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Sport branding: it's not all about the logo

22 October 2013 Jim Harrison,

As a life long Evertonian I have watched the recent attempt to modernise our club crest with a mixture of morbid fascination and gallows humour. It’s a bit like watching a re-run of Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em – you know the central character means well, you know he only has the best interests at heart but you also know he’ll blindly arrive in situations he cannot control and through a mixture of clumsiness and dim-wittedness it’ll all end in tears. Again.

But in the case of ‘Crestgate’, was it really cruel fate and bungling management or just a very basic and misguided understanding of brand? Forget the aesthetics (please!) the real issue is that the club tried to adjust the most visible (and emotive) part of its identity – the ‘how’ – without clearly defining the ‘what’ and ‘why’ first.

Over a period of almost twenty years I’ve heard myself – often through gritted teeth and painful smile – utter the phrase I believe is central to our understanding of modern branding: “it’s not about the logo”. That’s not to say at some stage a reappraisal of a logo won’t be an important step, it’s just that you can’t do that until you are clear what your brand stands for, what it believes and why, how it behaves, how it actually feels.

Never is this truer than in sports branding, where fans’ own identities are affirmed, traditions held in lofty esteem and passions run high. Not a place for the faint-hearted brand creative you might think, but actually you’d be missing the point.

At the heart of every great brand is truth. Not some fabricated marketing story, substance-free and designed purely to manipulate its audience. Real truth. A truth you can throw rocks at, scratch deep below its surface, shake violently with both hands and it still remains intact. Sport, with its unique blend of raw emotion and deep, rich history, has these truths in spades. The real skill is finding one that is unique and ownable. One that fans don’t just believe but believe it defines them.

And here lies the biggest irony: Everton, like most clubs and sporting institutions, make the simple mistake of trying to sell themselves to fans when actually the most effective route to them is to let them find you. Define the truth that makes you different. Make it compelling and attractive. Communicate it clearly and uniquely. Make every touch point an experience that supports it. Every fan an advocate.

Then, and only then, should you tinker with your crest.

By Steve Owen, Creative Director.

Header image courtesy of Flickr user 'mcneillr'

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