Last updated: From underdogs to top dogs: Overcoming the odds with your brand

From underdogs to top dogs: Overcoming the odds with your brand


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The Philadelphia Eagles just finished their shortest offseason ever. The team achieved their first Super Bowl win in franchise history on February 4 2018, to the surprise and disbelief of many spectators. Even for those who are not Eagles fans, or are not even football fans, there was a draw to this very unexpected and entertaining season and team.

The Philadelphia Eagles 2017 season painted a compelling story—a team with a second year rookie quarterback, projecting mild expectations coming off of the preseason, riddled with injuries as the weeks progressed. As the Eagles started unexpectedly climbing the leaderboard, the team was still not favored to win the Super Bowl, especially as their MVP potential quarterback was taken out by an ACL injury in week 14.

They were the only team in NFL history to enter the playoffs who were considered underdogs though they maintained homefield advantage and a better record than their competitors. The Eagles embraced their underdog status and went from underdogs to hungry dogs to top dogs, winning it all.

From Cinderella stories such as these, companies can learn how to embrace the underdog status and achieve the impossible.

Overcoming the odds with your brand

Lesson 1: Drink up the Haterade: It is easy to say “ignore the haters”  but let’s get real, especially in the digital age it is getting harder to ignore people who don’t believe in you. The Eagles decided to turn their haters into their fuel.  The history of the team was one that “nay-sayers” constantly brought up. The fact that the Eagles were one of the oldest teams in the league without a Super Bowl win, and had a tendency to choke when it really mattered, were things that commentators and division competitors loved to remember.

Even when the Eagles hit number one in the NFL power rankings, it was reiterated by analysts time and time again that they had a relatively “easy” season.  When the Eagles kept on defying the odds, beating Atlanta in the playoffs and then beating Minnesota in the NFC championship game, the common phrase was “Well, they’ll be out next week.”

In sports and business alike, there is a constant need to prove oneself.  There is also this hope that if you show up and do your best, you will be validated in some way.  What the Eagles have shown is we have two choices to negative commentary on our brand: To believe it and get discouraged or to hear it, get hungrier and work harder.

A company that “got hungrier” and embraced underdog status in the last decade with great success, is Domino’s.  Domino’s has enjoyed much success since its establishment in the 1960’s but there was a continuous perception in the 80s, 90s and earlier 2000s that it delivered a lesser pizza than its competitors. In the 2000’s Dominos invested in a series of marketing campaigns, displaying negative feedback on the brand and embracing it.

Domino’s channeled the words of their critics into innovation with their recipes, website and mobile apps until it became one of the top ten companies in terms of online transactions. Alongside companies like Amazon and Apple. All the effort paid off. In 2018 Domino’s was named the top pizza seller in the world and proved and turned critics into fans.

Don’t let the words of critics define your brand. Get hungrier, and work harder to deliver on your promises.

Lesson 2: Treat your whole team as first string: One of the reasons the Eagles gained international attention this year, is the fact that they won the Super Bowl with their second-string quarterback, Nick Foles. This feat hasn’t been achieved by a backup quarterback in 16 years since Tom Brady made his first Super Bowl appearance in 2002.

The last games of the regular season were considered by many as Nick Foles’ “preseason” as he hadn’t been regularly participating in practice up to that point. The Eagles head coach, Doug Pederson continuously came to Nick Foles’ defense during press conferences when people doubted that the backup quarterback could lead the team through the post season. What’s important to note about Doug Pederson, as the coach of a team with so many members on the injury list, he didn’t treat anyone on his team as a “backup.” He knew that every single player on his team had the talents and abilities to step up and perform when called upon.

Every team has had experiences where team leads or someone with a high amount of experience exits the company, leaving everyone else in a slight state of panic. In day to day roles it can become very easy to have defined first strings and backups even if it’s not an intentional or public split.

It’s important for managers and leaders to recognize where this is happening and invest in the continuous improvement of every single person on their team. It’s important to put a focus on developing an elite team of high performers. Every member of your team needs opportunities to develop new skills.

It can be a smaller commitment, like virtual learnings or giving time for development classes during regular work hours, but also consider something larger as well, like a fellowship with another team or a sabbatical to develop skills offsite. Most importantly, show that you have confidence in their abilities. It will be hard for your team to believe in themselves if their leaders show no confidence in them.

No one on your team is a backup.  Invest in the development of the whole team and believe in everyone’s ability to perform.

Lesson 3: Be Bold. Take Chances.  The “Philly Special” or “Philly Philly” has now become household terms, referring to the trick play that the Philadelphia Eagles executed on 4th and goal.

It was one of the most defining and memorable moments in Super Bowl 52 as well as the riskiest play of the game. The Philadelphia Eagles were known for their bold moves and fearlessness in taking risks in the 2017 season. Even before the Philly Special, Philadelphia showed they were not averse to risks.

Another example was in the week 11 match against division rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, where kicker Jake Elliot was taken out for concussion evaluation and the Eagles decided to go for every two-point conversion. They landed 3 of 4 for the remainder of the game. Trying one 2-point conversion is risky, but doing four is typically not even a consideration.

Risks are exactly that, risky. But there is a difference between taking uncalculated risks and believing in the abilities of your team and being bold with those abilities in hopes of high returns. In order to overcome the odds, companies need to be able to take risks.

One risky advertising campaign was General Motor’s Buick campaign series launched in 2014. General Motors realized they had an image problem with the Buick. The brand was typically defined with a less stylish look, appealing to an older demographic. GM needed to find a way to revamp their image for the Buick without alienating their loyal customer base.  Poking fun at yourself can be a great method to generate new interest, but it also can be a reminder to your audience of the things that they did not like about your brand in the first place.

But GM knew they needed brand momentum, so they started this series of campaigns addressing current misconceptions on the look and feel of Buicks. The risk paid off, General Motors has experienced a steady growth rate with what is considered the “resurgence” of their Buicks.

Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks.  Believe in your brand and be bold in your actions.

Lesson 4: Less Perfection. More Authenticity: The Eagles had a messy 2017 season that somehow ended in the greatest accolade of the sport. A common word that was used to describe the team was authentic. The players never lost sight of who they were, on and off the field. They always seemed to connect everything they did with a higher purpose and standard.

The Eagles’ defensive end, Chris Long, made headlines by donating his entire 2017 salary to charity, but he was only one of several players who were active in charitable works. Carson Wentz AO1 foundation that was established in 2017 raises funds and conducts programs to primarily benefit underprivileged youth, the physically disabled and veterans. A number of players also give back to the greater Philadelphia area, especially with educational programs and scholarships.

There was also an authenticity in the way they carried themselves as individuals and as a team. Both quarterbacks, Carson Wentz and Nick Foles, as well as Coach Pederson, had an incredible genuineness when doing post-game press conferences. While journalists were bating them to say something negative about their opponents, not one negative word slipped out of their mouths. It was true talent off the field to be able to slide passed reporters trying to back you in a corner to say something “news worthy.” They let their actions speak for themselves and did not let others speak for them.

The players were also very open about their personal struggles. The Super Bowl MVP quarterback, Nick Foles, released his book, Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds, where he is open about his wife’s ongoing battle with Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and his disappointments in his career that almost led to his retirement from the NFL.

The reasons why these stories and this team resonated with so many people is because it was clear that the way this team operated wasn’t an act. They had a belief and passion in everything they did outside the field and was able to execute it on the field.  We know when brands have their priorities “out of wack”, are trying to pull the wool over our eyes and overall are just being ingenuine.  At the end of the day, when overcoming the odds, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being your authentic self.

Operate with honesty and transparency to build real loyal fans of your brand.

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