Cities, Sports Leagues and their Brand Experiences

It was match day and not an ordinary one at that. Bayern Munich was scheduled to play in the final of the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League. This information was part of the briefing by the pilot of a Lufthansa flight that I was in. What stuck me was the use of ‘my team’ in the way he announced this. He promised to update us about match result later as well. That day his team won and I guess the team of many in the plane too because there was a loud cheer.
Match days on twitter tend to be interesting. Many people in the stream refer to a particular team as ‘us’ or ‘we’. Now if this was someone in europe referring to their favourite club teams it would almost be normal. It may be unusual for some to see people in India referring to European club teams as ‘us’. Perhaps it is not surprising either. These clubs have become global brands with merchandising and activities that extend well beyond their region and the league’s season.
The Riera Blanca area in Barcelona is home to FC Barcelona. The Mobile World Congress is a big part of the Barcelona experience but equally there is quite a bit of FC Barcelona in there as well. You check in at a hotel and they will tell you about tickets that can be purchased on your behalf. They will talk about their team but equally talk about the history and team musuem too.
This contrasts to how some of the new teams are referred here in the social stream. More people still talk about a city’s team in third person. First the cricket and soon after hockey, football, badminton, kabaddi and basketball leagues have started. Perhaps there will be more as well. Do you remember any of the players that represent these teams? Some cricketers maybe but others? If you live in Mumbai, are you an Indian, Master or Magician team supporter. The likely hypothesis is that it’s all a blur. The player, the team and sport are not quite connected with the city they represent.
Engagement with the league, it’s teams and players is linked to the actual days of the tournament. Yes one will see matches, remember an episode for a day or two and then there is the next match to consider. Maybe take part in some contests online or enjoy the game in the company of friends at an eating establishment. Players change every year and are signed on for astronomical accounts. Sporting expertise aside, they have little resonance with the brand name. The same world famous cricketer could have navigated 4 or 5 teams in as many years. So, do the citizens of Delhi, Mumbai or Calcutta think of them as “˜my team’ ? Not really. Its great viewing but not necessarily great brand resonance. Maybe most of the Indian leagues are young and there is much more work to be done.
So what’s the connection with the city?
Naming is emotive and the brand would have several ingredients that can be considered when one thinks about the future. These could be location and community, spirit, governance and more. Let’s say there are 3 teams that represent a city. Is there a common characteristic that connects the 3 teams to each other?
1. Does a city know the teams that represent it in various sports leagues?
2. How does the city connect with the teams? Do the know their players?
3. What’s the experience for a fan of the city?
4. What’s the engagement during the season?
5. What’s the experience after the season. Have these teams embraced the culture and the ongoing conversation of the city.
6. Whether it is CSR or cause marketing, most teams have linked to some cause. Maybe there is an opportunity to make it more credible and part of the engagement with the city.
What’s in it for the brands?
While I am not an expert on brand valuations, but I do believe that the customer experience is what really matters in building a long lasting brand. How does one value a team of a young league? By the value of its players or by the business they generate? or something else? I read an article on team valuations, and I quote it here.
The Forbes Fab 40 consists of the 10 most valuable sports brands in each of four categories““businesses, events, teams and athletes. How do you place a value on a brand? For sports business brands, this means quantifying the amount the business would fetch in an arms length transaction in excess of what a comparable rival would be worth.
The team needs to win and that ensures full stadiums. There is also the business aspect. It needs to be a viable venture. It needs to increase it’s fan base, build a community and identify sources of engagement and revenue. Conventional wisdom says that there are four ways a sports team can make money: tickets, sponsorships, merchandising, and licensing. Sometimes people might add player trading and prize money.
Perhaps one could also start to imagine new sources of revenue from the majority who do not go to watch games and love their sport. The elements of a sports team and its ecosystem have four main components and connecting these elements in fresh ways can create opportunity for sustainable business growth.
ports leagues table
In Summary, the experience framework would need to touch upon :
Clarity – Other than being the licensee of a city name, what does the team stand for? How are they linked to the city buzz? What do they offer a fan?
Conversations – The leagues need to get people talking about their sport in an active sort of way. Participating not just in entertainment centres and social media alone but in sports grounds, active lifestyles and more.
Connected – Thinking about the experience of a fan- On ground, Other venues, digital platforms and more.
Causes – Can the team do more for the cause they represent?
Capability – This is more a part of the team’s ability to win! But the fan should feel that they are part of a worthy team of their city.

Lighting Up My Life

In an earlier era, lighting was a much simpler affair. One went and purchased fixtures once. Light bulbs and tube lights were replenished, as and when needed, typically at the local electrical fittings store. The entire house had a similar lighting schema.
Things are different now.
Now, people experiment with lights. Lighting schemas for each room may differ, maybe it’s colour, maybe it’s the technology or maybe it is the visual impact of the room that they want to enhance.
The projects are not one off but instead an ongoing experiment with aesthetics and beauty in their lives. The brand experience then is about experiences over a lifetime of interactions.
Whether the customer is redesigning an existing space or working on enhancing a new one, the broad path remains largely along research, store visits and purchases. Perhaps in some cases there is an implementation partner (architect, interior designer, contractor) who is an interface. In the spirit of our times, the customer has choice. But does each choice offer an experience that helps the customers with what they set out to achieve? To create the perfect well lit room!
Brand choices in conjunction with services like Houzz provide customers many options to explore. What’s interesting is how things are noted for later reference. The photo of an interesting lamp, technology checklists, the link of an interesting site, the price details sourced from a friend, contact numbers of key people to contact may all make their way to Evernote, Pinterest and similar services. A quick mobile search for directions and the store to find the perfect lighting solution is invariably found. The ease of accessibility, parking options certainly make their way into conversations when shortlisting stores.
There are questions and expectations as the store visits commence. The customer wants an opportunity to discuss the big idea they have. Someone to guide them with tool kits that help make better decisions. One may not know the latest industry jargon but one certainly knows the importance of making a wise decision. Instead as with all technology products, one get informed by way of jargon.
We learnt the following on speaking to some customers :

  • In many conversations on this topic, a repeating theme was the not so well lit lighting store. The customer walks-in to a store with lights mostly switched off. Perhaps there was an effort to save light but then there are sensors that can easily remedy the situation.
  • One’s then faced with wall to wall fixtures. Do the excessive number of products without any visual segregation hinder or aid decision making or solution seeking? The book, Paradox of Choice comes to mind.
  • Company websites that could certainly be improved upon in terms of information, standards and toolkits

And yet lighting is a very exciting space.

  • While one wants to make one’s home bright with the right lights, one wants to be smart too. The right fixtures, technology that consumes less energy are the core basics of smart. What one may want to explore is the ability to link lights with sensors, link it to the smart phone and aim for even better energy management. Concepts like Hue, Nest, Homekit are in the minds of the customers. Would you get these experiences at your current store? What would need to change?
  • Smart is good but solar and alternative energy is certainly on the agenda of a few progressive customers. Finding information, experts, products and proof of concepts are very hard to come by. At the moment, it’s tough to find information on solar power backups like UPS/ Inverters.
  • Finally the partners, the people who help with ideas and implementation.
    What should they know?
    How can they be trained?
    How can the smart lighting project be an exercise in co-creation with the customer?
    What’s the digital toolkit for all this?

There is a lot more to do when lighting up someone’s place. The opportunity to make a difference starts now.

Brand Interfaces of the Future

The idea of a front-end design of the future is a very compelling. Currently, most would focus on responsive websites but if you look at the idea of front-end of the future, it is not quite a website but much more.

There are 5 points to consider.
1. Multiplicity of Screens – You are looking at a design that renders well not just in display but in relevant functionality across these screens. The screens to consider conventional desktops/laptops, tablets and phones, perhaps even your car dashboard.
2. Information/Experiences in Contextual Services – The content and design needs to focus on information that gets rendered in services like Google Now, Twitter Cards other contextual services which could be around voice e.g. Siri or Cortana. Imagine a fund raising promotional tweet with the Support button within the twitter stream. This would have rich content maybe even video, information to help buy, plus the standards of twitter cards. Imagine, Google Now displaying a reminder to a phone user about a show that is about to start.
3. Experiences in the age of Wearable’s, Continuity and Sensors – Smart watches are around the corner, notifications are not only getting smarter but you can act on them right in that interface. You do not need to open an app for it. Imagine watching something on your phone while in the car, reaching home and pushing that video straight to your TV via Chromecast. Imagine web experiences with integrated notifications, devices in the age of Continuity and similar services.
4. Social Platforms, Analytics and Delivery of Integrated Experiences – At a simpler level, what can be done with live experiences, customer sharing aggregation, on going social listening, promotional campaigns including programmatic buying and more. Given that social is also resides in the notification tab, how can one re-imagine it all. This could be personalised experiences that factor in not just past usage but also factors like where they are now. Imagine travelling to another city, where there is a performance and you get a notification that tells you about it. With the buy button right in the notifications tab waiting for you to pay with a biometric id on phone!
5. Content management takes on a different meaning. It is then not just about managing information and products and updating it from a backend. It’s about a tool and a process that streamlines information and delivers it as appropriate for the device, location, customer and the context. All in real time! In a sense that defines the meaning of responsive.
Today, this is one’s understanding of what the front end is likely to be. It’s a start and more options will emerge. It is going to be a mix and match of many services. All needing to talk to each other likely via API’s. So the front end is not just the 5 points above but the interplay between the API’s and what more we can do with them.
The experiences for a customer or an employee will have almost similar interplays across places, times and devices. Imagination, relevance and ambition are going to be key.

The Socialism of Mobile Phone Companies

Back in the Delhi of the 1980s, our lives were synced to the DMS milk delivery vans. Everyday at a certain time, people would rush out of their homes to buy milk. The lines were rarely orderly and without some angst. There was always this fear that the milk would run out and they would not get the required amount for people at home.
If one failed to get it, then one needed to return the next day. This applied to yoghurt in summer and many other products.
Business analysts will tell you this was the by-product of the socialist model. Things changed globally and socialism is not considered a positive model anymore. Shortages, queues, rationing, bad service are now supposed to be things of the past.
I now point your attention to some new mobile phone companies. They are growing fast and they have obviously got quite a bit of success. Not commenting on their success but the striking similarities to socialist times. Not surprisingly some of these companies origin from countries that have had a socialist past.
A potential customer

  • Register’s interest
  • Participates in a lottery that provides an opportunity to pay and own the product
  • Waits for the next lottery round announcements
  • Has limited places/sites where the product can be purchased
  • Has to have someone recommend them for the right to buy
  • Will notice that the product has been resold by the ‘winners’ at a premium

Not unlike those times, where one had to always say good things about the leadership, the modern twist includes saying nice things on social channels for the permission to register interest for the product.
Would a customer then wonder about service or the lack of it. Well one has to wait and find out.
If you stand back a bit, it seems we are celebrating people who have created by making a virtue out of scarcity (artificial or logistical). You have a situation where about 300,000 people register interest and only about 10,000 or thereabouts are likely to get a product. Those who will get this product will get it when the company gets ready to ship, not when they want it. A large number of people will be turned away from each lottery.
Isn’t there a negative customer experience for these customers? Maybe there are business reasons why this model has been adopted but It does seem disrespectful to customers as well. One might argue the customer is welcome to buy another company’s product and most likely they will.
But is this model sustainable for the long duration? It does not take long for the tide to turn. The customer experience of the socialist era companies was largely based on sufferance because they could make people wait. Can these new companies afford to do that?

Reinventing the Employee Experience

Future of the workplace is an interesting topic and if searched on the net one finds rich material. This note is neither prescriptive nor predictive. It is merely a compilation of intents, and perhaps, related action that will help navigate emerging trends in an effective manner.
Intent one : Being Humane
Not just putting either customers or employees first, but just simply being human. It may be about promises made and then kept. Why does the modern corporation with its swanky offices all over the world seem so soulless? Why are the words so fulsome and yet the intent so empty or often reeks of betrayal.Those that can stand it, stay on and hope things will improve but many leave. The people who leave are employees and partners. They take away rich experience and capability.There is hope that future workplaces can be relied upon to keep their promises and be humane.
Intent two : Learn and Guide
The workplace is not a physical space that is called an office. It is merely a comfortable place that enables one to complete what one promised to do. It could well be a cafeteria or a couch at home or the desk in office. One could be interacting face to face or in a digital conversation stream, there is opportunity to learn and guide. And both are needed. How does the modern corporation enable this? More importantly how does one grasp this opportunity to learn, guide and connect with our peers?
Some thoughts that can be evaluated in the context of emerging workplaces
Think Employee
1. There is a shortage of experienced professionals. The ability of the company to retain experienced professionals seems diminished in the face of choices.
2. Well trained experienced women who were once a part of the workforce need to be integrated back. Innovative solutions need to be considered so that work and life can be integrated better.
3. On the other hand, new members need to be integrated better. Not just processes and manuals but an acculturation process followed by the right kind of learning systems.
4. If you look around various workspaces today, they all seem very similar. A colour difference denotes a different company. Do they really foster creativity or initiative?
5. In a business world, where response time is becoming critical, there is a need to focus on effective and relevant communication delivered when needed. 
Think Partners
1. Workplaces need to integrate with experts and professionals who are not directly employed with a company. Let’s call them partners. Some make the mistake of treating them as vendors.
2. Integrating partners into the ecosystem of a workplace is going to be crucial. The question is how and how quickly? Integration with partners must result in a seamless workflow and a compelling set of skills to tap emerging opportunities.
Think Technology
1. Tablets, wearables and more replace laptops to provide the information and learning required.
2. Real time insights or as Mr Vivek Ranadive highlights the importance of the 2 second advantage.
3. Solutions that implement conversations and information access for a workplace that is increasingly mobile, not in the same location or time zone and one that connects skills networks within the organisation and outside.
The answers to these and other intents and questions will outline changes in the workplace. Workplaces need to encourage initiative fearlessly.