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Chris Hirst

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Kenny Dalglish - The Brand Manager

Posted: 18/03/2012 23:00

Poor old Kenny Dalglish - he thought on his return to Liverpool FC that he was managing a football team: a bit of buying, a bit of selling, 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 and the odd half-time tantrum (tea cups optional).

What it seems was pointed out to him after his recent Sky Sports outburst by Fenway Sports Group (I like to think, in keeping with the times, it may have been a video conference!) was that he was not just a tracksuit wearing football manager but, in fact, a Marketing Director.

Not just any old Marketing Director either, but one in charge of a massive, hugely lucrative global brand. What's more, a brand operating in a market place without regulation except (and crucially for Dalglish) the court of global public opinion. When the Luis Suarez controversy kicked off, Dalglish could only thinking about protecting his dressing room - after all, why should he be worried about Liverpool's image? He's a football manager!

King Kenny is a public example of what perhaps we might call brandisation: the transformation of brands from products in the supermarket into virtually anything, everything, everybody and everywhere. New York City, The Beckhams and Manchester United were early adopters, but brandisation has caught on, and is now everywhere: X Factor, Katie Price, Local Authorities and even the Army all now consider themselves brands. I've even known job applicants who describe themselves as brands. Stuart Baggs anyone?

(Incidentally, how is it that football fans have only just realised they support brands, for what is a brand if it isn't a product wrapped in emotional values? It could be argued football clubs are the ultimate expression of branding.)

The corollary of this trend is that as everything becomes a brand, and each of usbrand managers. Brandisation has seen the ownership, control and direction of brands shift from financial shareholders in the city to emotional shareholders everywhere

What's more challenging is that these emotional shareholders don't have to own (or even like) your products to join the club. Who doesn't have a point of view on Microsoft, BP, Tesco or Liverpool FC? We watch and debate, criticise and calculate. Brands are public property and, more than ever, actions speak louder than words. In Kenny's case, his most damning action being the farcical show of support for Suarez back in December.

You just have to look at the millions of owners of iPads or iPhones that are emotionally invested in both the present and the future of the Apple brand. Their opinions and passion both support and pressurise simultaneously.

The breakdown of traditional societal hierarchies and the democratising effect of the internet has profoundly shifted both the expectations and potential of 'fans', 'supporters' and 'loyalists' (all passive expressions) and created a world of 'activists', 'ambassadors' and 'networkers'. Thus the emotional shareholders in Kanye, X Factor, Tesco, and Renault expect to have a say (both positive and negative) in a brand's performance, just as their financial shareholders do. And just as projections of future earnings determine share price, so consumers increasingly determine the brands' value - and its values.

The challenge for Marketing Departments is how they deal with this loss of control - as poor old Kenny discovered to his cost.