For many athletes, it is not clear that as athletes they are a brand.

Many are confused about it.

Many think it is the business of a few, of the truly famous.

In general, we all often think that branding is related only to big companies whose logos and products are instantly recognizable, but in reality individuals can have a brand too!

Why is it important instead for every athlete to feel, regardless of discipline, age, level, and notoriety that they are a brand? What does it mean to be a brand?

What is branding?

‘brä′nd’ s. Engl., In the language of advertising and corporate marketing, trademark a brand is a name given to a product and/or service such that it takes on an identity by itself. 

Brand is the combination of elements (such as name, slogan, logo, communication, history, and reputation) that function as a distinctive and identifying mark of a business (and beyond). The brand (or brand) encapsulates image, values, meaning, etc. that differentiate it from competitors, determining the relationship with the target audience.

According to Philip Kotler and Gary Armstrong in their Principles of Marketing, brand meaning is “everything that a product or service represents to consumers,” and this is “the firm’s most enduring asset, living longer than individual products and facilities.”

Brand is an intangible asset and, as Kotler and Armstrong claim, is the set of “consumers’ perceptions and feelings about a product and its performance.”

From here we can already easily guess that we are all entitled to consider ourselves a brand.

However, not all of us are obligated to do so. Why does an athlete?

Because if not already because he/she is still early in his career, as a professional athlete he/she will soon be a public figure and everything about him and available to an audience will define who he/she is, the meaning and values of who he/she is, in other words it will define his/her image.

And it will establish a connection with his audience, his fans.

This connection, which is emotional, can be positive or negative and can also mean that we – the audience – trust, care about, or even love him/her!

What is an athlete’s brand?

It is the communication of his or her uniqueness: his or her sports activities, sports record, performance record, story, style, interests and beliefs, behaviors and values.

Why is it important for an athlete to know and manage his or her brand?

Whether he/she is training with teammates, competing at a race, giving a speech on stage, giving an interview to a journalist, or interviewing with a potential sponsoring company, he/she is making an impression: he/she is communicating his/her brand.

Some athletes dream of becoming famous or winning a gold medal at the Olympics, others just dream of having a good run in a sport without competitions.

By knowing his/her brand and making the impression he/she desires, he/she will find that he/she is able to get the opportunities he/she seeks and have a smoother and more satisfying path in sports and in life!

Why is this all about companies?

Well-designed brands (= well defined and adherent to unique identity, style, needs, desires, goals) can have an emotional impact on us as consumers and help create a kind of relationship between us and the brand (and the products or service with which it is associated).

The athlete as a brand with its own unique identity, its own meaning, values, and an emotional link with its fans can be a perfect representative (= testimonial) of another brand and reinforce that emotional link we just talked about.

We could somehow say that the combination of 1 brand + 1 other brand does not make 2 brands but a third “brand raised to the second,” very powerful and a vital part of an integrated and valuable marketing and communication plan for all kinds of companies, organizations, charities.

What is missing?

If we have already stepped forward and understood that we are a brand, what is missing is understanding what needs to be done to design that brand so that it is perceived exactly as we want it to be.

For junior and emerging athletes, building a solid personal brand is the first step in creating a long and successful career.

It is one of the most powerful tools for accessing the target market. It determines how fans, sponsors, and the professional sports world perceive the athlete and how they remember and recognize him or her.

Athlete branding is a complex area especially because competition in the sports marketing industry is high. 

It can be difficult for an up-and-coming athlete to stand out from the crowd. In addition, many parties are involved in building a solid personal brand and marketing strategy

All elements must be considered, from the tangible, such as the logo, font choice and design, to the intangible, such as the brand promise (and in the company-testimonial pairing of two) and the constantly evolving person in his or her totality-as an athlete and as a human being.

Companies that need to devote a slice (larger or smaller) to sports marketing have a responsibility to help the athlete define their brand. Obviously it is a responsibility with a return and the return that makes the most sense for a company at the end of the fiscal year: the famous ROI.

Today, sports marketing and personal branding are a partnership that must be fostered and preserved, and to do so, many elements must be brought to bear:

the usual long-term vision, in fact more than that, it must resemble a dream, technical skills, the famous hard skills, a lot of experience in the field and a strategy that does not only consider sports marketing as an activity integrated with all the other marketing and communication activities but that starts from the investment on the athlete’s brand and supports him/her in his/her growth path.

It is for this reason that we at Sports&Beyond have decided to create a format dedicated to sports companies that wish to increase their ROI in sports marketing starting precisely from the investment in the human resource called athlete.

Author: Marianna Zanatta