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Building Your Brand #2: How to Score Big with Innovation

This is the second in a four-part series on branding. I’ve already talked in the introduction about how an unrecognized team can succeed, but to keep that success coming you’ve got to build name recognition—you’ve got to build your brand. And you can do that through innovation. That’s as true in college football as it is in business.

But how do these unknowns get their start in the first place? Obviously you need leaders (coaches, AD’s, commitment to winning) and you need talent—and you need new ideas. Baylor and TCU may not have the depth of the Alabamas and Florida States of the world, but they have leaders that can think differently and apply their energy, passion and ideas. Both programs play a fun, up tempo style as was evident in the 2014 game between the two programs. They scored a lot of points and right away the big media networks took notice and started showing these teams’ highlights as well as becoming talking points on sports talk shows across the nation. Fans told their friends and more people started to watch. Both teams are big stories, now.

They see how these teams are being different for a reason- it is working. You don’t have to be like everyone else. Innovation is key.

A few new ideas, a willingness to try something different, is often how unknowns create opportunity for themselves. You must have a willingness to fail. In college football, the spread offense has helped even the playing field. And guess what? The coaches that started it were innovators. Everyone was doing their job the way it was always done, but then early adopters created new styles of offense that football had not seen except in high school. College programs didn’t think that style could work in their game – until it did. Many of these innovators coached high school football where the spread offense first developed. See Gus Malzahn of Auburn. He leads a high powered offense at a recognized program. But even they re-branded in some ways with their new style of play. The days of Bo Jackson playing running back in what many people called a phone booth (because all the players were in a tight area) was over. Now Auburn has players lined up all over and “spread” out making it challenging on the defense to even figure out where the ball is. And guess what, people took notice. Auburn won a championship and went to another championship game. The read option is another style. And while the basics can be predicated on the run, it’s a style that has taken the college football world by storm. These programs are creative with their design even when the so-called experts said it couldn’t be done.

It doesn’t mean you can’t be successful with 3 yards and a cloud of dust, you just need to adapt to 2015. Urban Meyer at Ohio State has often used an up tempo, spread, read option offense, but at the core is to run the ball up the middle just like Ohio State did back in the day with Woody Hayes who coined the phrase, “3 yards and a cloud of dust.” But Meyer has taken it to the new generation.