By Jason McKeown
In the middle of the Second World War, the UK prime minister Winston Churchill needed to get a key tactical instruction to his commander in chief, Harold Alexander, who was in situ in the Middle East. Churchill sent a telegram to Alexander that was just 34 words long.
“Your prime and main duty is to take and destroy at the earliest opportunity the German Italian army commanded by Field Marshall Rommel together with all its supplies and establishments in Egypt and Libya.”
It’s succinct and to the point. It was the only information that Alexander had to go on, as he mounted the next stage of his mission. Yet such was the clarity of message, Alexander knew exactly what was expected of him and his troops – and was able to succeed.
There’s a point to telling this story. When I’m not here on WOAP, rambling on about American pianists, over-hyping Chris Routis or mispronouncing Dion Pereira, I work as a content manager, heading up a team of copywriters. And as part of training writers, I regularly use this Churchill story to emphaise the point about being really clear with your message. And why it doesn’t need to take many words to achieve that.
It’s a lesson that Bradford City can be accused of not following, in the wake of their announcement of a proposed new club badge. There’s been quite the strong reaction to City’s plans, with the majority seemingly against the revised logo. And a lot of people are especially questioning why the club is wasting time and money coming up with a new identity in the first place.
That’s where the communication has failed. Whilst we’re in a very different world, and a new club badge is a very different purpose to Churchill’s 34-word battle instruction from 1942, it hasn’t been easy to decipher why Bradford City deems a new logo necessary in the first place. It’s not that the club hasn’t tried to tell us, a lot of information has been released attempting to explain it. But it completely lacks the brevity needed, causing the rationale to be lost in a sea of too much information.
For example, the club has released a document that is 78 (seventy eight!) pages long. You can find lots of detail about why the national media is inconsistent when using the current badge, and the technical issues kit manufacturers are finding incorporating it onto shirts. There’s a section all about why the logo is too thin compared to other clubs.
It’s all a bit technical, and inside-the-industry focused. And it’s not to belittle or dismiss these problems, but it’s not exactly a way to win over hearts and minds. Oh sorry Macron are having a tricky time getting the badge right, but – you know – I’m sure record shirt sales has come as some consolation. It’s the same with the justification of the intricate details of the proposed logo. If it needs that much explaining, there’s clearly something wrong with the direction of the design.
And that’s where we are. The club badge apparently needs changing for a range of very small reasons that mean little to supporters, and the new logo fixes them because of x and y. It’s no wonder that many people are finding this difficult to follow. As a marketing initiative, the communication has completely let it down. (Although I do like the Tom and Dom video.)
As for the backlash, the club is entitled to feel a little taken back and surprised. It’s no secret that updating a football club badge is fraught with risks – see Leeds United, Cardiff City and others – but Bradford City have been at great pains to point out their attempts to bring fans with them every step of the way. They’ve asked our views, they’ve compiled the data, and they’ve produced something that satisfies all the feedback they’ve acquired – so what’s the problem?
It’s easy to be wise after the event, but there are probably lessons to take here in identifying the true value of feedback. In particular the listening sessions with supporters and the preview to the local media.
First of all, as a football supporter we all have a universal desire to want our football club to listen to us. From whether a manager should be sacked to what kind of food should be sold in the concourse at half time. And so asking us for our opinion was – and is – a sound principle.
And so, when some supporters were invited in to share their views, understandably those asked were flattered and touched. But this can skew feedback. Because they’re more likely to go into discussions wanting to be positive and to like what’s put in front of them. It’s a bit like your partner offering to cook a special tea and slaving away for hours, you can’t then eat the meal and say it was rubbish – even if it tastes awful. As human beings were conditioned to be polite to each other. So, when City made all that effort to sit down with selected supporters and ask them what they think of their hard work, not surprisingly they seemingly got a thumbs up back.
(Full disclosure – I did not attend a listening session myself, but I did receive an invite from the club. I was unable to make it.)
There’s also a lesson in the quality of individual feedback and how far you apply it. This is something I see often in my world. You work with someone’s feedback to create a solution that works for them, but then when you roll it out further you discover their issue was not universal. The club have disclosed that, during a branding discussion with supporters, someone said the Bantam on the current logo should face the other way so it can be “forward-looking”. It seems that piece of individual feedback was acted on, yet the turned around Bantam has clearly played a big part in the structure of the new design. Did that one piece of feedback influence direction significantly, and did it merit such a drastic overall change?
It all means you have a situation of good intentions. The club wants to feel confident fans will like a bold direction, and so asks some supporters what they think, which enables them to fully explain the context and the journey taken that has got them to this point. Those who come in will feel privileged to be consulted, but on some level will want to be positive and buy in to what they see. So the club thinks it’s getting honest feedback that reflects the fanbase, and the supporter thinks they’re doing the club a favour by confirming their plans are great (I’m sure not every fan did this and they got some push back). A bubble of distorted feedback is created that is only burst when everyone else – who just gets to see a final logo, doesn’t get taken through the journey by the club, and are instead asked to read a 78-page document to understand it – gets involved.
In turn, the fact some people got invited and others didn’t has created a divide. People are now shouting at others accusing them of being happy clappers, others are proposing their own logos, others are deriding the time and resource spent by a club that have other challenges (such as not owning its own ground). The club hasn’t outlined a vision clearly enough to win over the large percentage of fans they didn’t invite in to preview it.
That’s the problem City have right now. They have genuinely tried to do things the right way. There is an issue with the current badge that they understand, and have to deal with day in day out. They know the solution might not be met with universal approval, and could be a PR own goal. So they ask us what we think, get loads of data, respond to the data, ask us what we think again – and then present something to the world that seems to be really well constructed.
But the end result is still really unpopular.
It’s reasonable to assume that the feedback from the subsequently launched survey will emphatically tell the club to abandon the proposed logo. In some ways it’s a shame, as you can see there are elements of the design that pay homage to the club’s heritage. Equally, the current one, that everyone is suddenly saying they love, has only been around for 30 years. Still, it’s hard to see how it’s salvageable. The more you stare at the badge, the worse it seems to look. It just isn’t good enough.
Ultimately, it looks like the best course of action is to refine the current badge to address the different issues. To meet the needs of the digital age. And then, to take on board the lessons learned.
One of which should be about the importance of having a clear message and purpose.