When consumers talk about ‘we’ … Something brands could learn from football teams!
Experts are forever bombarding marketers with arguments encouraging them to involve consumers in their management more deeply, based on the theory that the creation of involvement has a positive impact on one's brand. This is correct, but allow us to take this theory one step further.
The ultimate goal for marketers is to get consumers to talk about “we” when talking about their brands. Once people start talking about “we”, you can be convinced you’ve reached that goal.
You are probably wondering if this is possible…
It is possible in football
I am a Club Bruges supporter. Since the age of 15, I’ve had a season ticket for my favourite team. The seasons from 2006 to 2010 were not very pleasant for Club Bruges supporters. The commercial analysis of that period goes against all traditional marketing laws. Product quality has largely deteriorated over the past four years. The number of matches won where we scored more than two goals can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Crunch matches against arch-rivals were more frequently lost than won. Furthermore there has been a decline in customer service. Because of lucrative television contracts, kick-off times are often changed at short notice; it is taken for granted that 23,000 loyal supporters will change their plans to suit. In spite of these negative trends season ticket prices have gone up 3 seasons running. Falling product quality, falling service levels, increased prices: imagine using a similar strategy for your brand. The results would be disastrous. And yet at Club Bruges the opposite happened: for the 2009-2010 season, the number of season ticket holders (loyal customers) increased again. What’s more, in 2009 Club Bruges was once again voted the most popular sports brand in Belgium, and occupies fourth place in the country’s overall ranking of favourite brands.
How can this be explained? One of the theories is that we, Club Bruges supporters, are slightly crazy. I would explain it differently, of course â€¦ There has to be something that transcends both product and service level which makes more people want to come and watch the team. Brand identification is the logical explanation in this story. A football supporter will use “we” when talking about his favourite team. By contrast, when talking about a concert even the most avid music lover never says “we sang well”. People talk about the artist’s performance only, even though they may have sung along at a concert. Where football is concerned, fans’ participation is limited to eating burgers and drinking beer. The latter will ensure chanting in the stands, but nobody actively participates in the match. Nevertheless fans use “we” all the time: “we played well”, “we will be champions”, “we should fire our coach” are all expressions typically used by football supporters.
When talking with Evarist Moonen, Club Bruges’ commercial manager, we learned that there has been a major development in this area. “The boom in the number of online communities has made it easier to show one’s commitment to Club Bruges. This commitment has helped to convert many spectators into supporters,” says Mr Moonen. When people feel involved with a brand, their commitment increases.
What can brands learn from football teams? The brand experience transcends the product level. It is essential to involve people in the management of your brand. Since football supporters contribute directly (through supporters’clubs) and indirectly (by chanting in the stands) to their favourite team’s management, their commitment increases. Furthermore, online communities are the ideal platform to involve a large group of people in supporter activities.
Your own staff, hopefully
Is this football case unique? Maybe, maybe not … Let’s take a step back. A company’s employees often use “we” when talking about their employer. This does not happen right from the start, but after a while most people do it (and if they don’t, it implies that the employee does not really feel involved with the employer’s brand, and certain conclusions should maybe be drawn). Why is this? Because we are very involved with the brand or company we work for.
Involving consumers in your company is the key to success. Here is an example: the Coca-Cola Facebook fan page has more than 5.5 million members. However this page was started by two fans and not by Coca-Cola themselves. The brand invites these two people every year to brainstorm about the fan page’s future. That is how two fans ended up at the main headquarters in Atlanta, where they really feel part of the company. Chances are that they use “we” during these brainstorm sessions. They have become ambassadors for the company, so to speak.
Consumers using “we” is a driving force
When consumers start using “we” when talking about your brand, this becomes a driving force. These consumers become self-appointed “salesmen” for your products, and will have more credibility than your communication ever will. The more people use “we” when talking about your brand, the more your brand will gain in strength. Brands such as Apple, Harley Davidson, Disney… manage to involve part of their target group to such an extent that this creates a sense of belonging.
As a modern marketer (a.k.a. Conversation Manager) one dreams of achieving this goal. Aiming for this goal means taking a different approach to communicating with your customers. You start treating them as colleagues, maybe even as friends… This may sound like a lofty ambition, but with enough vision, commitment and determination you will soon find yourself on a transformational journey towards a future in which greater consumer involvement delivers tangible benefits for your brand.