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6 Business & Brand Lessons from the AFL 2014 Season

So footy is over for another year and a fair few of us are probably suffering from football fatigue. It has been an interesting season with lots of talking points.

Things in the studio have been tense the last few weeks with Rusty being an avid Sydney Swans supporter and Luke a die-hard Hawks man. Conversations were short, legs were nervously jiggling under desks and there were heated arguments about Buddy & the Bondi Billionaires. Unfortunately there can only be one winner and it’s fair to say Luke has had a bit of a pep in his step this week. But the main thing is Raine & Makin has endured the storm and the founders are still thick as thieves.

To prove the point, Rusty and Luke got together at the seasons end, reflected over a beer and wrote a blog post about 6 business and brand lessons you can learn from the 2014 AFL season.


 Rusty’s 3 Lessons

1. A champion team beats a team of champions

It was a heart breaking grand final. There weren’t tears, but it was none the less painful. Sometimes brave moves need to be made to set yourself on the path of success. Investing in people who are the best in their chosen discipline is hard to resist. However, as important or even more important, is creating a team that can work together. Pulling on the unique and individual skills of each person, encouraging them to reach their full potential and play their role, results in creating a strong and successful team. This was the Sydney Swans of 2012. For the Swans, success will present itself again, but they will need to look back at what won them the 2012 grand final and what lost them 2014. In business your team should come before the individual. Solid recruitment policies and processes are essential to get the team your brand deserves.

2. Make decisions with your audience in mind

When running your own business it can be difficult to remove yourself and look objectively at the service you provide to clients and customers. What often feel like financial imperatives and important issues to you, are lost on your audience. You may have a great idea or an amazing product, but without an audience it’s like a tree falling in a forest. Scheduling games at bizarre times or forcing supporters to a stadium that is too big, and too rubbish to make more money, leaves a bitter taste for supporters. Just like the AFL, businesses may thrive whilst ignoring and frustrating it’s audience, but how long will it last? The attendance figures of 2014 would be a huge concern for the AFL and, on the flip side, provides a big opportunity for local football leagues to boost their market share and crowds. To ensure longevity and success in business, listening to your audience is paramount.

3. Provide a sense of belonging to your audience

Creating a strong story around your brand or business pulls on a truism of us humans – we love to belong. We enjoy the feeling of being a part of something bigger than ourselves, to be in a tribe united together by a common cause. In a society of individualism and market forces, this desire to belong becomes even stronger. Creating a culture, personality and reason for your audience to belong goes a long way to turning customers into fans. This year and previous years we have seen this used to great affect. The Sydney Swans and the “Bloods culture” of fight as a team until there is nothing left, resulted in the Swans first grand final win in 72 years in 2005. I was there at the MCG with my brother to witness this. There were tears. We hugged strangers as if they were family. A family of cry babies. This year, a bedraggled lost and hopeless Port Adelaide team, arose to be one of the best teams in the AFL. The introduction of INXS’s “They will never tear us apart” pre game song, provided supporters the opportunity to belong. The common cause of refusing to amalgamate with Adelaide when they joined the AFL many years ago, provided 45,000 fans the opportunity to join as one. This is a great example of allowing your audience to belong.


Luke’s 3 Lessons

1. Strong Brands provide a memorable customer experience

My favourite team this year besides the mighty Hawks was definitely Port Adelaide. We could write a whole blog post about what Port have done right in terms of branding. But the thing that stuck out the most in my mind was the brand experience they provided their customers/supporters. The relocation from AAMI Stadium to Adelaide Oval in the centre of the city was huge. David Koch said “The venue essentially provides new packaging for our product – the customer experience of watching a game”. Watching the Port games at Adelaide Oval on TV made me want to go to there to watch a game, they put on a show like no other. Singing INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart pre-game was the AFL’s version of Liverpool’s soccer clubs ‘You Will Never Walk Alone” which the club has built it’s entire brand around. The supporters march as one from the city centre, they sing the song, the crowd is the loudest in the AFL and Port were playing exhilarating football. This provides a brand experience that gets people talking and generates word of mouth, in turn bringing more people through the gates. What sort of experience do you provide your customers? It should be so exceptional and memorable that your customers can’t help but tell their network.

2. The small things make the big differences

When I played football I always harped on about the 1 percenters. For the uninitiated “1 percenters” are the small things that are easy to do, but are often not. I firmly beleive 1 percenters win games and for brands they win business. In football terms, on field actions like smothers, shepherding, chasing and tackling, and talking to your teammates are 1 percenters. You see the best players every season doing the 1 percenters. Luke Hodge’s smother in the final seconds of the Preliminary final against Port Adelaide won them the game and ultimately the premiership. In terms of business and branding there are many 1 percenters that are over looked. What are the small things you can do that don’t take much effort but gain great results. Examples could be sending a client who referred you business a gift hamper or some movie tickets, trades providing a cash back guarantee to arrive on time, or simply following up with a phone call to say “thank you” after completing a project.

3. Delegation & knowledge sharing is key

Excuse the bias here but I have to talk about the Hawks season and ultimate premiership glory. What made this premiership one of the most satisfying in the clubs history is the adversity on and off the field the Hawks have had to endure. The Hawks lost arguably the best player in the league in Buddy Franklin, had multiple lengthy injuries to key players and the coach in Alistair Clarkson could not coach for over a month due to a health condition. A lot of clubs, or businesses for that matter, would be in real trouble after so many obstacles and absences. What got the Hawks through? Delegation and sharing knowledge. When a player went down with an injury there was a player waiting to fill the gap. But not just any player, a player who had learnt about every position and role on the ground from the leadership group. The Hawks have a system of forwards shadowing defenders at some training sessions to learn that position, and vice versa. The result is a team where information and responsibilities have been delegated widely allowing for great flexibility and depth if a player goes down.When Brendon Bolton took over as head coach due to Clarkson’s illness, the club didn’t miss a beat. Why? The players said that Clarkson often delegated to his assistant coaches to run full training sessions and meetings, so it was not unusual for Bolton to be managing and in charge on game day. If your business would fall over if one team member or leader could not contribute for a week or a month then delegating needs to become a high priority.