Opinion: Branding lessons, courtesy of Barcelona FC

Vinay Kanchan is a brand consultant and author of 'The Madness Starts at 9'

Jul 06, 2011 04:16:00 PM | Article | Vinay Kanchan

A few weeks ago, Barcelona nudged football closer to art rather than sport as they destroyed Manchester United in the Champions League final. The silky smooth, easy-on-the-eye style of the Catalonian club has already assumed the status of a unique perspective on how the game can be played.


But lurking behind every single pass, there lies an interesting insight into what it takes to create a great brand. And these offer interesting food for thought, especially for those who are cheering wildly beyond the touchline.

Embracing the role of the upstart

Conventionally a derby game is between two club sides from the same city. However, El Clasico, the most famous derby game in the world, plays between two clubs separated by 400 miles – Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Real Madrid was already a six-time winner of the European Cup by the mid sixties; in comparison Barcelona was then an international lightweight. Interestingly Real Madrid was always seen as the King’s club, whereas Barcelona represented the cause for a separate Catalonia.

This initial ideological rivalry helped Barcelona to the extent that it immediately began being mentioned in the same breath as Real Madrid.

In the same vein, assuming the role of a challenger does elevate a comparatively lesser known brand to the same platform as the leader. This helps the upstart significantly in the perceptual stakes, often translating into better market shares. From Apple to Virgin, this is a competitive strategy that has had success across industries.

Fusing various influences

The Barcelona culture of playing football has been wonderfully receptive to outside influence. Great players from Holland, Brazil, Argentina and of course Spain have passed through its ranks. And like any good eco-system, Barcelona has truly appreciated this variance in the gene pool.

One might venture that the Barcelona playing approach combines a dash of Latin flair, with a pinch of Dutch patience and technique, to a base of Spanish passion. The result is a hybrid playing style which is quite unique in the world of football.

Brands that are flexible enough, to react to outside influences are often those that endure. Indian culture in itself is a case in point. Despite numerous foreign invaders, India’s culture has been able to wonderfully assimilate their inputs and sustain its own unique identity, often emerging much the richer for the intrusion.

Playing the game on one’s own terms

It is sorely evident that the Barcelona team lacks height and physical presence. But try telling that to their opposition. Barcelona conducts and directs the game to its areas of advantage. By hogging possession, keeping the ball on the ground, moving it quickly all the time, and displaying their facile close control they ensure that their weaknesses are never exposed.

Likewise it is sometimes impossible for brands to cover all their bases. Inevitably there will be the proverbial ‘Achilles heels’. But by keeping the focus of the consumer on their zones of expertise, they can compensate for their shortcomings. An interesting tale in this direction is the manner in which Bajaj, with its first Hamara Bajaj campaign, was magnificently able to ride on its immense emotional equity subtly and simultaneously bypassing product parameters.

Building from the small step

Barcelona’s every move on the pitch is brilliantly stitched together with countless short passes. Even in the most adverse situation, they are extremely reluctant to punt the long ball aimlessly forward. And this presents an excellent example in the appreciation of the small step going forward.

Often brands are reluctant to begin with the small incremental step. In an instant era, where managers assume that market share and leadership are overnight imperatives, there is the engaging success story of Star Trek.

One of the most successful entertainment franchises of all time, Star Trek had failed to garner any kind of significant viewership initially. Gene Roddenberry, its creator, sought and found tiny passionate groups of fans. Leveraging these over time helped him create a worldwide phenomenon.

As Barcelona embarks on a journey to change footballing paradigms, it could pay to watch them closely.
henceforth. For in transforming the game of football, they just might trigger a few ideas, which will help one score in the extremely competitive corporate game as well.