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Lessons for brands in how Southgate and Co changed perceptions

Monday 16th July

So that’s it, it’s over. Despite The Lightning Seeds playing exactly 103 times in our office and copious amounts of beer being thrown in the air in celebration across the country over the past four weeks, the World Cup is not coming home.

Congratulations to France, deserved winners. In England, however, it’s not the story of how Pogba finally became good or even Mbappe, the wonder kid that’s dominating the headlines or fan conversations, but now there is finally a national team and manager whom they can be proud of and achieved more than anybody imagined.

It’s now hard to remember the level of disinterest and lack of belief in the national team before the tournament started, or the disdain upon the appointment of Gareth ‘You’re The One’ Southgate back in November 2016. So how did England manage to go from a group of no hopers to national treasures in just a few short weeks?

Of course, the relative success of reaching the semi-final helped massively, but bar a comfortable 2-0 in the Quarter Finals against Sweden (in which Pickford was still required to make a few excellent saves) and a 6-1 victory against Panama, it was a relatively unconvincing journey to the last four. A huge 75% of England’s goals came from set-plays, and they had the 2nd lowest average amount of shots on target in open play per 90mins in the whole tournament.

So if it wasn’t the scintillating attacking football or controlling manner of victories that brought England fans together believing in the team again in an unprecedented manner, then how did they do it?

I believe a key contributor was how Southgate and his players behaved, conducted themselves and interacted with the media, and as such think there are 4 key learnings any brand with aims of improving brand perception can take from England’s 2018 World Cup campaign:

1. Examine the reality

Southgate continually emphasised the team’s youth and inexperience, stating that the tournament offered them a chance to develop and gain important learnings around tournament football. Underplaying the chances of success ensured public expectations remained low and as such small victories like last minute winners in the opening game and winning by a large margin, no matter the opposition, all seem like massive, unexpected victories.

The lesson for brands here is that in order to be able to change perceptions, you must first understand the reality of where your brand sits within the category, focusing on aspects such as brand tracking, market share and competitor spend to begin to get an initial understanding of why consumers may have a certain opinion about your brand and set realistic expectations about how and to what extent perceptions can initially be changed.


2. Understand your customers/fans

Southgate was very honest about the fact that fans (including himself) had been hurt by unrealistic expectations in the past and was thus upfront about this England squad and it’s limitations since qualifying for the World Cup.

Taking a leaf out of Southgate’s book, it’s important for brands to put themselves in the consumer’s shoes. It’s not enough to simply understand what your audience thinks, but why they do. In doing so you can really get to the heart of issues (i.e. does the advertising only appeal to a certain section/region of the audience?)

Social listening tools can be a really useful way of understanding conversations around your brand and allow you to act upon that feedback.


3.Get your people/players on board

There was an emphasis on England players taking responsibility for themselves during the World Cup, encouraging maturity. This was in direct contrast to the stricter regimes imposed by previous managers, in which players have complained of boredom.

In turn players have responded very well to the manager and his methods. Since their exit Marcus Rashford, England forward, thanked Southgate on behalf of the nation (via Instagram) for bringing back the belief and love of football.

Changes in procedures or messaging around shifting brand perception need to start with those working for and with the brand. It is thus crucial to effectively explain to your entire workforce the reason why things need to be done or communicated differently. The changes will only take place if employees and partners adopt them as their own.


4. Make a big splash

Perceptions of the England team and fans’ belief in their ability to win the World Cup reached peak levels after dumping Colombia out of the tournament via penalties. England’s first ever World Cup penalty shoot-out win, although obviously unplanned, was the statement the fans needed to believe they were potential contenders and were helped by the fact that the shootout was watched by over 24 million people.

For brands needing to change perceptions, small, gradual changes may not have a significant effect. Once you’ve built learnings around your brand’s positioning and come to subsequent decisions about how you can change perceptions based on these, it can pay benefit to be bold in the way you deliver these changes. It is incredibly powerful to loudly state what your brand stands for, especially if it is different to what has been perceived, and can ensure you keep to new promises.

Article Written by

Sean Hearson

Account Executive, Total Media

Sean is an Account Executive here at Total Media. In addition to new media and advertising innovations, he’s also a passionate about cooking and football with aspirations to host his own TV show which combines the two: Come Dine With Messi

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