Less than a decade ago, the Kansas City Royals were collectively known as the worst team in baseball. What happened late Sunday night felt like suspended belief to everyone watching, unless you follow the way they’ve systematically built the bullpen to get to this very moment: the Royals knocked out five runs in the 12th inning against the New York Mets to win the World Series.
To a city with an inferiority complex, the whole orientation is now upside down. You go from being ignored, to the underdog, and now – The World Champion. Cue the parade, the big money deals, it’s an earned impression overload with the hashtag crowning all media feeds: #foreverroyal!! As a Kansas native, watching it makes my heart grow twice its size. Now drifting back into the work week, teams and brands begin to blur. I dwell on the inevitable question that Kansas City and its Royals must face: now a known success, how are we changed?
There’s a tried and true method in making your brand the underdog. The excitement is palpable as success grows – it gives your audience something to participate in and the momentum escalates. As a consumer, there’s no better feeling than “discovering” a brand that is under the radar. And as little-known or long-neglected companies make their way into the limelight, its original evangelists see a part of themselves in that story.
But while the underdog story is gripping, that narrative won’t sustain attention soon after reaching your goal. How will you act as the winner? What level of confidence can you hold and own?
Many remember Procter and Gamble’s new product hit parade in the early 2000’s. Or take Domino’s famous pizza turnaround. And after years of trailing the studio pack, Universal Pictures is having the best year ever. Although these brands played their underdog status to varying degrees, what all of these triumphs have four things in common: dynamic leadership, investments that were highly culturally relevant, focused marketing efforts, and real people as brand evangelists.
The Royals’ method wasn’t so different. Left fielder Raul Ibanez said, “the best player on the team is the team.” A brand’s strength is the sum of its parts. You must keep introducing your audience to your fundamentals. And that’s not just a winning orientation – that builds to an achievement, but not a brand.
What’s more, successful underdogs never give up. It’s important to add Apple to our list here. In an uphill battle, Apple built its identity on revolutionizing personal technology. And it has never gotten complacent in the winner’s seat; it continually strives to “change the way we do things.” As successes mount and prices rise or flaws emerge, the brand’s fundamentals are what harnesses the fan energy to keep them coming back.
For an unknown or a challenger brand, just being the underdog is never enough. People must be clear on who it is they’re rooting for, so they’re more willing to align with you in the peaks and valleys that inevitably lie ahead.
For this moment, I wish I was back home on Mastin Drive to hear the fireworks and the unfamiliar shouts for “Champions!?!” I hope to get back to Kauffman stadium next year, and that it feels familiar, only louder.