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 #3: Create Your Brand Story, Part 2


Episode 3 Transcript

Welcome to this third 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 designer in Atlanta, Georgia.

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

This is part 2 of a two-part episode, “Create Your Brand Story.” I’m taking a high-level look at the process of building a brand story, giving you pointers to confidently navigate the process.

In part 1, I introduced the Discovery process as the means by which we gather the information that will become your brand story. I talked about how it’s helpful to look at this information from three perspectives: to identify the “who” and “why” of the project, to create emotional connections, and to create differentiation.

So what is this information that we’re looking for? One useful way to think of it is that each bit of information, each “data point,” if you will, each relevant fact or story, is a “dot.” Our job in Discovery is to collect as many different dots as possible.

When we’ve collected our dots, we throw them all on the table and start arranging them. Sometimes, a dot by itself may not mean much. But when you connect it to another dot, and then to another dot after that, you start to see unexpected angles and possibilities. It is on those unexpected angles and possibilities that we’ll start to build what will become your unique brand story.

So the success of the brand story building process depends upon the number of dots you can collect. What those dots are and how we find them is what we’ll talk about in this episode.

Information gathering, or dot collecting, as it were, is a whole-brain activity. That is, it uses both the left and right sides of your brain, the analytical and creative. On the one hand, you’re looking for measurable data against which you set business goals and outcomes. On the other, you’re looking for creative inspiration — creative hooks — that will move the needle on that measurable data. We’re looking to build a creative story that speaks directly to the business needs of your organization. We’re looking for creativity that solves a problem.

So starting with “Who” and “Why,” we’re looking for left-brain, measurable data. This data helps us understand the business environment of a property or organization. This information, these dots, will come primarily from fact-finding interviews, both with team executives and with fans themselves.

For the “Who,” we want team executives to be able to articulate a clear sense of who makes up the team’s target audience. Remember, “everybody” is not your target audience, because we don’t have the resources to target “everybody.” Clearly defined demographic descriptions of the target audience helps us to understand who it is we’re trying to reach and what might be important to them. Thinking in terms of demographics such as geography, age, marital status, family status, gender, ethnicity, or education background will help us understand how to craft our story in a way that best speaks to the audience we’re trying to reach.

For the “Why,” we need to identify why we are engaging in this sports branding process. It’s no small thing to rebrand a property. From a strictly practical standpoint, you’re not just changing a logo. You’re changing everything that bears that logo, from business cards to uniforms to merchandise to facility signage. If you’re committing to that level of hard cost change, then you’re doing it for a darn good reason.

As I’ve noted previously, the “why” may be something like that you’re a new team, or your ticket sales are lagging, your enrollment numbers, if you’re a school, are down. Whatever the reason, the “why” represents the needle on that bottom line we’re looking to move. 

It’s important to also note that the severity of the “why” plays a role in the kind of brand story you’re looking to build. If you’re only looking to move the needle a little, say you want to capture a new demographic target, you might only need to tweak your color palette, or introduce a new secondary logo. On the other hand, if your needle is a flatline that needs emergency resuscitation, you might be looking at burning the whole house down and rebuilding your brand story from scratch. Either way, having a clear sense of your “why” and the problem to be solved will help shape the story you’re trying to tell.

Good “who” and “why” information can come from your fans as well. It’s always helpful to get a sense of what your customers are thinking, as it can uncover insights you might not have previously considered. You might conduct focus group interviews with select groups of fans, and you might gather thoughts and opinions by taking surveys during games. However it’s done, you’re looking for the fan perspective on your brand. These are the people to whom you’re looking to tell a better, more compelling story. In many cases, they want better reasons to engage! They want to be more involved in your story! Make sure you’re listening to what they want to tell you.

Moving to emotional connections and differentiation, dot collecting for both of these categories oftentimes comes from the same sources: the place your team represents, the history and traditions of that place, and the people significant to that history and tradition.

What makes the place you represent unique? How do people identify with your area? What person, or persons, call to mind the values you want to embody? The strength of your brand story will depend upon the answers to these questions.

To demonstrate how we can collect and consider these dots, let’s say we have a new sports team we’re looking to launch in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Cincinnati has an active sports market. They already have NFL and Major League Baseball teams, along with some well-regarded local college programs, and a strong minor league presence.

In order for us to develop a story that will stand out and get noticed, we need to find out as much as we can about Cincinnati and what makes it unique.

To begin with, Cincinnati was named, in 1790, in honor of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization of Revolutionary War veterans. The Society of the Cincinnati takes its name from the ancient Roman general Cincinnatus, who saved ancient Rome from destruction and then, demonstrating virtuous civic leadership, quietly retired back to his farm. Like Rome, Cincinnati is also known as the “City of Seven Hills.”

The Society of the Cincinnati’s first president was, appropriately enough, George Washington, who himself is known as the “American Cincinnatus” for his own retiring from military duty after defeating the British. As a matter of fact, to this day, Ohio is home to a large number of descendants of the Revolutionary War on account of the number of land grants given to the war’s veterans. 

Speaking of U.S. Presidents, Cincinnati is the birthplace of our 27th president, William Howard Taft.

Cincinnati sits on the Ohio River, and owes much of its early prosperity and notoriety to 19th century steamboat commerce and culture.

Here’s an interesting bit: in the early 1800’s Cincinnati became the nation’s largest pig processing and hog packing center, earning it the nickname “Porkopolis.”

Heavy 19th century Irish and German immigration forms an important part of the city’s story, influencing art, food, and culture to this day.

Proctor & Gamble, makers of Ivory soap and a billion other household products, is headquartered and has deep roots in Cincinnati. An historic factory plant development called “Ivorydale” is significant to the history of both the company and the city. 

There’s a lot to the story of Cincinnati, and I haven’t even talked about the Underground Railroad, the Sons of Daniel Boone, or the Hall of Justice.

But let’s go ahead and take a look at the dots we’ve collected thus far. How do start to organize what we already have?

Starting with the roots of the city’s name, we can tie a story to a specific virtue, that of leadership, modesty, and service to the greater good in the person of Cincinnatus. The story of Cincinnatus might serve as a dot for an emotional connection to the values your team might want to represent, with ancient Rome as a hook to create differentiation in the market.

Pulling on that thread a little further, you get the obvious connection to the Revolutionary War and George Washington. “Americana,” then, becomes a big dot as an emotional connection. However, Americana is a pretty familiar theme in sports, and in the culture at large. To make it work, we’re probably going to have to find a really unique angle and dig deeper for good differentiation hooks.

Speaking of differentiation, a steamboat story, styled in the history of the Ohio River valley, could be a good dot for being different from the market, pulling on some unique emotional threads as well.

And “Porkopolis.” I mean, c’mon. “Porkopolis.” Let the possibilities just roll around the back of your head a little bit.

So we’ve got some good dots on the table here, and we can arrange them in interesting ways. The final piece to the puzzle, the way we’ll pull it all together, is to go back to our “Who” and “Why.” Which dots we use and how we use them will depend upon what kind of story we think our target audience will embrace, and how that story will help us solve our problem, the “why” of the project.

There’s a whole lot more we could talk about regarding dot collecting and research — I haven’t even talked about visual research — but I think this gives us a good overview of how we combine both analytical data and creative thinking to build a brand story that will connect with fans and move your bottom line. 

Also, if you’re now looking to launch a minor league hockey team named the Cincinnati Pork Chops, please shoot me an email and I’ll let you know where you can send me the royalty check.

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