Brand Agility: How Good Is Your Brand At Pickup Ball?

As the son of a basketball coach, many of life’s lessons were taught to me on the court. One of the biggest lessons the game of basketball has to offer brands is this: Agility is the single most sustainable competitive advantage.

In basketball, agility is honed not in the controlled environments of practice or even league play, but on playgrounds in pickup games. This same scrappy mentality holds true for branding. The world brands must live in is more reflective of pickup ball at the playground than ever before. Here are five fundamentals that can help brands thrive "on the court."

1.  Adopt a tribal mentality – Like pickup ball, building brand agility is a team effort. It starts with a mindset of living for your people, not off them. You have to be one with your pack in order to build the trust, empathy and intuition needed to quickly act and react in ways that add value and build loyalty.

Burton Snowboards gets this. For Burton, there is no “them” that they market to -- only a “we” that they live to serve. They’re able to maintain relevance and loyalty among pros, novices, young, old, male, female (even those who don’t snowboard!).

2. Stay tuned in to culture – Paying attention to shifts in the game is what allows you to pivot and adjust without losing sight of the ultimate goal. Brands that understand this are able to maintain their relevance even as cultural tastes evolve. Brands that don’t will die.



Weight Watchers has successfully evolved with culture. The brand has remained focused on our intrinsic motivations to be in control and be part of a community. However, as science, access to foods, and attitudes around weight management itself continue to shift, so has the brand. As a result, Weight Watchers continues to grow new generations of loyalists.

3.  Know your purpose – Why do you play the game? Seems like a simple question, but it’s amazing how many brands don't have an answer. For brands, getting to a level of inspired play starts with knowing your purpose.

No brand understands this more than Nike. It has long since given up trying to differentiate through positioning and benefits. It believes that if you have a body, you’re an athlete, and its purpose is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” This purpose-driven leadership has allowed Nike to grow its brand by not only increasing share, but by growing the pie.

4.  Act on your best behavior – If purpose is the articulation of your brand’s ultimate goal, then behaviors are the fundamentals that your brand should practice day-in, day-out.

JetBlue is “dedicated to bringing humanity back to air travel.” Its personality could be described as genuine, fun, and passionate. In order to be described as “genuine,” it practices the behavior of “keeping it human” -- namely by admitting mistakes, like when it left passengers on the tarmac for hours without food or water back in 2007. To be fun, JetBlue has its pilots and staff engage passengers with their overhead announcements at takeoff. And to be “passionate,” it takes care with every detail, from distributing Terra Blue Chips to crediting passengers if the DirecTVs are not working properly.

5.  Hustle – Whether we’re talking pickup ball or the world of brands, the undeniable truth is that the game is fast and highly situational. Every shift in events, every new moment is a new opportunity.

Oreo has been doing a masterful job of hustling. Its focus had it “in the zone” when the lights went out at the Super Bowl. Oreo immediately knew how to seize the opportunity in a way that was on brand and relevant to the context. Its “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet was retweeted more than 16,000 times and even more important, became an authentic moment of the Super Bowl experience.

Taken together, these pointers can help brands get both the home and away court advantage in an always-on world that is getting faster and more dynamic each day. The brands that can thrive in this new environment -- the brands with agility -- will continue to win.

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