Wanting to win the European cup describes a small mentality. The UEFA tournament is of course the silly season for the real thing – the World Cup in two years. Sour grapes aside, it is last chance to jump the Team Iceland bandwagon before it comes to a halt – let’s see how we can look at the Icelandic football team in terms of brands and branding. This year’s fan favorite team has some things in common with successful brands.
„When you are only No. 2, you try harder. Or else“
It’s often harder to be the best, you are on top and the only way from there is down. Being the underdog means that you have everything to win, competing against Iceland has meant that you are at best defeating… Iceland. Avis recognized that it was a strength by being number 2 and used it as a part of their positioning. It’s often easier to compete when you can gain a position rather than defending it.
A great brand does not have customers – it has fans. A sports team has fans but they are quick to turn against their teams if they disappoint. The Icelandic team makes the effort to engage with their fans. Before every match, the coach meets with the fan club to go over the starting 11 (before it’s official) and how the team will approach the game. After each match, the players give applause to the fans and cheers with them. By doing that, the team recognizes the importance of their fans.
A brand can choose its identity and it can even assume a country of origin or decide to be without one. The country of origin part is difficult when a national sports team is the brand in question. Brands can often refer to their heritage. For the Icelandic team, there is of course no direct brand heritage in relations to football. For a brand without a heritage, there is always the option of finding indirect connections for a brand heritage. The Icelandic team gets associated with their presumed Viking warrior heritage. That association is perfect for a contact sport; fearless warriors that keep on fighting against all odds; it is OK to win the battle but the real champions and best warriors are chosen by Odin to die in battle and ascent to Valhalla to fight among legends. The team appeared to be a band of berserker brothers fighting for honor, tattooed, bearded and long hair.
Good results require years and decades of hard work
This point is not branding specific but important for any brand. Being successful requires hard work. Forget the legend of warm and cozy indoor soccer halls with artificial grass that are supposed to be integral for the development of Icelandic football players. Most players in the team could train on 3rd class artificial grass once a week during the winter. The only indoor facilities they could train on were meant for handball or horses. They would run outside in rain, frost and (always) against the wind. They would develop their sliding tackles skills on gravel fields made from crushed lava. Success does not come easy and sometimes success is the result of years of plucking sand and small pebbles from a bleeding ulcer after a great tackle.