Opinion: A time of change to brand strategy?

22 Aug 2017

By: Sport Industry Group

For the past decade Brandwave founder and head of strategic, Daniel Macaulay has consulted on brand strategy for the likes of adidas, BMW, and The North Face. As Brandwave celebrates its 10th anniversary, Daniel looks at some of the key brand strategy changes taking place within the sports industry...

I started my first brand-side sports industry role as European marketing director some 15 years ago. To those entering the industry now, from a brand strategy perspective, I think they must have looked like vastly simpler times. In truth, they were…

There are three key reasons for this. Firstly, it was very difficult to tell whether or not a brand strategy was really working. If sales were on the increase, it was generally taken that the strategy was responsible. But real transparency on the actual effectiveness of any given channel, in terms of return on investment, was virtually non-existent.

Today, the reverse is true. Most marketing directors are swamped with more raw data than they know what to do with. The click-through, reach, and conversion rate is infinitely measureable and quantifiable to the penny. They are quite literally blinded by the science and maths.

The second reason behind why things are more complicated today is the vast number of channels available these days, many of which are evolving at the speed of light. No matter how diligent they are, the average marketing director is increasingly left feeling permanently uneducated, under-skilled and underqualified. A digital jack of all trades and master of none.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the ‘brand’ used to be a relatively simple thing – the messaging far more one-dimensional and the target market easily defined. This has changed in the world of sports marketing, arguably more in the past 10 years than in the past 100. In my view, the key reasons for this are:

1. The dawn of the poly-athlete

When I was a kid, you did your sport and that was your thing. There were footballers and there were surfers. There were climbers and there were runners. People thought about and did their sports in silos and brands did their marketing to match. In the case of the multi-sport brand as it was, it was all about ‘tailoring to the target market’; from messaging to creative, pretty much every element of the marketing mix would look and feel completely different from one sport to the next. Take the logo away and put them all beside each other and they may as well be different brands altogether.

Health and fitness has never been more on-trend than it is now and new sports have never been more accessible. People use their chosen brand as an identifier. They no longer want to be defined by one sport and as they try out new sports, they want to take their favourite brands with them. This has forced many of the leading multi-sport brands to become more generalist and centralise their brand strategy. “One brand, one identity, one message” has become the default mantra of many of the leading brands. It’s a broad-brush approach but one that is proving very effective.

2. The blurring of the lines

With the dawning of the poly-athlete has come a host of new market opportunities for those brands who have traditionally operated within tighter parameters. The outdoor brands are moving into the gym and the gym brands are moving outdoors. The bike brands are moving into running and the running brands are moving into all other categories. While this has reaped rewards for some brands who have taken a considered approach, many have not stopped to ask the question ‘just because we can do something, does that mean we should?’ The end result for those in search of a quick buck has been liquidity issues from spreading themselves too thin, loss of core market respect and many issues surrounding red thread and a ‘right to be there’.

3. The mainstream awakening

It took a little while for more mainstream brands to catch-on to the exponential growth of the sports industry, but now it has their full attention. From M&S to H&M, every major high-street brand now has a fit-wear and/or outdoor offering. This means that the market has recently become infinitely more crowded and competitive. From a brand strategy perspective, it has forced many of the core brands to look at what they have that the newcomers don’t. In many cases, this boils down to heritage and authenticity. This has been reflected in many brand comms from content to advertising. Cheap and convenient has its place, but there is still a large market for something real.


Brand strategy in our industry is always changing and evolving, but it tends to do so in little sprints, rather than at an even pace. This change is often reactive rather than proactive in nature and comes as a result of changes from both external factors and changes within the target market. Those brands who will win in the future are the ones with their eyes open. They’re the ones who instinctively identify and embrace change. After all, every change brings opportunity.

To view the Brandwave 10-year anniversary movie, click here: http://brandwavemarketing.com/10-years/