By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding
“So you’re in branding? Hmmm. What do you think of my business card?”
This is one of a few standard reactions to the news that I indeed have a branding company. It is a reaction emblematic of the reality that all too many bright and talented people still do not realize that a brand is not a business card, or a website, or a logo, or a tagline – or any other piece of marketing communication – but is defined as what people think of you, as well as culture.
It is also a very good reminder that I should, instead of introducing myself with a statement of what I do (branding, or more specifically, naming and brand foundations), talk about why I do it (because I believe that every person has a unique gift, and by helping them articulate that gift, I can help them share it with the world). Talk about why you do what you do, and the conversation instantly goes to a place of deeper understanding and resonance.
Which brings us to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who, admittedly, play a sport not associated with deep contemplation, but more commonly with its antithesis, as symbolized not just by Don Cherry but also by the hearty and not infrequent whacks administered to players’ brains. And specifically, we are brought to the subject of the Leafs’ new logo, unveiled this week. Does their new logo constitute a rebranding, as some have said?
Well, on the basis of just a new logo, no. A brand is not a logo, so a new logo cannot a rebrand make. But there is more to this particular story.
By all accounts, for decades the Leafs’ players viewed themselves as not having any particular obligation to play hard or win. They were gazed upon as demigods by fans who financially supported the team, by buying tickets and merchandise and supporting advertisers – regardless of wins and losses. Fans made the Toronto Maple Leafs the most valuable franchise in the NHL from 2006 to 2014, and sold out the team’s home games for 13 straight years ending in March 2015.
I am not a hockey analyst. So I can only guess at how much impact, if any, the end of these two streaks had on the owners’ decision to bring in some of the most respected hockey executives the world had to offer. But bring them in they did – to tear the team down and build it up again. They brought in as president Brendan Shanahan, whose leadership and toughness helped the Detroit Red Wings win three Stanley Cups. They brought in as head coach the no-nonsense Mike Babcock, who coached the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup and is the only person in history to coach winning hockey teams in the Stanley Cup, World Championship and Olympic Games. And they brought in as general manager the no-nonsense Lou Lamoriello, who won three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils.
In short, they brought in a bunch of proven winners. Guys who can’t stand losing and won’t accept anything but the most extreme effort from their players, even though the current roster, at this early stage of the rebuild, does not have the skill to win very often. Guys who have the credibility and fortitude to do the never-ending work of creating a – wait for it – culture of winning in an organization that hasn’t won the Stanley Cup in almost 50 years.
Perhaps the most telling artifact of this new culture is the astonishing salary being paid to coach Babcock. The Leafs signed him for $50-million US over eight years – more than double the next highest-paid NHL coach. And this year he makes more than all but one of his millionaire players (Dion Phaneuf). The fact that the Leafs hired someone as highly respected as Babcock, and especially that they are paying him so much, is a strong signal to fans and especially players that the organization will do whatever it takes to win.
It signals a quantum change in Leafs culture. And so the Leafs have actually overshot the litmus test for whether a rebranding is taking place: whether a significant change is being made to the way a brand thinks of itself, and therefore acts and communicates. To its shared understanding: to its core purpose, vision, mission and other elements of its brand foundation. To, in other words, its culture.
Given that Leafs management is creating what seems to be a very solid brand foundation, now is an altogether fitting time to update the logo in alignment with the espoused culture. On that note, the logo is a throwback to the one used in the Cup-winning days of the distant past. The 13 veins depicted on its top half represent the team’s 13 Stanley Cup wins, for example, and its 31 points are a nod to the squad’s inaugural season, 1931, in Maple Leaf Gardens.
The logo is not the brand, but it is – especially for a professional sports team – a very important brand artifact. Except for this particular fan, who, when asked about the new logo, hinted that he understands branding quite well: “They can wear pink if they’re going to start winning.”
IN THE MEDIA: In the National Post re Amazon and Etsy; on CBC Radio One re Volkswagen; in the National Post re Mac’s convenience stores.
NEW VIDEO: Check out my presentation in Houston earlier this year (to client USG) on what a brand really is. (For the abbreviated version, start at 3:45 and stop at about 6:00. For the longer version, watch the whole thing.)
Coin Branding president Andris Pone is co-author of the Globe and Mail #1-bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo and appears as a branding expert on CBC’s The National, CBC Radio One, the Globe and Mail, National Post and other media outlets.