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5 Brand Management Lessons from Elite College Football Programs

Thirty-nine college bowl games down, one to go.

An undefeated Clemson with its high-flying offense will face off against the hard hitting Crimson Tide of Alabama in Monday’s College Football Championship Game.

Will the Tide’s crushing wave break or will the Tiger’s offense finally be tamed? While we have to wait a few more days to find out, it certainly isn’t luck that Alabama and Clemson are competing for the National Title.

It’s talent.

Much like in the business world, elite college programs succeed by finding the right talent. Recruiting is HUGE in college football. Top performers want to play on a winning team for a distinguished coach. How you market your brand to potential recruits can make or break their decision to join your team.

Here are 5 lessons your brand can learn from this year’s championship contenders:

1. Talk About Your Leadership

Think of your CEO as the head coach. Talented recruits want to work with elite coaches.

Nick Saban is seeking his fifth title—his fourth in 7 years—and is one of two head coaches to win the title with two different schools. The only other coach to have 5 or more national championships? Paul “Bear” Bryant who coached Alabama to 6 titles.

Having a coach like that is like having Elon Musk as your CEO. As if PayPal wasn’t a big enough game-changer, Musk went on to start Tesla, Solar City, and Space X. (Landing a spaceship upright has to count for a few championships).

Too many companies forget to talk about why their CEO is a winner. It’s an easy way to give recruits confidence in joining your team. 

2. Target the Right Talent

Much like how competing companies have unique approaches to business strategy, Alabama and Clemson run two very different styles of teams.

Alabama plays a punishingly physical style of play that requires a different type of player than Clemson’s more spread offensive approach. Where Alabama may be able to skimp at quarterback (sorry Jake Coker; Deshaun Watson has you outgunned here), Clemson’s offense requires a talented dual threat at QB. Alabama instead targets talented running backs to make its offense click.

What makes your company work best? Maybe it’s a salesforce that doesn’t take no for an answer or a design team that is pushing creative boundaries. Are you targeting the right talent to further your competitive edge?

3. Identify What Recruits Want

Not only is it important to reach the right audience with your recruiting message, but you need to make sure it’s the right message.

The best college players want to go pro. It’s not surprise that the top 10 schools for putting players in the league consistently find themselves recruiting top talent. Bama and Clemson coaches point to their success in winning games to get the best talent to come join them.

It’s important to target talent in a way that fits their needs and goals. The Millennials have been the buzz for the past few years, and knowing what’s important to them is essential to attract top talent. They make up the largest percentage of the workforce, and that percentage is only going to grow.

Your brand is everything when you are recruiting. Consider this, professionals under 40 years old are 61% more likely to associate employer brand with their job consideration. What does your brand research tell you about yourself? Do you think it is going to resonate with the workforce you are trying to attract?

4. Be Transparent

Consumer’s trust in brands is lower than ever, so it’s important to be honest about who you are. Even if it isn’t who you are currently, being honest about where you are now and where you want to be will go a long way.

Dabo Swinney isn’t the typical buttoned-up head coach you grew up watching. One look at his dance moves will tell you that. If you haven’t seen the videos I implore you to watch because you will see why he is getting the talent on board to win. He is 100% transparent and his players love that about him.

5. Practice What You Preach

This goes hand in hand with transparency. There is a correlation between the authenticity of a brand and the success that is to follow.

Once the game plan has been prepared and intentions have been shared, it’s time to go out there and consistently execute. College football is a perfect example of this: it’s incredibly rare for colleges to appear in the title game and then to never be seen. Only four teams have made a single appearance in a championship game since the beginning of the BCS (1998 Tennessee, 1999 VA Tech, 2001 Nebraska and 2012 Notre Dame). The other 28 championships have seen the same 11 schools.

From 2006 to 2015 the value of brands increased 126% to $3.3 trillion. So it should come as no surprise when Cohn Wolfe released their 2014 most authentic brand list almost 3/4 of the list ended up on Millward Brown Brandz 100 most valuable brands list of 2015.

The hyper-competitive recruiting environment of college football illustrates the importance of leadership, targeting the right talent, and creating an authentic brand experience. Much like in business, your chances against your competition are a lot better with some good strategy and the right talent to execute.

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