All you need is love…and hate

Red Brick Road hosted Gabby Logan and Steve Parish to talk about the nature of sports fans, revealing some powerful truths that brands would do well to heed.

Without an enemy, you’re nothing

The Premier League – like the world of brands – is fueled by story-telling in the media, and narrative arcs…the waning leaders, the new kids on the block, the ‘one-game-away-from-a-turnaround’s…

Being an underdog – whether a challenger brand or a football club – elicits feelings that people can sympathise with.

But being hated creates a defensive and tribal passion – when a football club is hated by another football tribe, that means ‘you’ve arrived’, you’re in the big league. Without that tension, you haven’t made it.

Tribalism is buried deep within us and loves the excuse to come out.

Supporters/fans want to feel proud, defensive, antagonistic even. They want something to fight for and fight back against.

The most powerful brands polarise…Nike vs Adidas, Aldi vs Lidl, Marmite…

Yet brands try to be everyone’s friend, to offend no one. This feels counter to that drives human passion. Look at certain telco brands. They have lost the fire in their bellies. Remember when your choice of network provider was a revealing in sight into who you were?

Maybe a brand has made it when it has their trolls? When people can’t wait to jump on your latest TV ad and take it down?

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When you’ve got enemies, you need great friends

The best type of football fan sees it as a lifelong commitment; a badge of honour.

And so it goes with the most followed brands too.

It all stems from other-worldly attraction, a mystique, a desire to be a part of their world. This commitment needs maintaining.

Fans and followers are demanding. They need love, they need attention and they will repay you with passion. Keep them happy, feed their enthusiasm, listen to them and respond. If you lose the fans, you lose the brand, and with it the passion on which new followings and fandom can be built.

Nothing moves a fan more the a peak of emotion.

Like football clubs, brands need a perpetual, consistent narrative to feed their following. But that narrative has to be filled with the peaks that will be remembered and cherished. It’s not just about the daily grind of the Premier League fixtures – or a media plan – it’s that big, live, spine-tingling moment that everyone remembers.

The stand-out successes, the memorable events.

They make you feel alive, connected, and like you belong in the world.

Brands need to find their live event, their live moment.

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Friendship stems from trust and intimacy

Ferrari’s roller coaster ride to the top came from a burning desire from Enzo Ferrari – a dream, an ambition and a sense of purpose. That passion drives the brand – and the famous Tifosi – to this day.

They believe in their leaders values, passion and ambition.

Crystal Palace has thrived no least from being guided by a lifelong fan who sees the club as an inheritance to nurture, not a company to profit from.

If you want real friendship from customers, they have to buy into your brand through every facet of what you do.

And they need to get close to you, to get to know you properly.

Football clubs’ fan base was traditionally drawn from the local population…Now, for many clubs, their fan base is global. Part of the secret is accessibility. Social media, and widespread media coverage, has given fans an insight into their club and players never previously imaginable.

Intimate is the new local. Brands need to give their fans intimate access in order to transcend their origins and deepen the passion.

This doesn’t mean brands need expose their metaphorical private parts. Even a sneak peek into the rarefied world of Gucci, for example, would be enough to feed the enthusiasm of many a luxury brand fan.

So let’s start making friends, and pick up a few enemies on the way.

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Ben Mitchell

Head of Strategy