Whether you're a football fan or not, you’ll be aware of the fairytale story of Leicester City FC this year. They went from 5000-1 no hopers to Premier League Champions. They defied the odds and disparity in club wealth, using the momentum of support and belief from the Leicester fans and community – and of a horde of neutrals who embraced them – to hold off the competition and take the title.
So, what does this have to do with digital marketing? Well, the marketing world is a community of strategists and innovative thinkers looking to find the best way to grow and build their businesses. The best digital marketing strategies are integrated, utilising an array of tools, resources, platforms and channels in unison. It’s this synchronicity and collaboration that is key to successful marketing, and these are elements that helped Leicester City win the Premier League.
We look at the key reasons for Leicester’s shock victory and how they can be applied to digital marketing strategies for SMEs:
It was the collaboration of the players, manager and staff that made the Leicester team such a successful unit. They didn’t have the embarrassment of riches and star quality in their squad, which the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United had at their disposal, but money, greed and ego can breed bad apples and disunity. Leicester realised and demonstrated what can be achieved when everyone is pulling together in the right direction, integrating and striving towards one overall goal – not individual agendas.
Trust and team spirit
In Steven Covey’s business theory book, The Speed of Trust, Covey famously says: “Nothing is as fast as the speed of trust.” He uses the example of a motor racing pit crew to highlight what can be achieved with collaboration and trust in each member of the team. He says: “Because of implicit trust, a Formula One pit crew can do in seconds what it would take most people hours to do.”
This is exactly what happened with Leicester last year. There was implicit trust between the players. They had minimum injuries during the season, so everyone knew their role and they trusted that each squad member would work with the same team ethic, efficiency and hard graft. Captain Wes Morgan told a club interviewer that the players would die for each other. He said:
“There’s such a togetherness in the team. The boys, we support each other, back each other and we’d die for each other on the pitch. I think that’s why we’re in the position we are and we’re champions of the Premier League.”
Senior support and freedom of expression
It was widely reported that when manager Claudio Ranieri arrived at the start of the season – to a fair few raised eyebrows after the controversial sacking of Nigel Pearson – he quickly agreed to give his players a large amount of freedom to “play it their way”, after they won 7 of their final 9 games in the 2014-15 season to avoid relegation. This exert from the Evening Standard’s article about Ranieri’s first meeting with the Leicester players says it all about trust and support at management level:
“The players explained that they had a rhythm and method of working which facilitated their great escape last season and that Pearson’s decision to give them more freedom had reaped dividends. They asked, politely but candidly, for the new manager to take a back seat. Ranieri listened to their argument in full and, perhaps surprisingly, agreed to do it their way.”
No wonder they built up so much belief and momentum. This led to them earning the nickname “Fearless Foxes”, whilst #Fearless and #WeAreFearless hashtags were attributed to the club’s rise and rise. Ranieri continuously took the pressure off his players by playing down their chances in interviews, simply echoing the feeling that the team was just enjoying the ride and enjoying their football. In a business sense, this is the kind of environment that many companies would be proud to boast.
Maximising potential and resources
Leicester began the season with no real superstar players, but by the end of the season they were celebrating beating teams bursting with world class talent. Beyond the aforementioned team ethic and togetherness, a large reason for their success was pinpointing the importance of their emerging key players (Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kanté) and building the team’s tactics around their strengths.
“Play to your strengths” is a bit of a cliché, but Leicester took this simple adage and let it bloom into an unbreakable mantra. They found a simplistic way of playing – going against the grain of the game’s obsession with possession – that all the other teams in the league struggled to work out how to deal with. Leicester flooded their own penalty box with a no-nonsense and towering defenders and protected them with the tough-tackling Kante, whose key role was to break up play and feed the skill of Mahrez and the electric speed of Vardy. It was quick, efficient and direct count-attacking football and it was devastating.
SMEs and emerging business start-ups take note. Find your key strengths and unique selling points and make sure everything and everyone works towards supporting and promoting these assets.
There has been a growing trend for storytelling marketing, highlighting the ethos and the people behind the brand. This Leicester City fairytale story echoes our love of an inspirational story, and there were plenty of subplots that accompanied their rise to the top.
To grow your business and build traction and momentum, this kind of storytelling is crucial and has been done to great success by start-ups and small businesses, particularly in the food and drinks industry. With Leicester, what started with a rags-to-riches story of Jamie Vardy (coming from Non-League club Fleetwood Town to become a record-breaking Premier League striker) – playing for England in Euro 2016 and set to have a movie made about him – grew into the great underdog story about the team, which the media ran and ran with until the unthinkable dream became reality.
Be sure to tell your story and let your audience see your personality. This is a surefire way to cut through the belligerent big-brand advertising and marketing.
Leicester City began the season as relegation-fodder, but by the end of the season they were showered in medals and awards, both for the team’s success and individual achievements. But it was not individuality that earned them their rewards, it was the combination of those the key tools of collaboration, trust, efficiency and support. Elements that the marketing world would call brand values. Keys to success that SMEs should look to embrace.