Outdoor industry marketing is super-competitive. So when it comes to growing an active brand here's a lesson from one of tennis's most colourful and creative characters.

Andre Agassi was one of the best tennis players on the professional tour. His flamboyant style was as exciting to watch as his bleached mullet and neon court apparel. He seemed to have it all and his brand grew exponentially. 

But what he really wanted was to be ‘Number 1’. To become one of the greats, he had to win Wimbledon.

In 1991 he entered for the first time and soon discovered how different the grass court game was to his favoured hardcourt and clay surfaces.

Agassi went down in the quarter-finals to David Wheaton in a 5 set marathon. It was at this point, he knew he could win the tournament if he continued to work out how to defeat the big serving baseline specialists like Boris Becker.

Boris Becker and Andre Agassi in a lighter moment.

One year later, he returned, strong, fitter and most importantly, smarter. 

The first three times Agassi had faced Becker, he struggled to read Becker’s serve. And Andre was arguably the greatest returner in the game. 

If he faced Becker, on grass at Wimbledon, the odds were stacked against him. 

So Andre studied Becker. He went through stacks of tapes, pausing, rewinding, slo-moing…until he spotted something that no one else had about Becker’s game.

Boris stuck his tongue out as he began his service motion. If he stuck his tongue to the top of his upper lip, he was going to serve down the middle or to the body; if he stuck his tongue in the corner of his mouth, the serve was going out wide. 

CRACKING THE CODE

In an interview Agassi let the world know his secret;

“The hardest part wasn’t returning his serve; the hardest part was not letting him know that I knew this. "So, I had to resist the temptation of reading his serve for the majority of the match and choose the moments that I was going to use that information on a given point to execute the shot that would allow me to break the match open. That was the difficulty with Boris – I didn’t have a problem with breaking his serve; I had a problem hiding the fact that I could break his serve at will because I just didn’t want him to keep that tongue in his mouth! I wanted it to keep coming out!”

Agassi went on to win Wimbledon that year, and beat Becker another six consecutive times. 

It wasn’t until he retired from the game in 2006, that he told Becker the secret he had over him. 

Andre Agassi as Wimbledon Champion - 1992

LESSONS FOR BRANDS & MARKETERS

So what can you and your brand learn from Andre…or even Boris?

1. LOOK WHO YOU’RE UP AGAINST

There’s a tendency for brands to spend a disproportionate amount of time looking inwards at their own proposition, purpose, positioning and strategies. To grow your brand you have to look at who you’re up against in macro detail. If you’re a smaller brand, or less famous, you need to find someway of exploiting a chink your competition’s armour. Do what Andre did, study them. Learn everything and leave no stone unturned. From annual reports, to LinkedIn, to content, to their marketing, their audiences, their pricing, manufacturing methods, sustainability mandates…you name it. 

No matter how big and powerful the top brands are, they will have a weakness that you can exploit and turn into your strength.

2. LOOK AT YOURSELF

Don’t think for a minute that your competitors aren’t watching you. They may not see you as a commercial threat, but sooner or later, you might be come a threat. So your outward facing brand and messaging needs to be carefully managed. If you’re about to launch a new product or service for example, think carefully about how you do it. You could be signalling to your competitors and they could outthink and out manoeuvre you. 

Study yourself and how battened down you are with the signals you give off.

3. SMALL CHANGES

There’s a temptation from brands to make some big changes in order to get a leg up. A new campaign, a brand refresh, a rename, a new agency…the list goes on. All of these things are big changes which might not pay off and could potentially cost you in terms of customers and money. 

These things should be a last resort and only based on research. How many times have you seen a public backlash to a campaign change? Or logo refresh? 

Gap felt consumer backlash after spending millions on a weak logo facelift

Look for the small wins. Things that don’t cost you much to implement but could have a huge effect on your brand’s perception in the market place. 

Something as simple as interacting with people on social media in a more human or conversational way can give your brand an edge. Or mandate that every employee is allowed to act autonomously to surprise and delight customers. Perhaps it's something as small (yet significant) as not using enough call to actions…or mentioning the price…

You’ll be amazed at how the small things you’re not doing now, can have a big impact when you start doing them.

4. WATCH, DON’T FOLLOW.

Copying your competition is one of the most dangerous places to play. Unless you’re going to do something like Aldi and turn it into a thing. But that’s a huge risk. 

Or like Innocent drinks. How many brands have copied their tonality and attempted to adopt the cheeky and playful tone of voice?

The point is, Agassi would have had to completely change his game play to become a baseline player if he took the approach of trying to match the likes of Becker and Sampras. But he didn’t he watched, and learned and knew how they played. Because they play one way, it meant he could play a different way and that caused them huge problems playing against him.

So, be aware of what your competitor’s doing, but stick to your own game-plan and style and you’ll be rewarded for being original and different.

5. BE CREATIVE WHEN IT COMES TO OUTDOOR INDUSTRY MARKETING

Agassi wasn’t the biggest serving, the most efficient, the smoothest,…but you could argue he was one of the most creative players. 

But let’s be clear. Creativity is not a spontaneous thing. Creativity is something you train to be. We can all draw…but we’re not all artists. We can all write…but we’re not all writers. We can all tell a story…but we’re not all Spielberg. We can all hit a tennis ball….but only a few have the training to go on and win Wimbledon.

When it comes to outdoor industry marketing, creativity is something that is very much planned and tirelessly worked upon. It's as strategic and commercial as it is emotional. For outdoor brands, it's something you have to take seriously if you are to stand out. 

So I urge all outdoor industry marketing brands to think about themselves as creative businesses. Without creativity, you’re following playbooks and formulas that are tried and tested. So you have to be a business that thinks, works, behaves and produces things a little differently.

After all, outthinking the competition means you can outplay them.

_________________________________

Rob Steeles is the founder and creative director of OUTCREATE - the creative marketing agency for sports, active and outdoor brands.

outcreate.io / hello@outcreate.io / +44 (0)7952 539 205

___________________________________