Brand Essence circleFootball

How FC Zurich brings its brand essence to life

A football brand is more than just the crest or logo of a football club. It is what makes fans come to the stadium, buy jerseys and get excited about their favorite club’s tweets. David A. Aaker states in his 1996 book, Building Strong Brands, that it is essential to develop a brand identity that shows originality and represents the brand’s personality and image with everything is has to offer to its customers. According to Mr. Aaker, the brand identity includes 8–12 elements which fall under four perspectives, namely, Brand as Product, Brand as Organization, Brand as Person, Brand as Symbol.

In her 2010 book, Football Brands, Dr. Sue Bridgewater underlines Mr. Aaker’s thoughts on brand identity and outlines three reasons why brands are important:

  1. Brands make a financial contribution to firms and are increasingly recognized as “intangible assets”.
  2. Customers build loyalty to strong brands.
  3. Brands provide the guiding principles for market-oriented organizations.

Both, Dr. Bridgewater and Mr. Aaker, make good points that can be attested by countless marketers. However, the Aaker Model did not consider the connected society we live in, since the social web wasn’t as developed in 1996 as it is today. Social media maven Brian Solis considered ‘the connected consumer’ and added that aspect to the brand mix. He calls it, Brand essence.

Mr. Solis writes in his 2012 book, The End of Business As Usual, ‘A brand is recognized as the unique identity of a product, service, or company. Its elements and incarnations distinguish it from competitors. Brand essence, however, is felt. … In the human network, brands that incorporate emotional hooks star a far grater chance of connecting during engagement in critical touch points than those that rely on brand legacy.’ Brand essence consists of 9 elements (which includes input from brandSTOKE’s “9 Criteria for Brand Essence”:

Brand Essence circleIn the spirit of football, let’s do a brand essence exercise and apply these 9 criteria to Swiss Super League club and 2014 Swiss Cup winners FC Zurich:

The focus of the brand should be described with one or two words. To my knowledge, FC Zurich does not have a slogan or mission statement that is continuously used for brand communication. However, they use the expression ‘fresh focus‘ (check the photo here) on their Facebook cover photos, which I assume is supposed to be the slogan for this season. Although the slogan does not inspire a fighting spirit, which I would wish coming from a team challenging for a European spot in the table, it still works for FC Zurich. Nonetheless, the club could use the slogan with more confidence in their communication and create stories around it.

To paraphrase Mr. Solis and put it in this football context, ‘What is it FC Zurich wants a consumer to feel when she or he comes in contact with the brand?’ Taking a look at some recent visual communication of the club (ad 1, ad 2), it conveys a rather history-based and ‘from the people, to the people’ feeling. On the one hand, it can remind supporters of the club’s Golden Years of the 60s and 70s, when FCZ won seven championships. On the other hand, it rides the vintage/retro wave, which, according to Simon Reynolds’ 2011 book release, Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past, supports the desire (especially of Generation X) to relive the recent (and also not-so recent) past. In regard to conveying feelings through communication, FCZ has great room for improvement. They can tap into their rich and glorious history being one of the oldest football brands in Switzerland. This can be done by telling glorious stories with attractive visuals and spread them through their established channels to strengthen the essence of their brand.

“[B]rands are people, too, and they require a persona, character, mannerisms, and everything necessary to stand alone.” (Solis 2010) The FC Zurich brand delivers the image of an approachable brand for anyone. In a 2010 commercial, FCZ teamed up with the city of Zurich to promote a cleaner city and prevent littering. A handful of FCZ players were portrayed as a street-cleaning squad, which underlines the brands commitment and engagement to the community. (Watch the commercial here.) However, FC Zurich is not as unique a brand as FC Basel has become. There is potential though to become, as some call it, the ‘city club’.

A very important question is, ‘What exactly is experiencing the FC Zurich brand eliciting?’ As of right now, it is eliciting ‘okay football’ in an ‘okay Letzigrung stadium’ in a ‘great city’. For the season 2014/15 the list will also include ‘playing on an international stage’. FCZ tries to push their women’s team, which competes on the highest European levels and puts good efforts in grassroots football. Nonetheless, I suggest to work closer with the city’s tourism bureau to make the ‘Letzigrund destination’ (their home turf) a more attractive and, especially, visible destination.

“[C]onsistency is what a brand conveys now and every day.” (Solis 2010) This can be success on the pitch; just think of FC Basel, who make the European stage basically every year. It can also be attractive football. A team doesn’t always have to win. Fans might still be happy if said team will give all it has and play beautiful football with a great attitude and therefore provide fabulous entertainment in the stadium. Also, continuous pre- and post-match entertainment around the stadium or on online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can enrich the brand experience. Here, it is simply important to keep being consistent and continuously provide supporters with what they want and with the same level of quality and professionalism.

Tara Hunt, wrote in her 2009 book, The Whuffie Factor, “[T]he number one reason why people don’t listen to you is because they are too busy listening to their friends! The people they trust. The people they care about.” This is a phenomenon older than the act of marketing itself, before it was known as marketing. People simply tend to listen to those they trust. Why shouldn’t they? It is part of our human nature. And according to my professional experience, trust can only be established through credible messages. Fill and Jamieson write in their Edinburgh Business School textbook, Marketing Communications, “If the credibility factor is high, then there is a greater likelihood that messages from that source will be accepted by the receivers.” There is not much to oppose in the case of FCZ. The club’s communication sounds and looks clear and to the point with not much room for criticism, at least from what reaches me.

As mentioned above, FC Zurich is one of the oldest football clubs in Switzerland that can look back to glorious years as well as more troubled periods. The brand stood the test of time since 1896 and keeps recording smaller and greater successes on a regular basis. In addition, today’s organization chaired by Ancillo Canepa seems to have a good understanding of what is important to create and maintain a sustainable football brand. I say, keep calm and build upon this foundation.

“Brand essence must carry meaning, something personal that people aspire to embrace and be part of, something that speaks to them.” (Solis 2010) I work in Zurich, but live 100 kilometers away from the city. Therefore, I can claim that I’m not a Zürcher (a person from Zurich), which means I can approach this point in a relatively objective way. The FCZ brand always projected a down-to-earth image to me. I perceived their brand as ‘from the people, for the people’, and having being raised in a typical middle-class household, that image was very appealing to me. This can also be observed in my immediate friend circles, where people with a similar background like me sympathize with the FC Zurich brand.

Brian Solis explains that a strong understanding of how emotion is transferable across media networks is essential. Maybe it is wishful thinking, but I would want to assume that in 2014 marketers and communication professionals have understood what is needed for relevant content to be scalable and effective on different online and offline platforms. In the case of FCZ, take the above-mentioned vintage/retro ads for apparel or season cards. Both banners can be used online as well as in print. Furthermore, they could get animated and be used on electronic billboards. Also, they could work on Pinterest, as Facebook ads or promoted posts, or included in a promoted YouTube video.

Anything a brand says and does affects engaged and connected customers. Because of that, it is imperative to continuously analyze and improve its own brand essence, by considering the above-mentioned 9 criteria. FC Zurich seems to have room for improvement on a couple of points, but does a good job overall.

Do you have some input in this regard, maybe from other clubs? Let me know in the comment section.

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