A few weeks back I was visiting New York and had the opportunity to go to a Brooklyn Nets game. Having grown up a Knicks fan in Albany, and now a Warriors fan due to my proximity over the last 15 years, I was intrigued to see what Brooklyn was like now that they had their own basketball team and I have to say I was extremely impressed. As an ad guy, a trip to the Barclays Center is a master class in branding!
The Nets’ move from New Jersey to Brooklyn may have only been about 20 miles, but it’s a world away from where they were. That shift in location brought with it a shift in attitude, not least of which comes from the association with Jay-Z and hip-hop in general. The Nets feel like a team who aspires to represent more than a location. I may never change my allegiance from the Knicks as “New York’s team” but the Nets could take ownership of a tagline much greater – that of a generation!
The colors are stark – a simple black and white motif – and the music is omnipresent – driving beats with a real sense of swagger. The arena is clean and it’s centrally located and everyone who works there is smiling, helpful and demonstrates a true excitement to be in the house. The food is delicious – all local flavors and local brands you recognize. The logo is everywhere – on hats and banners and signage and its being shot into the stands on t-shirts every 15 minutes or so. Brooklyn even takes advantage of its star quality courtside – actors and sports stars line the court for a showtime-like experience in the “borough that sports forgot” for many years. It feels like you stepped into an exclusive event, more so than when you enter Madison Square Garden, which is clearly recognized as the world’s stage.
While the Knicks may have a sense of history the Nets represent a feeling of “now”. They may not be as good as some of their peers, even though they’ll make the playoffs this year. Regardless of their status as a contender or not, there’s a feeling of excitement and a level of engagement that can be lost when you go to other arenas and root for other sports teams, regardless of the sport itself. They bring you in. They get you pumped. There’s rarely a dull moment in that arena and they try to keep you involved.
Why should you care about this piece of perspective? As an ad guy I tell people to look around and find inspiration from the least likely of sources. When the Nets decided to move into New York, many people were pessimistic about their ability to succeed. How can they gain a foothold in the city owned by the Knicks? The answer is simple – present a different experience and one that resonates with their target audience. Build it with frequency and consistency. Learn what your audience wants (swagger is key among them) and deliver it in everything you do. The food, your colors, your logo, your music, the events you host to balance out the arena - All of it carries over to the brand you’re putting out there. As a brand manager you tackle the same set of challenges and though you may not have the same tools in your toolbox to work with, the solution is the same. Understand your audience and deliver what they want in a way that expresses what you want them to hear.
The Nets are not the only shining example of branding in the sports world, but they are certainly one of the newest to take that step into re-imagining and re-launching their brand. To me, as a student of advertising, it feels like what Cadillac did about 12 years ago when they rode the opening drum beat of “Rock N Roll” by Led Zeppelin to re-launch their brand for a new generation. Remember that?
How are you identifying the needs of your customers and moving ahead with them?