Branding, Implementation, and Manchester United

A brand communicates through four different channels; each of which offer value for both the buyers and marketers.  Understanding the identity, image, promise and relationships associated with the product or service demonstrates what the seller is attempting to offer.  Marketers use a branding strategy to “communicate or promote an association with a sports property by a sponsor to it’s target market” (Fetchko, Roy and Clow, 2013, p. 295).

Organizations can use a concept known as integrated marketing communications (IMC) to define and utilize channels used to communicate to a target audience.  IMC integrates every marketing tool, avenue, and other sources within an organization.  The purpose of the IMC concept is to create a program that will maximize the message to the audience at the lowest possible cost.  The challenge of the marketer is to keep the identity and message of the brand consistent amongst all channels within the IMC concept. 

Within the IMC and brand communication are the pull and push strategies.  The consideration of how the brand message will be intercepted by the consumer will direct the marketer to one of these strategies.  A pull strategy is implemented to entice the consumer to receive the product “by seeking it out through channels where it is available” (Fetchko, et al, 2013, p. 211).  A common usage of this strategy is marketing the date, time, and place of an event coinciding with images or references to the stars of the event.  Receiving more knowledge of the brand through this channel requires little to no action from the consumer.  This creates an awareness of the brand as a whole, while not expecting to immediately transfer into ticket sales for an event.

Manchester United implemented the pull strategy on a worldwide scale, after US businessman Malcom Glazer purchased financial control of the football club in 2005.  Creating a Chinese language website was a key factor in the globalization of the sport of football as a whole, yet more specifically created more awareness for Manchester United.  The team created relationships with brands such as Vodafine, Pepsi, Budweiser and Fuji which helped the team leverage their brand worldwide (Hill and Vincent, 2006).  Manchester United strategized the customer involvement factor to people all over the globe.  The relationship between the fan and the team increased as the visibility leveraged from the aforementioned brands.

While the pull strategy does not require action from the consumer, the push strategy relies on persuasion for consumers to take action within distribution channels.  Sales forces are typically instrumental in initiating pull strategies; the implementation of building and maintaining relationships with consumers.  Major League Soccer (MLS) implemented a ground breaking program in which they developed a training program for incoming sales people.

The MLS National Sales Center in Blaine, Minnesota is the first centralized sales training program offered by a professional sports league.  Fetchko, Roy and Clow note that 85% of MLS teams’ sales reps had less than three years sales experience (p. 212).  The league took advantage of the opportunity to grow and learn as a unit, while addressing the importance of personal selling and the path to loyal customers.  In addition to specialized training, incentives for sales people to reach specific goals is a push strategy often used by sales forces.  Organizations can direct these incentives to various product categories with the goal of raising revenues.

Each strategy has strengths and goals within the marketing operation.  “Both approaches are needed to advance an organization’s brand and achieve business objects” (Fetchko, et al 2013, p. 212.).  Many consumers within a target market are not yet ready to commit to action in terms of brand relationship that a push tactic might elicit.  On the other hand, communication from the brand is needed to create awareness and build relationships within the market.  The steps taken toward relationship progression “result from using both pull and push strategies and lead people closer to taking actions that have business impact such as buying tickets or licensed merchandise” (Fetchko, et al 2013, p. 212).

The brand image is the representation of thoughts or mental associations that people hold for a product or service (Fetchko, et al 2013, p .119).  Cultivating the brand image leads to the brand identity, which consists of associations that a marketer wants to communicate to the target audience.  According to Fetcho, Roy and Clow there is a gap between brand image and brand identity that exists for nearly every brand. (2013, pg. 119).  The goal of the marketer in this case is to align the image with the identity.  In doing so, one can drive to establish the image in a multitude of ways. 

The term “new media,” as defined by James Shomeier (2006) is “The convergence of telecommunications, computing and traditional media.”  These technologies include websites, broadband internet, streaming audio and video content and smart phones.  Brands have a shorter distance to customers and the target market than they ever have with the advent of this technology.  Because of this new access to potential consumers, sport brands have created integrated and immediate content that projects the brand image.

A partnership between NASCAR and Sprint Nextel allowed innovative new access to live events.  With the sponsorship, consumers at an event a handheld device called “FanView.”  This device allowed access to telecasts, live audio feeds from drivers and other otherwise unavailable content.  The sponsorship was mutually beneficial to both parties and provided value added entertainment and increased non-traditional revenue. 

New media leverages brand equity because consumers can be communicated to any time.  This access allows brands to mitigate any perceived changes in their identity when necessary.  A brand can quickly identify with consumers and maintain brand associations. 

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