As a brand marketer, husband, father of three, and avid sports fan, the mismanagement of the NFL brand is painful and disturbing on many levels.
Domestic abuse. Child abuse. Drug abuse. There are few crimes that have gone unrepresented in the League, propelling NFL news from headlines on the sports page to the front page and crime beat. To call this chapter a “PR nightmare” for the NFL is insulting to the ever-growing list of victims.
ESPN’s Hannah Storm offered perhaps the most passionate and accurate commentary this past Sunday, culminating in a simple, but crucial question for the NFL. “What exactly does the NFL stand for?”
Yes, the NFL is a business. A $45 billion business. However, brands are trust marks, and as the NFL is learning, when trust is broken, consumers, sponsors, and the media will voice their dissent. Brands need to understand there is an implied trust of product involved — more than trust in how a product will deliver value, but trust in the values behind the product in good times and bad. Perhaps it’s asking too much of the NFL that its players act a certain way off the field, but the NFL could certainly react better when it happens.
Still, the question of what a brand “stands for” is one that all marketers should seek to answer — before it’s too late. What are your brand's values, and how do you truly live them?
As a brand marketer, I believe the NFL could learn these four key lessons about what it means to be a brand:
1) Lead with an authentic voice.
Your fans (consumers) aren’t stupid. They understand profit motive, but brands need to stand for more. Purpose-inspired organizations have demonstrated that authenticity and profitability are not mutually exclusive when one lives their core values.
2) It’s what you do, not what you say.
It’s easy to be gracious, magnanimous and on-message in good times. How brands behave when confronted with challenges or controversy is when they must walk the talk. The NFL’s brand behavior in the face of off-the-field violence has spoken volumes. In fact, its inaction more than its action has spoken loud and clear. The bad behavior of a few individuals and teams may not have been indicative of the whole, but the overall NFL brand is now suffering the consequences.
3) Your people are your brand.
The current NFL story is a public demonstration that your reputation is only as good as your people. Whether you’re a consumer or corporate brand, your promise is kept or broken by the people who wear your jersey.
4) Every play matters.
Everything counts because everything communicates. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to deliver on your promise or fumble the ball. The highly produced, choreographed, and public moments are easy. It’s the spontaneous, unplanned, and private moments that are truly telling.
You don’t have to be a mega brand like the NFL with unrivaled media coverage and profitability to play this game the right way. These are brand marketing truths that any organization and brand can tackle.
What brands do you think represent themselves and their values well?