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  • Writer's pictureOli Shawyer

Brand matters... so much (Part 1)

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

Since joining the sports industry some time ago, I've constantly heralded that sports marketing isn't all that unique. The rules and fundamentals of non-sport industries are just as transferable and applicable. To the point where I believe there is huge value in looking outside the industry when recruiting (I'm slightly biased about that for obvious reasons).

And it should be no different for building and then managing a sports brand.

Unquestionably, building and leveraging a brand has never been more important. But successfully making the case for investing in them has never felt harder. Particularly in sports clubs. There are of course loads of reasons for this (of which short-termism is prominent amongst them), but it’s also partly because brands are complicated. A balance between half-real, half-virtual things that no-one, other than marketers (well, some) really understand properly.

And that’s probably because historically marketers have tended to dwell on the mental and emotional side of brands. Those 'parts' that are often difficult to measure (or trusted when measured... if measured). You know those 'parts' I'm talking about - the fuzzy and warm stuff. Memories, associations, feelings, values, personality. I think it's fair to say that for many brands, and most definitely for most sports clubs, not enough emphasis and consideration has been given to the stuff that really matters to the likes of the CEO and CFO - the commercial stuff about what brands do to drive commercial value. You know, how it actually helps make money and impacts the bottom line.

The reality is that, unquestionably, a strong brand is a business’s most valuable commercial asset. A well managed and supported brand increases the chances of customers choosing your product or service over your competitors (which is not just the other footy team across the road). It attracts more customers, at a lower cost per sale, who are happy to pay a little more, and will buy it a little more often.

A strong brand for sports clubs will deliver more revenue, profit and growth, more efficiently, year after year. On top of that, it can help attract, motivate and retain your second most important asset: people. After all, brand is as much about culture.

That said, when working in sport, many of us aren't great at showcasing the bottom line impact and inevitably, the 'brand' part of our roles is something that just sits in the background, or worse yet, is understood to be the logo and colours only. Whatever is in the brand guidelines yeh?

But not investing in brand and having a tight and considered brand strategy will most definitely impact your growth. So you have to fight for it. Leaning on broader evidence from around the world (thanks to global agency BBH's Tom Roach), the are many supporting data points to a strong brand’s real impact - if anything, these can be used as a starting point to the conversation when negotiating with your Board or C-Suite about the role and value of brand:

  1. By 2015, around 84% of the value of all businesses was intangible value, of which brand value is a key component.

  2. On average, brand value accounts for about 20% of the total market capitalization of businesses according to an analysis of data from all the major brand valuation companies.

  3. Strong brands far out-perform the average business in terms of shareholder returns, with the BrandZ portfolio of strong brands growing by 124.9% from 2006-2017 vs 34.9% for the MSCI World Index.

  4. Strong brands can capture on average 3x the sales volume of weak brands according to a large study analyzing shopper habits by Kantar Millward Brown.

  5. The same study showed strong brands were commanding a 13% price premium over weak brands, and 6% above the average brand.

  6. And it found that strong brands are 4x as likely as weak brands to grow in the following 12 months.

  7. According to Gain Theory, on average a +1% change in brand health (specifically brand consideration) can drive an uplift of 0.5-1.5% total annual sales.

  8. And a 10% increase in Share of Voice can decrease people’s price sensitivity by 5% to as much as 20% according to the same study. People are willing to pay more for strong, familiar, popular, visible brands.

  9. Brand-building activity drives much stronger sales growth over periods of 6+ months than the temporary uplifts driven by short-term sales activation. Brand-building activity leads to long-term improvements in base sales that short-term sales activity cannot.

  10. 58% of the sales impact of all marketing communications activity is delivered in the long-term: if you’re only looking at the short-term impact (ie via attribution modelling) you won’t see the full value of your investment.

  11. Online businesses in the UK now spend more on brand-building advertising than any other industry sector, £700m on TV alone in 2017. When Google, Amazon and Facebook are amongst the biggest spenders on TV, it’s a pretty big clue that they’re deeply aware of the limits of the digital channels and formats in their own armouries to help them build their own brands.

  12. A CEO’s 1 task is ensuring their company is trusted, according to respondents in the Edelman Trust Barometer. In other words, consumers believe your CEO’s no.1 task is a brand and reputation-building task.

Whilst these data points showcase the true power, impact and versatility of brand as a vital business tool, it's fair to say that there are many within sport leadership roles who behave as if creating a preferred and distinctive brand is an unnecessary luxury. Sports practitioners who think it’s enough to:

  • Only invest in measurable, short-term digital advertising;

  • Simply set and forget SEO (via a freelancer who can set it up cheaply);

  • Update the website with all the information necessary regularly;

  • Create social content and share it on Facebook, or whatever platform is in the news;

  • Prioritise communication with existing customers (that doesn't cost anything);

  • Solely re-target prospects who’ve signaled some level of intent (visited the website).

But if you don’t invest in your brand, you’re not investing in being different and distinctive.

And in doing so, as per the words of Tom, "it results in being too similar in offer, poorly differentiated in branding, and un-distinctive in communication". If not perceived to be different and distinctive in-market, you’re the same as everyone else.

And sameness is commercial suicide.

Read Part 2 here.


  1. Ocean Tomo LLC

  2. Jonathan Knowles, Type 2 Consulting, analysis of data from the annual brand value league tables published by Brand Finance, Eurobrand, Interbrand and Millward Brown for the 6 years 2010 to 2015.

  3. Kantar Millward Brown, BrandZ, 2017.

  4. The Meaningfully Different Framework, Millward Brown, 2013.

  5. The Meaningfully Different Framework, Millward Brown, 2013.

  6. The Meaningfully Different Framework, Millward Brown, 2013.

  7. Thinkbox, Ebiquity, Gain Theory, ‘Profit Ability: The business case for advertising’.

  8. Thinkbox, Ebiquity, Gain Theory, ‘Profit Ability: The business case for advertising’.

  9. ‘Effectiveness in the digital era’, 2016, Binet & Field, The IPA.

  10. Thinkbox, Ebiquity, Gain Theory, ‘Profit Ability: The business case for advertising’.

  11. Thinkbox, ‘TV viewing report 2017’.

  12. Edelmann Trust Barometer 2018.


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