What do Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Nike, and Coca-Cola all have in common? Besides being companies that my wife and I have given FAR too much money to, they are all extremely successful. Do you know what else they have in common? Let’s take a little quiz. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think Wal-Mart? What about Starbucks, Nike, or Coke? Most likely something immediately popped into your head. For Wal-Mart it might have been “low cost” or “has everything”. Starbucks of course brings to mind “coffee”, Nike makes you think of “shoes” (or, if you’re me, “Michael Jordan”), and Coke conjures images of “pop” (sorry I’m from Indiana). Of course you might have had some other thoughts surrounding those companies but, there’s no doubting that they bring to mind certain thoughts for most of us. Contrast that with the thousands of businesses that fail each year because when people hear of them they say, “What do they do?” So, what do the successful businesses have in common? They have a brand. Their name means something. They know what they do well and consequently so do we.
The same thing can happen in sports. Here’s another quiz. What do you think of when you hear Pittsburgh Steelers? How about Green Bay Packers? For the Steelers I’m sure you thought “Steel Curtain,” “great defense,” “strong running game”. The Packers probably made you think, “great quarterback,” and “playmaking defense”. The Colts and Patriots bring to mind “Manning,” and “Brady”. The Bears might prompt thoughts of “Monster’s of the Midway,” “great defense,” and unfortunately for me and other Bears fans, “bad offenses”. The point is that, similar to businesses, the best teams have a brand. They know what they do well and they build their teams around that.
Let’s look deeper at the Steelers. For as long as I can remember the Steelers have had great defenses led by amazing linebackers. That was their brand. I remember Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, Chad Brown, and Levon Kirkland causing havoc for years. Now, for most teams once those players retired or moved on the team would suffer. However, the Steelers avoided this. Why? Because they knew their brand. So they went out and got Joey Porter, Jason Gildon, James Farrior, and James Harrison. If that wasn’t good enough they have recently brought in Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. That’s a pretty impressive list of linebackers. This is a great example of knowing your brand and building a team around it. The Steelers know what they do well and they find players who fit that.
The Colts provide a good offensive example of this. Clearly their brand is Peyton Manning. So, what have they done? They got Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne initially and since then have brought in Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez, and Dallas Clark to supplement or replace them. They even stick to their brand defensively as they know they will often be playing from ahead so they drafted Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to rush the passer. The Colts have a clear vision of who they are and make personnel decisions accordingly.
What about the Packers? Since the days of Favre (love him or hate him) they have been known for a great quarterback. More recently, they have added a big play defense. So what did they do, they drafted their next great quarterback in Aaron Rodgers before Favre had even retired (the first time). They have also surrounded those quarterbacks with a laundry list of great receivers: Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks, Antonio Freeman, Donald Driver, and Greg Jennings to name a few.
What happens when you don’t have a brand? Think Detroit Lions…what comes to mind? Not much. What about the Bills, Raiders, and 49ers? Other than “futility” and “terrible” nothing really comes to mind does it? They don’t have a brand. Consequently, they enter each season, draft, and off-season with a “hope for the best approach”. They don’t know who they are or what they do well so they just hope. Or in Detroit’s case they draft a WR in the first round for 35 straight years (sorry for the exaggeration). Often this leads to teams with mismatched talent or players who don’t fit well in the system.
People often ask, what makes teams great? Why have the Colts, Steelers, and Pats been so good for so long while other teams struggle? The answer: They have a brand. They know what they do well and they work very hard to enhance their strengths. The teams that struggle have no plan or system…they have no brand. So, as you look at your teams (if you’re an athlete, coach, or administrator) ask yourself, “What is our brand?” “What do I want people to think of when they hear Central High School or State University?”
– Try to develop a clear vision for who you want to be and what you want to be known for – The clearer the vision the more likely you will achieve it – and – you’ll end up looking more like the Steelers or the Packers than the Lions.
Noah Gentner, Ph.D., CC-AASP is an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Sport Psychology graduate program at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA. He received his Ph.D. in Sport Psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2004. Gentner served as an Assistant Professor of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Ithaca College. During his four years at IC he helped coordinate the undergraduate and graduate programs in Sport Psychology. In 2009 he began his current position at GSU where in addition to coordinating the graduate program he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Sport Psychology and Coaching Education. He has published his research in several journals and has given presentations on Sport Psychology at worldwide and regional Sport Psychology, Coaching, and Athletic Training Conferences. Currently he is completing a book on Sport Psychology Consulting techniques. He is an Association for Applied Sport Psychology Certified Consultant and since 2000 he has worked with individual athletes, teams, and coaches ranging from youth sport to professional levels. For further inquiries or information about Dr. Gentner’s services or the graduate program at Georgia Southern he can be reached at [email protected] or 912-478-7900.