Shawn Parr: What Futbol and the World Cup Can Teach Us About Brand Performance

The world’s biggest quadrennial soccer tournament sets the stage for a branding lesson

This year’s World Cup was without a doubt the best tournament I can remember in years. It was full of exciting games, dramatic outcomes, standout performances and unexpected surprises. What more could futbol fans ask for? After a month of watching every match intently, listening to the incessant post-game banter, and feeling the buzz and energy that came with every game, I have to say, I was in mourning the week after the finals. As I savored the tournament and all it promised, I realized that there are many important takeaways that brands can apply to their everyday game. Your company is playing in a heated, daily competition where the whistle never blows. There is no rest between seasons and your players are on the pitch every game. Like a futbol team, you’re playing for results, rave reviews and relevance, so how you play the game really matters.

Great coaches guide teams to victory
The German coach, Joachim Loew, meant business. From his sideline presence of strategically coiffed hair, crisp black shirt and total composure, he knew the game he wanted his team to play and was a master at putting the right players in the right formation every game. If you lead people, the first order of business is to coach them proactively. Understanding their talents and encouraging them to develop and grow their skills is a coach’s responsibility. Great coaches lead their team from the sideline, but do the majority of their work during training, really learning about their players and understanding what each person needs to do their individual best. As a leader you have to know your players so they feel comfortable asking for help and guidance. It is also your job to put them into teams where each player feels as though their unique skills and hard work matter in winning the game.

Winning teams know when to pass the ball
Germany controlled every game because their players knew exactly when to pass the ball. They were masters of the pass. Every player on your team should understand the role they play and how to use their skills to support the other members of the team. They should know when and who to pass the ball to, setting up the next player for success. Great players have amazing awareness of who’s around them, have perfect timing and know how to find space to pass the ball. Take a look at your executional problems, missed deadlines or relational challenges and you’ll likely find that the players on your team are holding onto the ball for too long, fumbling the pass or not passing off to the right person at the right time. Great passing is a key skill in well-timed collaboration. If you work with your team on the importance of passing and improve the timing and accuracy of the pass, you will greatly enhance your results.

Playing with the will to win, wins games and respect
The US team went into the World Cup lacking a great deal compared to their counterparts––a coach who told them they weren’t going to win, an average lineup of players (compared to the teams in their group) and their the loss of their best player was left in the locker room because of his own arrogance. The only true world-class player on the team was the goalkeeper, Tim Howard. So what did they do better than almost every other team? And why on earth did they kick England’s backside? They showed up with the will to win and the heart of a team who believed they could go all the way. It wasn’t always pretty, but they played their hearts out and played to win.

As a leader, it’s important to instill the belief in your team that they can go all the way. Talent and training gets you two thirds of the way, but the heart and the will to win define how your team plays together and what they think they can accomplish. How you play the game as a company is as important as what game you are playing and gives you a distinct competitive advantage in driving culture, team retention and overall satisfaction.

Defense matters every day and superstars don’t make a team
The Brazilian team used to conjure up expectations of poetic genius and acts of sheer futbol perfection. Every Brazilian team that preceded this one built the reputation and depth of their brand, adding to the legendary status of their golden shirts. Their most admired and feared teams had showmen, tricksters and ball masters who all worked in magical harmony, sweeping up hearts and games as they went. Looking back at Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho to name a few, these supernovas played on Brazilian teams who had a well-rounded lineup of players in offense and defense. This tournament’s Brazilian team was completely reliant on their one superstar, Neymar, and they muddled through the tournament with a totally ineffective defense.

In business, relying on a single function like sales or marketing to win the game is a road to unsustainable success. As a leader you must ensure that you build a fully-rounded team if you want to win the championship. No doubt you need to have an amazing sales and marketing front line, but you must have an equally world-class customer care team and a masterful operations team to win the long-term game. Always focus on both your offense and defense.

Play for the fans, not for yourself
The goalkeepers were among the stars of the tournament. Whether it was Tim Howard or the German keeper Manuel Neuer, they did their jobs masterfully. Rodriguez of Colombia was a wonderful surprise, and despite their theatrics, players Muller, Neymar and Robben were a joy to watch. The rise of the little guys like Ghana and Costa Rica had me on the edge of my seat. The heart and tenacity of the US, the dominant precision of Germany, the drive of the Netherlands, the spirit of Argentina honored futbol fans all over the world with incredible displays of talent, tenacity and unbelievable skills. But when all is said and done, there is no World Cup without the fans.

A futbol team, like a brand, has no relevance if it doesn’t engage, entertain and deliver results for the fans. As a leader, ensure that your brand is fan-centric, that your team plays for, and attracts, new fans, that your brand is exciting and interesting to follow, that you play the game with spirit and that you win with style and good sportsmanship. And don’t forget, the best uniforms in the tournament get noticed too.

Shawn Parr is the Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Sony, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, Kashi, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.

Image via USA Today

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