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How brands like Manchester United are getting it wrong

It is so crucial that the MUFC brand innovates now, not less but more.

Are you paying full attention to what and who your customer is now? And yes, I am aware of how arrogant the headline sounds. Who am I to judge the mighty Manchester United brand? Please bear with me and let me know your thoughts after reading why I believe this point is valid.

The world is changing so much that target audiences are no longer clearly defined by data. The algorithms and data collection points don’t give the brands enough information. But the truth is that most companies couldn’t handle more data and variables to their sales equation anyway. But personalisation, collaboration, and diversity show themselves within our world to be desired. Just look at Coca Cola’s share a coke campaign, for example. 

Take Manchester United. The brand. One of the most influential brands in global football brands and a brand that spills into the lexicon of top-of-mind brands people reel off when asked: Apple, Nike, Google, Barcelona, Real Madrid, etc. The brands reach is completely global. Without a doubt an icon of our time. But it is when you become successful you have to truly innovate to stay ahead of the hungry pack of wolves that are chasing you. MUFC has a brand next door, MCFC, that is desperate to achieve half of the MUFC brand’s audience globally, but they won’t. Not unless they change strategy. But that’s another story.

The MUFC brand ebbs and flows through the result of the football team’s success. But unlike its peers, the MUFC brand has done an incredible job developing other revenue streams for the brand. And they have nailed every single business model except one. In fact, they are so woefully underperforming with their online store they could easily quadruple their sales if they had the right strategy. Since it first appeared online, I have watched this shop and the poorly designed seasonal changes of the same tired products.

At the moment, they have all the essential elements every football club has in their gift shop. They have the male, female, child categories and standard kits and training attire, which is great an I am sure they are big sellers. There is no real surprise in the store from any other football club apart from maybe the partnership with Paul Smith. 

But this is Manchester United Football Club, and as they continue to slip from grace on the football pitch. The last trophy was in 2017. The interest decline in the brand will be felt in the shop. The brand needs to look beyond demographics and look at the various psychographics of its target audience. 

I have supported Manchester United my entire life, but now I’m older, I don’t want to wear a garish sports t-shirt or replica kit to show my support. I’m more subtle in my support but still want to have Man Utd apparel or accessories in my house. I’d wear a polo shirt with a sub-brand of the red Devil or MUFC typography or just the M, if they were designed correctly. Instead of trying to partner with Paul Smith. They should be creating sub brands and clothing that a large portion of their audience will wear; not everyone is an 8-year-old super fan whose bedroom looked like the gift shop had exploded there! Yes, that was me as an 8-year-old. Let’s move on! This would broaden the sales spectrum for the brand and provide more revenue streams and overall foundations for the brand’s longevity. 

If they had tried this before and failed, the products were poor, plain and simple. But then again, the design work across the Manchester United brand is so dated that it reflects on the club’s slide from the top. The second rate design doesn’t show confidence in seeing a change anytime soon. 

But this is a dangerous position for the brand to be in. Many large brands thought they were invincible to change. Just ask Nokia: At its peak, Nokia was valued at $300bn, but in 2016 Microsoft sold it in two parts for a paltry £350m. Apple was allegedly 90 days away from declaring bankruptcy. In August 2020, after delivering outstanding results quarter after quarter, Apple crossed another milestone: $2 trillion in market cap. 

No brand is safe in today’s world, even Manchester united. If ever the brand needed to show innovation off the field, it’s now! The brands’ diversifying brings in new ranges, styles, and mainly the collectables range. With today’s technologies, the brand doesn’t need to stock thousands of pieces of each product because print-on-demand is now a viable option. Testing and trying new products should be the online store’s mission. Innovate and test designs where you involve the audiences. It’s a new age where audiences collaborating with the brands brings the two closer than ever before in history. 

It is not just in the gift shop; imagine what they could create in Virtual Reality? Could you imagine the Manchester United brand’s experiences could be selling through Virtual Reality? Do you understand through Virtual Reality, they could sell millions of tickets for every home match day? Every brand needs to look into areas to control their fans’ experiences and get them involved. VR can provide ample room for creating a world where Manchester United Fans can do commerce together, have debates in the virtual world, create products, and much more. Play MUFC games or have a chance to run the club virtually. Every brand has this opportunity. A few, like Manchester United, could lead the way and increase their brand awareness and revenue so much they may be able to buy a whole new team. 

If you are a leader, you either innovate or die. The pack is chasing!


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