Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Branding

Branding is one of those hot topic concept words with a lot of cache in the paintball universe right now that everybody tosses into the general conversation eventually but I'm not seeing many, if any, signs that anybody has much of a clue. Sure there's lots of logos emblazoned on damn near everything and some of the industry seems to be stumbling around in the right general vicinity but real brands; durable & firmly impressed on the paintball public seem to have been achieved almost by accident where they exist at all. But while the broader concept is an interesting one that's not what I'm interested in today.
My interest in branding revolves around paintball as sport and more specifically the pro teams that represent our sport. Efforts at branding have occurred but much like the rest of the paintball universe nobody is hitting the bullseye and many aren't even shooting at the correct target. The team closest to the mark is Vicious. They have a clear, simple, unchanging identity and the bolder and more instantly recognizable it is the better. Other teams have standard colors but they typically aren't unique or particularly distinct. Most have some sort of team logo or design but again these mostly come into play only upon closer scrutiny--and most teams have a base design that matches their sponsors' current product offering. Which is okay, particularly if the sponsors principle goal is to sell more jerseys or pants, but it isn't doing the job for the teams. And until more teams take their "brand" seriously they will continue doing themselves a disservice.
The trend in paintball jersey design has been to create unique, complex, even artful designs that satisfy the customer, the players, and seem to provide a unique identity to the wearer--but they really don't. At least not to the average outside observer or spectator. And when those designs are changed year after year, logos notwithstanding, the teams are not creating an identity or a brand. (But unless you're a pro team or aspire to be one it probably doesn't matter.)
If--and it remains a substantial if--competitive paintball is going to rise to the level of recognized sport one of the things that will facilitate the process is a readily identifiable product. There are, at present, two tracks being pursued aimed at legitimizing our sport. The Millennium Model is focused on the institutions and organizations of sports federations--if you build it they will recognize it--while the PSP is focused on producing a viable product to sell. In the PSP Model there is immediate value in rethinking the branding of pro teams and in the longer course it will also better serve the interests of competitive paintball to simply look more like a sport.
Think for a minute about mainstream sports and their uniforms. Bold, simple, consistent, unchanging unique color schemes that share normative characteristics across a league or sport. In our culture you almost don't need to know anything at all about football to know when you see a kid wearing a black & silver jersey that it is A) a football jersey and B) an Oakland Raiders jersey. That my friends is a brand.
This year the PSP has changed jersey marking requirements. It's mostly a matter of larger numbers and hopper numbers. The purpose is to aid in the collection of data for statistics. It's time to expand that vision and look at the Big Picture. It's time to think about the brand. And it's past time for teams, pro teams in particular, to recognize the value and potential in creating a more universal brand than a sponsor's latest jersey design insert logo here. And just so the industry isn't left out include them in the process of creating the league brand with the result that partnership creates a new tier of products only the sponsor companies are authorized to make and retail.
Time to stop talking about branding and do something about it.

37 comments:

Missy Q said...

I think Dynasty do a far better job than Vicious. The Dynasty name will add value to product so it can sell for a higher margin, which is the basic purpose of a brand. Vicious acheive this also but to a lesser extent, as in their name does not add (as much) value to the product they endorse.

Dynasty Clinics are still the most sought-after, and those guys are able to make a living touring the world and providing this service. Vicious not so much (if at all)

Dynasty have put in the work, touring stores to represent JT/Angel/SP/PE, creating the Dragon mascott, making merchandise for their fans at events, even clap-sticks. That is branding in action. Vicious would need to be more extraverted, and in a positive (non-scowling) way, in order to replicate this.

Dynasty are 'the Boys in Blue' and their jersey has only changed because their sponsors have.

Anonymous said...

Which is exactly why TBD will switch from those ugly purple uniforms at the next nppl?

Baca Loco said...

Maybe in the inclusive world of tournament paintball--and maybe only because of the years of standing and success--but if you look at nothing but the identity I still think Vicious is far more instantly recognizable.
As fot your Boys in Blue, sure, them and a dozen others in fundamentally non-descript jerseys unless you're within 10 feet of them.
And my larger point is that branding needs to be bigger than the team and the current sponsor's products. That's old paintball thinking and it's too small.

Baca Loco said...

Anon
Something I can talk about here at VFTD but have no control over at all. But the way I'm looking at it the brand ought to reflect both teh league and the teams.

TJ said...

I think now is a better time than ever to change the regulations on jerseys / branding.

For example, 187 Crew?? Great team, but the name is horrible. It lacks professionalism right from the start. They should return to the way the NXL had it (I think, anyhow). A city and a relevant name for each team. Most of the teams have it that way anyhow, right?

Missy Q said...

I guess I don't see how the Vicious example differs. Perception perhaps?
And it's not really a paintball inclusive thing, although I think we're on 2 different topics. If Eclipse sell a Dynasty LTD Edition EGO - more people will buy that that the Vicious edition EGO. Both will sell, but Dynasty will sell more and could command a higher price, because they have the stronger brand. If that brand is stronger because they are winners, that's just life. The winningest teams always have the stronger brands.
If you're talking about the Jerseys, I would call that 'Image' rather than 'brand'. The brand has to go far deeper than the jersey.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have the worst jersey I've ever seen (and I've seen some shocking ones), and they also lose pretty much all the time, yet are still the largest brand in the game, and one of the richest sports teams in the world.

Bruce Goldinger said...

A Brand is so important for many reasons. If is said a Brand is the emotional and psychological relationship you have with your customers. Strong brands elicit thoughts, emotions, and sometimes physiological responses from customers. It is often confused as only a logo, a color scheme, etc but it is so much more.

Mark said...

Having good taste surely helps in developing an easily recognizable brand, and I'm thoroughly convinced that 75% of paintball players are hopelessly devoid of any semblance of good taste whatsoever.
Seeing the HB webcast leads me to believe that that percentage is far higher in the NPPL, but they are somewhat of a captive audience with the Raza, Valken, PBK etc. apparel available to them.
I also agree that the Vicious brand is well done.

Reiner Schafer said...

Paintball players seem to be much more interested in style rather than branding. The visual portion of branding should be based on simplicity. Paintball players seem to want exactly the opposite. But paintball players have always seemed to worry much more about the "culture" of paintball, rather than looking at it as a sport that all people can take part in, not just those that are willing to embrace the "paintball culture".

Anonymous said...

Teenagers don't typically have 'good taste'. Taste is developed with age. The move towards tacky, tastelessly colorful liveries is, in my mind, symbolic of the evident general industry swing towards the younger demographic.

Anonymous said...

I know you can't comment on this directly, but I will say that Dye probably has had the most professional looking jerseys/products over the past few years with a few exceptions.

I think the main problem is the industry changes every year and the industry seems to have a propensity to create elaborate jersey designs. The industry will have to change its practices if this idea of branding is going to work

really cool idea though

abc said...

I don't agree. I think the traditional sports are "branded" with their relatively plain jerseys is out of tradition. Thirty years ago that was how it was done, and that is how it is still being done because they have that tradition. I'm guessing that if they had digital sublimation printing technology 50 years ago they would have some pretty ornate designs. That they have the technology now and are not making those ornate changes does not mean they don't want to for purely "branding" reasons but that an integral part of their brand is also the tradition of their brand. And the tradition of their brand necessitated functionally plane jerseys.

Whatever the case may be, all you have to do is look at Nascar for the counter factual. The cars are bright, and covered in all sorts of logos and patterns.

See here:
http://crazy-frankenstein.com/free-wallpapers-files/sport-wallpapers/nascar-wallpapers/race-accidents-nascar-sport-wallpapers-1024x768.jpg

None of those cars looks like the other except there is a number on the side, but even the number varies in regard to its typeface color, and outline color.

Those cars are loud, flashy, and cool because the fans like them and the drivers like them that way.

The economic reality is that the paintball players like their jerseys loud, flashy, and cool.

I'd also go so far to say that if the Raiders started making jerseys with "awesome" gangster tattoo style artwork integrated into them their jerseys sales would increase 1000%.

So what you attribute to strategy for a brand and a sport (in the case of traditional jerseys in the big sports leagues), I attribute to a lack of vision and contemporary awareness.

abc said...

Before you say that I missed your point, I realize you're saying the strategy has to be coherent and focused etc. and not necessarily "plain". (at least I think that's what you're saying)

But the issue often comes down to relatively simple and plain and frequently used colors.

To that, I'd say look at Burton or Volcom as brands (or many of the extreme sport brands). They have a different logo, color, theme on every other shirt, let alone from season after season. (yes, they also have standard logos)

I think part of a branded paintball team could easily be changing it up and going with funky colors on a regular basis.

It's just not "traditional".

Pete said...

Re: ABC
I do believe you missed the point. I believe Baca is observing that the Leagues must/should take action to encourage/require more uniform apparel. Your examples of outlandishly colored apparel is for casual wear or for non-team sports. For team sports it is not simply tradition that is responsible for the current uniforms, the league rules require certain criteria to be met. These criteria server to make each time distinct for the viewers and aid in identification of individual players. This is not a new idea in paintball and it's distressing that we have people in charge of leagues and teams that are interested in getting a greater audience and are spending money towards that end, including TV deals, but are unwilling to adopt standards that will ultimately ease such growth.

Neal said...

Baca nail on the head. As for those missing the point, let me say that taste can't be argued but part of legitimacy is refining an image and brand to it's essence and making it bold, recognizable, and distinct. Paintball gear came from motocross (post Realtree) and after 15 plus years it still could be swapped at your local supercross event without a hiccup. We need to embrace the look of a speedball player while improving the public appeal and logistic functionality in a sporting sense. Which the PSP finally made some big strides in but must continue to push it.

Nick Brockdorff said...

Very interesting topic!

Branding has largely been overlooked in professional paintball, with good reason in the past: There weren't really a fan base to think about.

That is however changing, not least because webcasts and digital press coverage is at an all time high, and it is about time Pro teams think about this topic, as it will sustain them through bad times, and earn them money.

I have a LOT to say on this topic, but I'll try to limit myself, to not bore everyone to death (go ahead Missy, this is your lay up ;))

First, Baca is right, very very few paintball teams are recognisable, when you get further away than 100 feet, especially as players are wearing head protection, making individual recognisability hard.

And yes, I agree Vicious is, by far, the team that has the best grasp on their IMAGE.... in a sea of sublimated jerseys, that all look the same from a distance, the simplicity stands out, as does the logo, albeit the logo having zero connection with the team name.

However, as the annoying englishman said, branding is more than just looks, so really, no paintball team has gotten it all right, yet.

Dynasty is actually a great example.... They have never really been recognisable, except for their results, which obviously overshadow any need for branding, and always will.

When you win everything for years and years, the need for branding is small..... but if "the boys in blue" did not have the pedigree they have, they would just have been "some random dudes in blue".... and now, when results are not what they used to be, their lack of attention to the brand, can bite them in the ass.

A few years back, Dynasty started doing good work on their brand, they were active in their PBN forum, they were the first to really start using social media to build the brand, doing team specific custom products (guns), Dynasty clinics were all the rage, world wide, etc..... but it seems they forgot about maintaining those activities, and these days, they are in danger of their brand becoming a dinosaur for lack of attention.

Vicious, on the other hand, have a very recognisable image, but they are far from active enough, when it comes to building the brand outside the uniform and a team gun.

I honestly don't see any pro team, possibly with the exception of french team Marseille Icon, that is going about building a brand the right way.

Missy Q said...

Nick, you could have saved yourself all that typing by just saying "Missy is right", or "I agree with Missy"
Try it. It only hurts a little the first time, after that you will grow to love it.

Nick Brockdorff said...

You have a funny way of reading disagreement as meaning the complete opposite - getting too comfortable as your feminine alter ego? ;)

Anonymous said...

I agree with TJ on 187 Crew. It is a name they picked when they were much younger, and it has stuck. I'm not sure a lot of the other team names are much better.

It seems like since Major League Soccer started up, team names have gone from being objects to concepts. Football has teams like the Raiders, Bears, Seahawks -- all objects. Soccer has teams like Revolution, Dynamo, United -- more concepts, or in many cases emulating other teams names but without the history. In PB, you get Vicious, Infamous, Damage, etc.

It seems a lot easier to brand a Bear than to brand a Heat.

Missy Q said...

You're right of course. Now that I've re-read your post, I can see that you're totally disagreeing with me on everything. I've no idea what I was thinking before. I've just been feeling so hormonal lately...

Anonymous said...

187 Crew should just change their name to "Crew" and be done with it.

Anonymous said...

Dynasty still do tons of clinics all over the World. The guy above that said they weren't maintaining it anymore really doesn't know what he's talking about.

Missy Q said...

OK, so when I say 'Boys in Blue' does anyone immediately think of another team, other than Dynasty?

No?

Is that not branding?
You weren't given a team name, a logo, even a country in the world, but you still thought 'Dynasty', without thinking about any other team.

Now if we're saying that the league should mandate jerseys, what they are allowed to have on them, etc, and should link team jerseys to the league itself, I think that's a good move, although there would obviously be kick-back from the teams if they were told they had to buy more gear in order to compete in the PSP. Not that this is a reason not to do it.

One thing I've always thought is that the jersey manufacturer is always too prominent on the jersey. Who cares who made the jersey unless they are the primary sponsor of the team? Tampa wear Dye and that makes sense, as they are head to toe Dye, incl. guns. But if their main money sponsor was someone else, it wouldn't. If a team is sponsored by Eclipse for guns, and wear a custom jersey made by XYZ, why should XYZ have a giant logo on the jersey? Manchester United FC Jerseys may be made at a factory in India somewhere, but they don't have to have a giant 'Patel Fashion Emporiums' logo on their shit.

Reiner Schafer said...

"OK, so when I say 'Boys in Blue' does anyone immediately think of another team, other than Dynasty?"

The Toronto Maple Leafs came into my mind. Just saying.

My point being that teams should be looking at the world through a wider lens.

I don't think I've ever watched a complete NFL game in my entire life. But I recognize a Raiders jersey in an instant and could probably recognize the jersey/logo from just about every other NFL team. Admittedly, everyone, whether a football fan or not gets exposed to these brands on a semi-regular basis, which is not the case for paintball. But, if the branding/logos/colours were complex, I probably wouldn't recognize them and match them to a team.

Selling branded clothes and gear is big business in sports. People buy branded clothes for instance because they want others to recognize what they are wearing. So logos and colours need to be relatively simple so they are easy for people to identify, even people who are not intimately aware of the team the branding is for.

Missy Q said...

Fair Point Reiner. But the Leafs? Really? Springing into your mind might be the most useful thing they've done all season.

Nick Brockdorff said...

This debate is all over the place, and I think it needs to be dialed in a bit more, before we can have a sensible debate on the subject of branding.

Branding is how to best promote a brand, so that it gains popularity.

So, starting to talk about changing the brand is far outside the scope of that debate.... and as such it is totally besides the point to talk about 187 Crew changing their name.... 187 Crew IS the brand - now how do they brand it better?

Also, tournament results should not play part in a debate on branding, because results make the branding irrelevant.

Case in point:

Dynasty could have been called Sheep Shaggers, changed uniform colours/design every year, and never done a single clinic or custom gun... and they would still be more or less as recognisable as they are today - because of their stellar results.

- Yes, their brand might have a slightly lower popularity... but my point is, their results make it hard to draw a line between popularity based on skill and popularity based on branding.

Branding is only really interesting, if you are wanting to add what you have already, irrespective of where you are on the totem pole right now.

So, to me, this debate should be about how pro paintballs teams could improve on their brand recognition and popularity - not dragging examples into it that have little relevance to the subject of branding.

Anonymous said...

Interesting...when I read "Sheep Shaggers", the first thing that popped in my mind was Toronto Maple Leafs.

Anonymous said...

Understatement of the year nomination: Nick Brockdwarf

Context - "Dynasty could have been called Sheep Shaggers, changed uniform colours/design every year, and never done a single clinic or custom gun..."

Understatement opf the year entry - "...their brand might have a slightly lower popularity..."

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

lol @ above

Anonymous said...

@Nick, I don't think that changing a name is outside the scope of the conversation. If you start off with a bad name, there is only so much branding you can do to make it better. 187, while a bunch of great guys, have a lousy team name. It is unprofessional and immature. From the prespective of paintball as a sport, do we really want murder to be the theme of one of the professional teams? Especially since it is a sport that the unfamiliar see as people running around with guns. If anything, PSP should have forced a name change on them when they went pro.

The Washington Wizards are no longer the Bullets, the Houston Astros are no longer the Colt .45s, so it is not an unprecedented type of thing to do.

From a branding perspective, starting from something new may be the best way to go.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a huge fan of the 187 crew name, it's actually "upTon 187 cRew"

Nick Brockdorff said...

Awwww - purposely misspelling the Sirname :D - NOW I understand what kind of person I am debating......... so - yo Mamma :D

Anonymous said...

@Nick, that was a different anonymous, but the comment is partially correct. I have seen their name capitalized in different ways as they've come up the ranks, but on their website/FB they are currently using "Upton 187 cRew" (although on their warm-ups, it looks like it is "upTon 187 cReW"). http://www.upton187crew.com/

Karen says: said...

I can't speak for other teams but can for Vicious.

Vicious has always tried to keep our jersey simple. I like the fact that when Vicious is playing, you know who is on the field. We still kept the cross on the back of the jersey under the new gigantic number that we were forced to put on the jersey.

Vicious has sold out every clinic we have held. We have been asked to clinics over and over. Our problem is that our team is a bunch of college kids that don't make a living off of paintball. They can't miss that much school. Plus when we put on a clinic we take the whole team. We aways have done this and it would be hard to only take a few players.

As far as branding..we have worked very hard at this and we have a great name and logo for our team. Vicious sells our own guns and we sell out every year. We also win the tshirt wars at events. (:

It does amaze me when people talk about our team like they have inside knowledge. Unless you have access to my books, you have no idea how many Vicious products we sell all over the world. We have been told by many respected people in paintball that we are one of the best marketing teams in the sport. We work harder at it than you think.

We just try to have fun playing paintball and representing ourselves in a positive image to help grow this sport.

Nick Brockdorff said...

Interesting to hear some inside information Vicious.... but I am left with a few questions:

1. How would you define the Vicious brand?

2. What makes it unique (if anything) and what are the unique selling points?

3. How do you see the brand expanding in the future?

Anonymous said...

I gotta say, I think XSV does one of the best jobs at promoting their sponsors, fans and brand.

Karen said...

It is hard to determine what is branding in paintball.

The Vicious brand is hard to describe. Vicious is a great name for a paintball team. The cross symbol is popular world wide. We don't know why.

Vicious had their own gun way back in D2. The guns have sold out for 5 years. People like the Vicious name on the gun and we do awesome color combos and different milling.

Vicious makes everything from flip flops to shorts to stickers to whatever our fans tell us they want to buy.

Vicious is also the only pro team that has their own series. The Vicious Series has been considered for years to be a high quality Midwest PSP Feeder Series. It is reffed by the pro team, and has it's own personazlied field. Teams travel far distances to play in what they consider to be a high quality tournament.

We are expanding our series by also including Chicago and the St. Louis area as tournament destinations this year.

Our fans are a huge part of promoting our brands. We have done customized shirts with CP, Eclipse, Empire and Ninja. We brand ourselves with our sponsors. We give these shirts out to our fans at PSP signings.

If you follow our organization, we have a Vicious OT Team that we pay for to play Chicago every year. These are just random people from our PbNation OT. Our pro PbNation OT Forum is nearing 500,000 posts. We stay connected with our fan base, and understand the importance of making sure our fans know that they matter to our organization. These fans become part of our marketing group.

Planet Eclipse has helped us out since Day 1 on the branding of our Vicious Team. Their ETV episodes that they have produced following us from the beginning to present day is a big reason why the popularity of the team and its products have grow to a worldwide market.

You have to remember that Vicious is a very young team. Many of todays pros were playing pro before our kids even started playing paintball. For a team that has only existed for 6 years, and only been pro for two full years, we have done a good job of getting our brand in the marketplace.

Could we do better? You bet. We'll keep trying.