Hartwell Studio Works

The Hartwell Studio Works Sports Branding Podcast

The podcast for front office personnel who want to harness the power of sports branding to win more fans.


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Episode #2: Create Your Brand Story, Part 1


Episode 2 Transcript

Welcome to the second episode of the Hartwell Studio Works Sports Branding Podcast. I’m John Hartwell. I’m the brains and pencil behind Hartwell Studio Works — I’m a sports brand designer in Atlanta, Georgia.

This podcast is for front office personnel who want to harness the power of sports branding to win more fans.

In our previous episode, we made a distinction between two key branding terms, “logo,” and “brand.” A logo, you’ll recall, is an identifier. A brand is your story. That story, that brand story, is the beating heart of your sports branding efforts.

Creating that brand story is task number one in sports branding. In this episode and the next, I’m going to do a two-part, high level look at the process of building a brand story, giving you pointers to confidently navigate the process.

So let’s get started.

Before we ever put pencil to paper to scribble out logo sketches, the creation of your brand story starts with a Discovery process. Discovery is concerned with collecting information about you and organizing it into a narrative that will become your story, your brand story. This information is represented in a creative brief, which will be used to guide the logo development process.

Now, the idea of spending time in a Discovery process and developing a brand story may strike you as a colossal waste of time. You may say “John, look, I hear ya, this whole brand-story-Discovery thing is great and all, but whatever. All I need is a cool logo! I just need something to put on some t-shirts and caps and I’m good.”

Well, okay, sure. I understand. You can get a cool looking logo. That’s easy. But remember, the point of the sports branding process is to make authentic emotional connections with fans in order to win their loyalty and preference. Fans have lots of options for where to direct their attention and spend their money. They don’t have to spend it on you. If your cool-looking logo has nothing more to offer besides being a pretty picture, if it doesn’t give your fans any more reason to engage with you, and learn more about who you are, then your fans don’t really have a reason to care about you.

A good Discovery process identifies opportunities for creating emotional connections, and provides a structure for creative execution. Pretty pictures come and go, but give a fan an emotionally compelling reason to care about you, and now you have the key to moving the needle on your bottom line.

Another advantage of the Discovery process is that it moves your creative decision-making, that is, when you’re in the middle of logo development and you have multiple options in front of you and you don’t know how to pick a direction or how to move forward, the Discovery process moves creative decision making from a “sub-jective” point of view to an “ob-jective” one.

The creative process can be, by its nature, a messy affair, subject to unexpected twists and turns. Such is the nature of the beast. Folks who don’t work in the creative space on a regular basis may get overwhelmed in considering the seemingly endless options and possibilities. 

A good Discovery process helps make sense of the whole thing. It provides objectives, structure, and purpose, keeping a project on track and preventing it from running down 15 different rabbit holes. And ain’t nobody got time for 15 rabbit holes.

Instead of making creative decisions based on sub-jective personal feelings or preferences, the Discovery process provides the foundation and framework for making ob-jective decisions based on the best interests of the project. The creative brief that comes out of the Discovery process provides a structure that tells you what success looks like, and more importantly, why. Because if we can’t give a good answer to the “why,” then we’re just making it up as we go along.

I’ll have more to say about that “why” in just a moment.

So we’ve established some perspective regarding the importance of your brand story and the Discovery process we’ll use to build it. Now we can get our hands dirty and get into the actual nuts and bolts of building that story.

I mentioned previously that the Discovery process is about gathering information that will develop our brand story. It’s helpful to look at that information from three different perspectives:

One: We want to define “Who” and “Why.”

Two: We’re looking for opportunities to create emotional connections.

And Three: We’re looking for opportunities to create differentiation.

Again, we’re looking at this information from three different prespectives: we want to define “Who” and “Why,” we want to create emotional connections, and we want to create differentiation.

So let’s look at each of these three different perspectives. 

First, we need to define “Who” and “Why,” as in “Who are we talking to,” and “Why are we doing this?”

“Who” is important because we need to know who makes up our target audience. A brand cannot be all things to all people, nor should it be. In order for your brand story to be successful, we need to know for whom it is being told. 

The answer to “who” is never “everyone.” Yes, I know, you might say “Well I want ‘everyone’ to attend my games,” or “I want ‘everyone’ to buy my t-shirts.” But your “who” is never “everyone.” The answer to “who” is always a clearly articulated, demographically categorized description of your target audience. Clearly defining “who” is a must-have for the creative process.

The “Why” is “why are we doing this?” Why are we even bothering to engage in this process in the first place? Well, It might be that your property is new to the market. It could be that your ticket sales are flat. You might be having difficulty attracting sponsors. Whatever the reason, the “why” represents the problem to be solved. Let me say that again, it’s really important: the “why” represents the problem to be solved. If the end result of your branding project fails to address that central problem, then the entire exercise, and I mean this, the entire exercise has been a waste of time and money. 

Second, we want to look at our information from the perspective of creating emotional connections. Emotional connections are the engine that drive the fan engagement machine. As I described previously, without authentic opportunities for fans to emotionally engage with your property, all you’re doing is creating pretty pictures. Yes, you want your logo to be attractive and cool, of course! But if it doesn’t point to anything more meaningful, if it doesn’t invite your fans to learn more about who you are and why you matter, then it’s just superficial cake decoration. And it’s not going to get you very far.

Emotional connections can come from anywhere, which is why it’s so important for the Discovery process to uncover as much information from as many different sources as possible. In general, you’re looking for opportunities in the place your team represents, the traditions and history of that place, and people who are significant to that tradition and history.

A good example of using place and history as a hook for creating emotional connections is the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. When the team changed its name from “Hornets” to “Pelicans,” folks around the country scratched their heads and asked why on earth they would choose such an odd name?

The state bird of Louisiana is a pelican. The most prominent feature of the state flag is…a great big pelican. When visiting the Louisiana Gulf Coast, you’ll see lots and lots of pelicans. As a symbol of the city and region, the pelican is unique, familiar, and appropriate.

Additionally, “Pelicans” is also the name of the much-beloved minor league baseball team that represented the city from 1901 to 1957. The Pelicans name taps into a particularly unique slice of New Orleans’ rich history, and it provides what I would call an emotional anchor to the pride of New Orleans’ sports past.

That the Pelicans name sounds funny to the rest of country is beside the point. Their audience is not San Francisco, Chicago, or Brooklyn. The audience is New Orleans. As a part of telling an emotionally authentic story, one that draws fans in and invites them to connect in a meaningful way, “Pelicans” is a much more natural and effective name than “Hornets” could ever be.

Finally, our third perspective, we want to look at our Discovery information from the perspective of creating differentiation. As you well know, sports is a crowded marketplace. You’re up against all sorts of other entertainment options, sports or otherwise, for the attention of your fans. So like our emotional connections, we’re looking for hooks that suggest creative choices for separating your brand story from your competition, choices that get you noticed and invite fans to learn more about who you are and why you matter. Whether its the emotional connections themselves that create the differentiation, your choice of team colors, your choice of team name, or the visual stylization of your logo, to be different for the sake of being different is not the point. You want to be different because it helps tell your story, ultimately helping to address the problem at the heart of the “why.” It addresses the problem we are trying to solve.

So that’s a good start to the process of creating your brand story. We’ve laid a foundation for how to think about your story, and what you’re looking to achieve. In our next episode, we’ll go over some specific ways to collect information in your Discovery process, and the kinds of questions you want to ask and why they matter.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Hartwell Studio Works Sports Branding Podcast. I hope you found it helpful, and that you’ll be able to use it in your efforts to win more fans.

If you would, subscribe and leave a 5-star review in iTunes and help other sports professionals find this podcast.

If you’d like to talk about any of the information I presented in this episode, reach out to me by email at john - at - hartwellstudioworks dot com. You can also follow me on social media, on Twitter and Instagram using the handle “hartwell studio,” and you can check out my entire portfolio of sports branding work at hartwellstudioworks.com.

Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

John Hartwell