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Villain or Visionary?


The older I get, the more I catch myself finding parallels between personal interests and my day job; helping clients grow their brands. This summer I watched the Toronto Raptors offseason (read: soap opera) unfold and I couldn’t help but dissect the marketing aspect of the entire situation (read: gong show). Let me catch you up; in May of this year, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was fired, then two months later franchise favorite DeMar DeRozan was traded. Raptors fans across Canada were divided: some were crushed by the decisions, while others beamed with optimism for the team’s future. As it all unfolded, I was reminded that people are more willing to listen if there’s a villain involved. When loyal fans and the media turned against Raptors GM, Masai Ujiri, and painted him as the NBA’s bad guy, we all stood up and listened, some of us even cheered. Masai took the same approach you and I take with our brands partners;  he made a bet on the brand he’s built, so what’s the big deal?

When I compare this to brand marketing today, I see three parallels:


Importance of Change:

Humans inherently need a purpose, but fear change. It’s a continuous battle. In marketing, we are constantly striving to create stories that change conversations, control perceptions and/or modify behavior. But when we aren’t hitting our KPIs or we’re getting crushed by competition (read: Cleveland Cavaliers), change is required. To be successful there needs to be a willingness to make foundational changes to your approach and talent. When Masai fired Dwane Casey and promoted Nick Nurse, he said it was based on Nurse’s offensive creativity, big game originality, and innovative strategy. Like it or dislike it, the good news is that Masai has goals – wins, playoff wins, and championship – so it’s all measurable at the end of the season.

When making change, make your goals measurable and translate your strategy into the everyday. Change will bring out the best in you and your brand.


Rethinking Emotion:

Watching DeMar DeRozan’s hyper-emotional interview on ESPN, I was reminded of how far marketing has come. In the early 2000s, marketing was solely based on capturing the right spirit of a brand. Emotion meant everything – that’s what sold. Today, new muscles are being used: technology and science. Don’t get me wrong, emotion still plays a significant role, but testing, measuring and optimizing is essential. What both Nurse and Masai bring to the Raptors is the unsexy but necessary implementation of game planning. It’s not the most heart-grabbing of tactics, but it is essential to the sport. It’s the science behind it.

Recognize the balance of emotion and scientific thinking. Using data to identify behaviors and next best action, and continuously measuring and optimizing will only benefit your brand.


Betting on Yourself:

When you believe in your organization, the culture you’ve created and your vision, it’s time to bet on yourself. Sure, some loyal fans hate the recent Raptors offseason moves. Why? Because they were unpredictable. But, as B.F. Skinner once proved, the best way to get people to repeat a behavior is to reward them unpredictably. For Masai, his key audience isn’t just Raptors fans, and his job isn’t just providing intermittent positive reinforcement. His audience is his shareholders and delivery against strong KPIs of winning games and attracting new talent. Knowing he could only go so far with the current product, he made a calculated decision to win based on his formula  and his vision. He’s betting on what he’s built to retain talent in his organization.

Isn’t that the same in marketing? To have what you’ve built grow business, grow and retain audiences and talent? Make calculated change. Scare yourself. Balance emotion with rational thinking. Bet on your company’s (and your) vision. It will create purpose and a better experience for your audience.

When it comes down to it – Masai made his decisions for a reason. Does it make him a villain? Maybe to some. Does it make him a visionary? I’d argue it does.

Rick Chiarelli
VP Growth Lead