonly attached to the marketing people charged with protecting the integrity of company trademarks to ensure that whenever they are used, they show exactly the right colors, precisely the right type-face, appropriate white space, agreed tag-lines, acceptable associations, and complete adherence to all of the guidelines in what they call a "graphics standards manual". That's right, they have an entire manual about how to use the company's logos.

So why on earth do MLB and the NFL screw with helmets and logos and uniforms on such a regular basis? If every MLB team is wearing a red cap on a certain day to "honor fallen soldiers", it builds emotional distance with the fans and dilutes the impact of the tribute. It's like a bunch of strangers honoring your relative, not your favorite player paying homage. When all teams wear camouflage uniforms to show support for the military, it may be patriotic but it comes at a cost that the league may underestimate.

The NFL is much worse. It seems like they appreciate branding when you read about fines being levied for uniform violations. Then you watch a game and it's all throw-back uniforms and referees dressed in prison garb. Rather than seeing an intra-conference rivalry that resonates with historical context and pulsates with urgency and significance, I feel like I accidentally tuned into an NFL Europe game that means nothing to me.

I guess the owners are the ones who need to get the message: design a uniform that communicates what you want it to say about your team and stick with it. Always. Forever. Don't blow up the connection with your fans and start over every couple of weeks.


  1. if the team loses a connection with a fan because of the packaging, it sounds like that was a weak connection to begin with? It seems where this strategy works the best is with the core of the fan base... the guy that has the home, away, both alternates, throw backs, and special edition jersey.

    Personally, i feel branding creates MORE identity for a team.

    Although, there is a case to be said in either way. Pepsi changes packaging every couple years. Coke stays relatively the same. Both seem to be selling just fine.

  2. Anonymous9/29/2009

    I think a need a Red Sox pink hat, green st. patricks day hat, 1975 Red hat, Traditional Blue Hat, some WS hats, and the new "Hanging Sox" hat. I'm sure I missed something. Doesn't this encourage more purchasing? JD...

  3. To Jordan - I agree that branding creates MORE identity...that is my point. If you change your uniform everyday, you are not branding, you are just getting dressed. To imbue a symbol with the type of values that can spark an emotional connection, the symbol must be held constant while the imagery and associations around that symbol are presented. The constant change does not represent more branding, it represents less.

    To JD - If you didn't have an emotional connection to the Sox, built up through years of consistent imagery, you wouldn't want any of the hats you wrote about above.