Behind The Steel Curtain: A Brand With Meaning

The pittsburgh steelers excite loyalty like no other
The Steelers have avid fans

By Tom Dougherty

Getting your brand meaning to reflect your audience

A recent report from Associated Press reported this startling news: Women adore the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers brand. A survey conducted by Scarborough Sports Marketing in each NFL city found that 35 percent of women living in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area describe themselves as loyal football fans – tops in the league. Now, of course, if you’ve ever watched an NFL broadcast, the last thing you’d think is that more than third of the women in any team’s hometown would be fans.

In fact, you’d think all their fans are beer drinking, cheese-in-the-crust-eating, truck-driving big guys who do the occasional investing. Of course, targeting your marketing to the majority of the audience is the right thing to do, even if you believe that majority is made up of men who eat Oreo pizzas. I’m not suggesting advertisers start selling perfume during NFL telecasts or anything. However, in examining the response to the recent research, there was something that leapt out:

A Strong Insight. Brand With meaning.

Consider what Monique R. Reed of Pittsburgh wrote to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the question of why women in Pittsburgh like the Pittsburgh Steelers: “Pittsburgh has the most female fans because the team represents who we are. We girls grew up with grandfathers who worked in the steel mills, dads and uncles who worked for the Courier and The Pittsburgh Press. We’re not impressed with the high-maintenance teams. We’re used to blue-collar, hard-working men in our lives and the Steelers bring that to us. Sorry, but pretty-boy QBs and half-hearted defenses that are afraid to get down and dirty have no place here.” That is a terrific description of a brand. The key phrase is Monique’s quote was, “Pittsburgh has the most female fans because the team represents who we are.”

Rules for Strong Brands

The best brands follow that mantra. They are what their customers see themselves as being when they use that brand. When you buy a Volvo, you are primarily the driver who is concerned about safety. When your kids want to eat at McDonald’s, it’s because they see themselves as fun loving. (It’s no accident that teenagers, the most concerned of all of us with self-image, are also the most brand-conscious.) We often purchase brands without consciously knowing exactly why. For example, why do some of us buy a certain brand of laundry detergent over others? Have we actually conducted tests to find out which is better?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a mainstay of the NFL for many years
The NFL is undergoing change

No, because there is something meaningful about our brands of choice that allows us to see ourselves as we are or aspire to be. To the fan rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they are hard working, no-nonsense men – and women- who aren’t afraid to mix it up. The value of a powerful brand is that customers remain loyal and are willing to pay a higher price to be a part of that brand, even if the competition’s quality of products are equal.

Think about this: The three teams with the largest nationwide following are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. All three have fan clubs stationed all across the nation, and I guarantee you that you can go most anywhere in the U.S. and eventually find a Steeler or Packer or Cowboy bumper sticker on a fan’s vehicle. (Not to mention that the waiting list for season tickets for each team rarely even moves.) (Read how to find important product and brand differences here)

The Pittsburgh Steelers Pay Off

Those fans of teams with strong brands remain loyal no matter where they live, no matter well the team is doing and will pay more to be part of them. (Some NFL marketers understand that. A recent NFL Ticket TV spot features a fan buying the satellite TV service so he can watch…the Steelers. Notice he didn’t pick, for example, the Cardinals.) Meanwhile, the most successful team on the field recently has been the New England Patriots, winner of three of the last six Super Bowls.

Nevertheless, fans are not loyal or willing to pay more to see themselves in the Patriot brand because it doesn’t say something about who they are as fans. Even in Boston, the Red Sox and the Celtics are more popular than the Patriots because their brands have more meaning and brand equity to the Boston public. Marketers should take a page from the Steelers playbook. When a “customer” can articulate as clearly as Monique Reed can on how they see themselves as Steelers fans, that’s the kind of branding success to emulate.

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