Man, if I had a penny every time someone asked me that…
At Elevate, I had been working under a couple of different titles — first Chief Content Officer, then Chief Communications Officer. But something about those titles wasn’t quite right. I was certainly helping with content production, yes, and my position still involves drafting all communications with our constituencies, sponsors, and corporate partners, but the title didn’t encapsulate the entirety of what it was all for.
Enter the term “branding.” I had done plenty with talking about Elevate as a “brand” but we finally starting asking a lot of the more difficult questions: what do we want our brand to represent? How can we effectively present that identity? Where should this brand identity be reflected? I had my term — Chief Brand Officer. This was not an easy decision, either. As far as I know, no other larger esports organization has someone in the CBO position, and I think that is a major detriment to esports as a whole.
Ok, so what is branding, anyway?
I’ll start by sharing what I consider to be “branding,” and follow it up with some support from other sources. Branding is, simply put, a unified identity within which your business operates. It includes how you want your company to be perceived, your major operating principles, and your strategy for putting forth that identity. Entrepreneur magazine defines “branding” as “your promise to your customer,” and goes on to explain that a brand lays out what can be expected from your company, whether it’s what it provides in terms of products and services, or in its major philosophies for operating. Forbes describes it thusly: “Put simply, your ‘brand’ is what your prospect thinks of when he or she hears your brand name.”
This is not a minor concept, nor one to be taken lightly. In the esports world in particular, reputation is a major stake. If you follow esports, think about the various teams and organizations you’ve heard of. Do any of them have a good reputation? A bad one? Are they perceived as detrimental to players, or unprofessional in public spaces? Do their CEOs represent the professionalism they are expected to uphold? All of these are tiny pieces that make up overall branding.
It matters a great deal, and not just because of reputation. Branding is both a process and a product and is essential to any company that seeks to gain legitimacy, experience, and success.
Branding as a Process
If you hire someone to develop your brand and his first activity involves going out alone and drafting it, you’re not approaching branding properly. Branding requires full participation of all personnel in leadership positions in your company, and could even be benefited by participation of players, staff, and even fans. A proper approach to branding starts with leadership laying out expectations of the brand. (This is where I’d go into more detail, but I’m trying to sell a service here, folks!)
Branding as a Product
Ultimately, your result will be that your brand becomes your product. If you correctly execute your brand identity plan, you will find yourself closely matching your activities with your intended brand outcome. Slowly, fans and viewers will start to associate your company with that brand identity — and not because you are explicitly stating that brand image. A correctly executed strategy will yield brand identity without having to scream it out loud.
Finally…Why Does this MATTER?
Look, here’s the bottom line: If you already have an investor, and have absolutely no need for future investment, sponsorship, or partners, then you don’t need to worry about branding. Believe it or not, there are a couple of mid-tier organizations out there that operate in this way. Personally, I find it a missed opportunity for brand growth, but at the same time, I won’t cry when competitors miss these opportunities.
However…if you want to grow, compete, and win in a rapidly-expanding industry, and take part of the billions of dollars invested in the scene, then branding matters. Why? Most serious investors care about how carefully-crafted your business model is. After all, if they are going to put a million dollars into your idea, they’re going to expect at least a million dollars returned over time, preferably more. A strong business model is couched in a winning brand strategy, simple as that. If you cannot present your company and its operating principles in a concise and unified fashion, most, if not all, investors and sponsors will move on. For those already sponsored, tightening up your branding is a critical means to improve your standing and resource allocation from your sponsors. For the most part, these companies will want to maintain a flatline expense level with your organization, so in order to justify greater allocation, you must show a stronger brand presence, more professional business operations, and a strong strategy for growth and returns on investment.
It all starts with branding.