Rogue Report Episode 1

Getting unstuck


When Masai Ujiri first joined the Raptors in 2013 the team was coming off a season that saw them finish 10th in the eastern conference. Leaving them out of the playoffs and with a losing record for the fifth year in a row. Since that time, under Ujiri’s guidance, the team has made the playoffs every year and, well this year, they just happened to make history with Canada’s first NBA championship.

What can brands learn from Ujiri and the Raptors about getting unstuck?

Run an honest brand assessment

Among the first moves that Ujiri made was to get rid of players that did not fit in with his vision of a team. Players who in certain situations could be considered a toxic influence on the team culture. I won’t name names here, but a quick web search will reveal who I am referring to. Ujiri was able to take an unemotional look at the roster he had inherited in order to make a lucid talent and fit assessment.

What does this mean for your brand?

Run regular brand assessments. These should take into consideration external and internal realities and factors.

Is everything contributing to the overarching brand? Maybe it’s time to eliminate under performing lines or those that you believe will not contribute to your vision of the future.

Ford took the latter route with the 2018 announcement that they would be cutting Taurus, Fusion, Fiesta and Focus brands, among others. This is a bold move considering that the Focus was the world’s best selling car as recently as 2013. But difficult times in the automobile industry call for difficult measures.

Make hard moves - ones that others don't have the guts for

The Raptors were not the only team in the running when the San Antonio Spurs made Kawhi available on the trade market. The Boston Celtics were rumored to be among those considering trade packages. What the Celtics could not handle was the risk that Kawhi would join the team and not resign once his contract expired and that he would become a free agent (meaning he could move to any team without his former team receiving any form of compensation in return). The Raptors were facing this same risk but decided to trade DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi. DeRozan was not only one of the team’s stars but was a fan favourite. The team was just not getting over the playoff hump under his guidance.

And if you want another example of guts, consider that the Raptors fired Dwayne Casey, the reigning NBA coach of the year, and replaced him with rookie coach, Nick Nurse. Two key moves that were incredibly risky, took a lot of guts to pull off, but paid off incredibly in the end.

What does this mean for your brand?

As the saying goes when others zig, you zag. Look at your brand’s category. Consider the existing conventions and identify the ones that your brand is well positioned to break. For example, the traditional colours in the milk category were blue and white.

In Quebec, Natrel flipped these conventions on their head and introduced predominantly black milk cartons successfully jolting the category and injecting new life into the brand.

Ignore the experts (well, at least sometimes)

If you had told some of the top NBA talent scouts that the Raptors would get invaluable playoff contributions from Fred VanVleet they would have probably rolled their eyes at you if not straight out laughed. After all, Vanvleet was not even selected at the annual NBA talent draft.

The Raptors trusted in Vanvleet and in their ability to nurture and grow talent. And without VanVleet’s shooting and defence, the Raptors-Warriors series may have needed a game 7 and you never know what can happen in a do-or-die game.

What does this mean for your brand?

Sometimes to make proper decisions with respect to your brand and sources of growth you need to separate the signal from the noise. That is, what information can you truly rely on, and what other information is taken out of context?

If Red Bull had relied on the data from the initial taste tests for its eponymous energy drink, it would have never seen the light of day. But stakeholders knew that the branding of the drink would play a powerful role in its adoption and the brand’s promise of energy on the go would overcome any negative taste perceptions – and in some cases would even lend more credence to the brand itself.

Create your own narrative

Before they truly became Canada’s team with their recent championship run, the Raptors had the foresight to create an incredible rallying cry. What was truly great about the campaign was the pride it instilled not only for fans within the city core but for those in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.

Since then “We the North” has become a source of national pride with Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, using it in a tweet shortly after the Raptors won game 6 and the championship.

What does this mean for your brand?

When building campaigns and brand platforms don’t be afraid to look beyond your core customers. Think big and consider how your brand could appeal to, or even motivate, a wider audience. Apple’s Think Different campaign, launched in 1997, is a great example in that it made people look at Macs through a more creative lens. Even today, 21 years after it first aired, the aura of Think Different has stuck to the Apple brand. And yes, both Think Different and We the North are considered to be grammatically incorrect – perhaps lending to their memorability.

A great brand doesn’t happen by accident. It must continually evolve. Regular and honest brand assessments can help you identify new spots for growth and places that are weighing the brand down. Not every move you make will be the right one, but with enough smarts and a lot of guts, you can position your brand in order to provide it with the potential to carve out a lasting place in the world.