Have you watched the Houston Cougars college football team this season? Earlier in the year, going up against the 3rd-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, Houston wasn’t expected to win. They beat expectations and they beat the Sooners, 33-23. They followed up with an impressive string of wins, and though Navy upset them recently, they still made major waves this college football season and are having a successful season.
Houston is a strong team and they did great last year, finishing off the season with an enormous win over College Football Power, Florida State. The only reason that their first win this season was a surprise is that the Sooners are perceived to be so much better—remember, Oklahoma made the playoffs last year and their team has returned with most of the same great players. Houston triumphed because it’s been able to sign some great recruits of its own, notably Ed Oliver. The Houston native is big and fast and talented, and could have gone to play anywhere in the country.
So, why didn’t he? Why did he pick Houston?
The big question is why would any top athlete pick Houston, when you have Texas, Baylor, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and others, all right in the same region, competing for recruits? To win on the field, Houston must first win the fight for recruits and that means presenting itself as the place talented players want to be.
That means branding.
We’ve talked about branding before, how to build a brand, how to cope with negative publicity, the role of innovation in branding, and how branding is important in both business and sports. Now, let’s look at how these ideas apply to one specific college football program and what you can learn from Houston’s success.
1. Create awareness around your story, idea, company, self
Last year was Coach Tom Herman’s first with the team and as we mentioned, Houston did well. That was important, but just as important was the way the team took to social media to make sure everyone was a part of it. By telling the stories of the team’s victories in the right media and the right format, they made sure to get attention. A coordinated narrative, organized around hashtags like #HoustonTakeover, helped talented local kids really start thinking about Houston as the place to be. They’d grown up rooting for the team anyway, they just needed a reason to stay with that relationship as players. Building a reputation through social media gave them that reason.
How you apply this principle in business depends on what field you’re in. It could be as simple as taking to social media. The point is that when you succeed, you have to make sure others know about it in a humble way and in a way that helps others as much if not more than you. That way you can attract the employees, allies, and clients you need to achieve further success. Directly or indirectly, you have to be able to tell people “work with us, and all this can be yours.”
2. Use what you learn
Tom Herman didn’t invent his style of coaching from scratch. He didn’t have to. He used to be the offensive coordinator at Ohio State, where he learned from one of the best, Urban Meyer. Now, he’s applying what he learned from his time with the Ohio State Buckeyes to the Houston Cougars. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, either. Seek the mentorship of people who are successful in your field and apply their teachings to your own work.
3. Find small successes early and parlay them into more
How do you parlay your success into more success if you haven’t won anything yet? Easy—start small. Celebrate a good practice. Celebrate getting first downs or a good first quarter. Are you doing better than you did before? Good. Have a party. Did you just beat a low-ranked team you maybe couldn’t have beaten last year? Good—celebrate with your team. Use the success you have to build moral and to let everyone know the work isn’t done. The momentum you build will lead to winning against a school like Oklahoma.
What this looks like for your business again depends on your field, but the point is you don’t have to wait until you’re actually at the top of the hill to define yourself as a winner. You don’t have to wait to start actively working on your reputation. Don’t act like you’ve won the College Football National Championship because you can get dressed in the morning, but celebrate your accomplishments and build that momentum.
Keep Showing Up
When we started writing this article, Houston had just made a promising start on a new season. But getting a piece ready to post takes time—and in that time, Houston has just kept winning and winning.
Until Week 6 of the College Football Season, when they were upset by Navy.
Of course, one loss doesn’t take away from their success and it’s not like they’re going to fold up shop and quit. They’re going to keep working, and they’re going to keep recruiting. And that’s what you need to do, too. Winning is hard and it doesn’t happen every day, even if you’re doing everything right. Win or lose, you’ve got to create awareness around your story, celebrate your successes, large or small, and apply what you’ve learned. See where the season takes you!