Alter Endeavors Builds a Brand Identity for the Washington Football Team

By Aubrey Berkowitz
August 10, 2020

I’ll just lead with this. Sports are fun. Talking about sports is fun. Talking about marketing is fun too. But there are areas in society where they overlap and need to be taken seriously. So while we can joke about the fact that the last time the Washington Professional Football Team won the Super Bowl, Bill Clinton was only a governor — sports teams do have a deeper meaning than just wins and losses. These teams represent communities and create a sense of belonging for many. What happens over the history of these franchises impacts people.  

Here at Alter Endeavors, we know that a successful digital marketing strategy starts with a strong brand foundation. Simply put, online users are more likely to purchase from brands that they feel connected to. As a result, we’ve created Brand Strategy Guides for our clients to use as a roadmap for all aspects of their digital marketing. Included in this guide is an in-depth evaluation of their “brand identity.” Brand Identity encompasses a variety of elements and for some business owners, approaches the limits of their marketing knowledge and understanding— this is where we step in. 

Right now, the Washington Football Team is going through a very high profile rebrand, and we’re offering our services in regards to their “Brand Identity.” 

Research and Discovery Phase: 

Client Research: One of 3 professional sports franchises located in the District of Columbia, in 1937, the Washington Professional Football Team (WPFT for short) relocated from Boston in the National Football League under the moniker the Washington Redskins. Winners of 3 Super Bowls in the 80s and 90s, Washington gained a passionate fan base around their “hogs” (aka offensive lineman) and had franchise icons such as quarterback Joe Theismann. Since these glory days, the franchise has fallen into disarray, and support of what was once considered an iconic nickname, “The Redskins,” has dwindled and resulted in consistent fan protest due to the racial undertones in the mascot name. Now valued at over $3B, the WPFT has increased in visibility and brand stature. This has led to more exposure, and in one area of the brand, conflict. Many sources in the media as well as fans now more commonly refer to the franchise as the Washington Professional Football Team. 

On Monday, July 13th, owner Dan Snyder officially made the decision to recreate the Brand Identity, while aiming to keep the franchise legacy alive. 

Why is Client Research important to a Brand Identity? 

Before embarking on a rebrand, it is vital to understand the full picture. Naturally, the WPFT is creating a new identity that takes the organization’s history, fanbase and future into consideration. Unfortunately, businesses often want to skip this necessary element and get to the “fun” stuff — the point where they’re viewing mood boards and logo mock-ups. This is dangerous and you run this risk of creating a persona that has already been done, doesn’t appeal to your audience or worse — is culturally tone-deaf.  We can’t stress the importance of client research enough. Ensure the branding agency you hire makes the effort to understand you.

Industry Research: The National Football League is the premier American Football Professional sports league in the world. Each season, fans from around the world tune in to watch their favorite teams, players, and Tom Brady. With enormously profitable television deals, merchandise and licensing, as well as overall business models, the valuations of NFL teams, have increased rapidly with several teams surpassing valuations of $1B. The culmination of the season is the Super Bowl – which has become one of the most-watched events annually in the United States. Petitions for the Super Bowl to be a national holiday have been unsuccessful, however, the presence of the NFL brand is felt in day to day life for nearly all Americans at some point in a year. 

Currently, the NFL has been navigating the changing social dynamics of the United States. The NFL has become a focal point of protests, such as kneeling for the flag, but also equal support and ire from politicians. For years, there have been petitions as well for the NFL to take a larger stand on social justice and systematic racism- putting the “Redskins” mascot front and center as a symbol of hate and bigotry. The NFL has experienced boycotts and a reduction of sponsorship dollars in addition that has put pressure on the league to act. 

Why is Industry Research important to a Brand Identity? 

As we’ve stressed, doing the research to understand a brand’s history, what makes it uniquely better and its goals for the future is absolutely necessary. Part two of that statement is the importance of context. The context being the brand’s industry. As marketers, we dive in to understand why this brand came to exist in the first place and how that may have changed as the industry landscape naturally shifts. We audit competitors to assert how they were able to claim market share, or perhaps hypothesize what led to their fall. The goal of a brand identity is for it to stand the test of time, and that requires an in-depth analysis of the industry it aims to lead. 

Audience Research: The Washington fanbase is loyal and devoted to their team. On game days, the fans usually dress up in iconic franchise costumes (hogs) as well as their team colors burgundy and gold. Due to their longstanding status in the NFL, Washington’s fanbase is not just regional and their intense rivalries between the Eagles and Cowboys often divide households. With fans ranging from infants to centennials and across all demographics — the common thread for all Washington fans is a love for the team and the identity created by the team. That identity has culminated in a community feel between tailgating, watching the game and regional pride. Across the country, you can attend “watch parties” for games as well as other themed events for the team. 

Why is Audience Research important to a Brand Identity? 

If industry research is the equivalent of “reading the room,” then your audience research is — “know who you’re speaking to.” Audience research begins with demographics; analyzing the common gender, age range, and geographic location of those who have previously engaged with or purchased from the brand. Depending on the product or service, data can also include the target audience’s education level, income, and purchasing habits. The goal is to create a very specific set of consumer profiles — right down to an imagined name and job title . Simply put, you have to know your audience in order to identify and relate to them. 

Market Positioning: While the franchise has won 3 Super Bowls, the most recent was in 1991 and the most recent playoff appearance occurred in 2015. In 2019, Washington finished in last place of the NFC East division and had the 2nd worst record in the NFL. Despite their recent lack of success, Washington is currently the 7th most valuable NFL franchise. While these valuations are complex, it demonstrates the brand history and one of the unique claims of the Washington franchise. Through merchandising, television rights and sponsorships, other brands rely on partnering with the franchise for exposure. The new Brand Identity needs to reflect strength, power, and honor heritage, but in a way that is more inclusive to the diverse population of the region.

Why is an understanding of Market Position important to a Brand Identity?

The Market Position is meant to tie the previous research together. After conducting brand, industry, and audience research — you’re well-versed in the brand’s history and goals, you know what and who it’s up against and the audience the identity needs to speak to and attract.  

See if you can fill out this positioning statement in a way that encompasses all of the above: 

For (target mindset), Brand Name is (Category) that provides (functional or symbolic benefits). Unlike others, Brand Name (Differentiating reasons to believe).

Narrative Creation:

Category: An iconic regional American Football team with a national fanbase and storied tradition. 

Why is defining your category important to a Brand Identity?

If a brand invented a product or has existed for hundreds of years — then they have the potential to lead an entire industry. However, for brands that have a product or service within a saturated market — identifying your industry niche will help focus your marketing efforts. For example, a new skincare company would have a difficult time owning the “skincare industry” as a whole. However, a skincare brand whose focus is anti-aging products that are “clean” and “eco-friendly” would be a different story. 

Voice/Writing Style: The Washington franchise has always been known as “tough,” going back to the days of the “Hogs.” Unlike the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals, the football team is considered more “blue-collar” and has a fan base that stretches across iconic parts of the Potomac from Southern Maryland to Northern Virginia.

Why is defining your voice and writing style important to a Brand Identity?  

A brand is an entity and will rarely have a single individual perpetually writing content or publicly speaking for it. Having a defined voice and writing style empowers people who represent the brand and to do so with confidence and assurance that what is being presented to the public is in-line with its values. We often find that it is just as helpful to define what a brand’s voice and writing style isn’t to emphasize just how impactful word choice can be.

Colors/Imagery: Washington is known for its burgundy and gold colors and fan approval of the color scheme has always been consistently strong. While the franchise wants to present imagery of strength and acknowledges the historical context, moving forward, that history needs to be one that is shared across Americans and not viewed as divisive or offensive. 

What do colors and imagery have to do with a Brand Identity?

We’re visual beings, often registering colors, logos and imagery well before reading copy. In fact, “research shows that the proper use of color increases brand recognition by 80%. It also raises the visual appearance by 93%. A further 85% of consumers buy because of color.”  Selecting a color palette and imagery that doesn’t convey the message of your brand or appeal to your audience can essentially render all of your marketing efforts irrelevant!

So let’s try some names out here (disclaimer, we assume they are not continuing with the name The Washington Football Team): 

The Washington Senators: I know there was a baseball team named the Senators for a long time, but there was also a baseball team named the St. Louis Browns, so the historical precedent for one league having exclusive rights to a team/locale name isn’t as exclusive as sometimes perceived by fans. This name has it all – history, local relevance and there are no other “Senators” in the NFL. The Senators vs. the Cowboys also has a fun ring to it. 

We’re staying away from the Washington Generals as well as Sentinels. The Generals are the nightly opponent to the Harlem Globetrotters. The Washington Sentinels were quarterbacked by Shane Falco in one of the most questionable role choices of Keanu Reeves’ career. 

The Washington Red Tails: This name has been gaining some popularity and momentum lately – but why wouldn’t it? The Tuskegee Airmen are an incredibly unique historical reference as a mascot. Called the “Red Tails” because of the crimson streak on the tails of their planes, the airmen were an entirely African American fighter pilot crew that flew during WWII. Aviation lends itself nicely to a mascot in football- think “Air Raid Offense”- and the mascot “Red Tails” stays congruent to our iconic color scheme. 

Although aviation and football pair well together, considering the location of the franchise in the Nation’s capital, the decision to stay away from any violent mascots, for example the Bombers, proved essential. 

The Washington Whigs: Why not? Part of rebranding sometimes includes taking risks. At a minimum, pushing the boundaries of your identity in the process keeps your brand versatile and focused on value to your audience. Hear me out, known for their log cabins and cider, the Whigs were a party known for being “of the people” focusing on issues like executive tyranny and social meritocracy. Sounds like a good mascot for a team sport. If there were any way to give the franchise some historical timeline liberties and let the helmets include 18th-century wigs similar to the Viking’s horns, this would be perfect.  

The Washington Hogs: The Arkansas Razorbacks specifically choose their name due to the fearlessness and doggedness of these animals. While not the most elegant of mascots, it would be an ode to the team’s past with the hope that their offensive lineman will once be known as “hogs” again.

At the end of the day, your Brand Identity should reflect the culture and vision of your brand. Right now in Washington, we’re seeing that you can have an incredibly valuable brand, but your consumers will always be just as focused on the identity of the brand as the product. It is for this reason that we begin with thorough research to create and refine the brand identity before we deploy our strategy. Click here to “whig” out with us on your brand identity.

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