Why momentum in any business or brand is hard to sustain
For most of you, this year’s Super Bowl is now a distant memory. Not for me. I’ll admit it: This year, I paid more attention to the game than the ads. And I thought the game itself was awesome from start to finish. Of course, I live in Seattle.
Out here, the enthusiasm for the team was simply overwhelming. As schools, businesses, even construction sites donned the “12th Man” persona, our city was completely branded in blue and green, a unifying theme in a very diverse population. Personally, I hadn’t witnessed a sports phenomenon like this since I lived in Atlanta when the Braves went from perpetually wretched to consistently great in the early 90’s.
The Seahawks are a team, yes, but they’re also a brand and a business, like any product or ad agency. So is the team’s kind of momentum sustainable? Is there a lesson for non-sports brands here? How can we advise our clients, and train ourselves, to pursue and achieve excellence for extended periods of time?
Change is inevitable in any business. And in the cold light of the off-season, the Seahawks are already morphing — this player is being traded, that player is being cut, etc. All of the moves are intended to improve the team, but one never knows. Even if the Seahawks repeat as Super Bowl champs, it won’t feel the same. Or consider the 1997 Florida Marlins, who won the World Series only to see their best players auctioned off the next year while the remainder of the team had a disastrous season.
Simply put, it’s hard for any brand — or any ad agency, for that matter — to sustain a high level of momentum for a long period of time. Right now, the Seahawks are a great product. But personnel change. Competition toughens. And the fan base won’t get fired up again until August. But people who “love” a brand don’t always stay in love forever. There’s always something else tempting them.
So what are the lessons here?
More than anything, a management commitment to excellence is key. Not all CEOs, CMOs, or brand mangers do what’s needed to stay on top. Cost cutting, changes in strategic direction, simple economic conditions — they can all lead to a poor product or mediocre performance. What if the Seahawks start 0-4 at the beginning of next season? Inevitably some folks will jump off the bandwagon, and even the biggest fans will play Monday morning quarterback.
We see ebbs and flows all the time with non-sports brands. While Uber, Warby Parker, and Chobani are on a hot streak at the moment, who knows how long their momentum will last? Think of all the retail stores, like The Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, or Best Buy, who go from hot to cold and back from one year to the next. Or think of the venerated ones, like Sears, Kmart, & JC Penney — that were once beloved but seemingly have nowhere else to go but down. Even Apple, which was once thought doomed in the 90’s, then became dominant in the 2000’s, while still quite beloved now is scrutinized for every misstep.
And some brands simply can’t bust through their own limitations or perceived weaknesses. Like regionalism, for example. For the Super Bowl, only the top left corner of America was rooting primarily for the Seahawks, while the rest of country wanted the other team. Similarly, I’ve worked on many brands that did great advertising with their core business and made products appealing to their core customers, only to run into resistance when breaking into new markets or with product extensions. Rapid expansion, and a rush into new markets or product lines, can doom any company.
Letting fans participate in their own way also provides a boost for any brand. From team-themed cakes at grocery stores to painted faces and decorated cars, Seahawks fans showed their loyalty in official and unofficial ways. Although admittedly, fan participation in sports is quite different than a typical retail transaction, brands are feverishly trying to find a customer loyalty formula that’ll stick for years. You can encourage that enthusiasm, but you can’t manufacture it.
In the agency business itself, it works much the same way. For an ad agency or marketing firm, a run of several account wins is a streak to be celebrated — but inevitably, losses occur too. People at all levels come and go. Key management changes can take a great business forward or backward. But if the employees believe in the company and the work they’re doing, positive momentum can be sustained even in tough times. And just like the Seahawks, even minor players make valuable contributions to a great agency organization. Recognizing those people and their efforts goes a long way.
It’d be great to see the Seahawks, or any of our own agencies or marketing clients, become and stay great for a long time. But moments of greatness are often fleeting, so it’s important to celebrate them when they happen and do our best to replicate them whenever possible.
We can’t predict the future and we can’t always control our destinies. But great products, and great people, always soar a bit higher than everyone else. And that’s part of the playbook all of us should use.
Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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