I have a confession: I am a Leicester City Fan. It started when I was 11 and went to Filbert Street watching Gary Lineker play. we were 2-0 up and I was hooked. We lost the game 6-2 and so began my love-hate relationship with The Foxes.
When the Premier League season began in August Leicester City were favourites for only one thing – relegation. They had only just survived the drop during the previous season and their manager had recently been sacked after a team scandal. To make matters worse, Leicester had appointed Claudio Ranieri as his replacement. The Italian was available after being fired as manager of the Greek national team following a humiliating loss to the Faroe Islands. Little wonder then, that at 5000-1, Leicester winning the Premier League was seen as more unlikely than the Second Coming of Christ by most British bookmakers. You could get better odds on Jeremy Corbyn winning Big Brother or Alex Ferguson winning Strictly.
If only I had Believed and Kept the Faith and placed the bet,
At the end of the season Leicester City have won the Premier League, with 2 games to go.
It is a remarkable story and one that marketers should pay special attention to based on 3 simple rules Ranieri applied:
- Clear data-driven Diagnosis,
- Distinctive Strategic Plan,
- Strong Tactical Plan executed with Excellence.
Clear data-driven Diagnosis. In Ranieri’s initial days at Leicester he had arrived with some clear notions about how the team should play. He talked to the players and looked at all the data-driven analytics of the way they played, and realised they didn’t want to and couldn’t play the Italian system. I have great admiration for those who build new tactical systems, but I always thought the most important thing a good coach must do is to build the team around the characteristics of his players.
The secret to future marketing success is data-driven diagnosis. It’s crucial not to arrive with established strategic approaches and prior tactics already in place. Listen. Drill into the data to understand the picture. Understand the new brand, the organisation behind it and the consumers that buy it. You only ever get one chance to perform a proper diagnosis so take your time here. Look for good secondary data, study the brand history and do as much in-market ethnographic work as you can. Ranieri and Leicester City were using the latest data driven techniques to understand the strengths of each individual player and build a clear data driven diagnosis.
Distinctive strategic plan Ranieri quickly realised from his diagnosis that his new team was not exactly skilled in the art of possession football. Leicester’s starting eleven cost a total of £22m to assemble; that’s about half a Rooney. Ranieri realised he would not win anything if he tried to play the game like everyone else. Instead, he gave up on possession football and focused on his team’s overriding advantages – speed and an inherent work ethic. Typically, when a team wins in the Premier League they have on average 60% to 65% of the possession in matches. Leicester are winning each week, often by several goals, with as little as 35% possession. Rather than control games, they use their speed and tenacity to break quickly with lethal counter attacks.
The real lesson here is to listen hard to colleagues and customers, drilling into the data, genuinely studying the situation and your strengths and weaknesses to identify a clear and often distinctive way to win in the market. Who will we target? How will we win? How can we play the game differently from the rest? These are the great strategic questions that set the direction for brand success.
Strong Tactical Plan executed with excellence: Leicester play long ball football to allow fast breaks. They harry and hassle their opponents until they can win the ball and attack immediately. Their star players, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, are encouraged to push forward and await the counter attacks that inevitably result from Leicester’s pressing approach.
The tactical execution and the tools you use can only be applied after a clear strategic approach has been decided upon, and must be executed with excellence. Too many marketers are ready with tactical approaches but when you push them on the rationale for their execution it becomes apparent that the big strategic questions have simply not been asked.
Leicester have won the Premier League. the greatest turn around story.
Claudio Ranieri should also be Marketing Leader of the Season 2015-16