Robert M. Grant (2007:249) explains that differentiation is concerned with the provision of uniqueness, and that a firm’s opportunities for creating uniqueness in its offerings to customers are not located within a particular function or activity, but can arise in virtually everything that it does. He continues (ibid) by mentioning a number of drivers of uniqueness identified by Michael E. Porter (1985:120) that are decision variables for an organisation that wishes to gain a competitive advantage through differentiation. We will dive into these variable and apply them to German Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund.
Product features and product performance
Before we analyse the features that come with the product and how the product performs, we need to define what the product of Borussia Dortmund is. Fullerton (2010:16) lists the three sectors that according to Meek (1997) constitute the gross domestic sports product (GDSP):
a) Sports entertainment, incl. spectators tickets, participation fees, betting, etc.
b) Sports products, incl. sports goods, apparel, magazines, licensed products, etc.
c) Sports support organisations, incl. consulting firms, law services, ad agencies, etc.
For this exercise, we will connect the above-mentioned sectors – mainly a) and b) – and define our product as the Borussia Dortmund brand experience, which encompasses how entertaining, engaging, and appealing the experience with the Borussia Dortmund brand can be. The idea of a club brand experience as a product is underlined by Samindra Kunti, who writes that high-class football entertainment is a perfect product to sell (qz.com, 2014).
BusinessDictionary.com defines a product feature as, “A function of an item which is capable of gratifying a particular consumer need and is hence seen as a benefit of owning the item. In business, a product feature is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a product or service that helps boost its appeal to potential buyers, and might be used to formulate a product marketing strategy that highlights the usefulness of the product to targeted potential consumers. (Retrieved on 13 February 2015)” Mullins et al. (2003) claim that customers are really buying the benefits they believe the products provide, rather than the products per se, and that value is a function of intrinsic product features, service, and price, and it means different things to different people.
The following list aggregates a selection of product features, that differentiate Borussia Dortmund from their competitors, and assesses the product performance:
The Borussia Dortmund Brand. The club ranks 11th in the Deloitte Football Money League 2015 with almost €124m in commercial revenue, depicting the appeal of the brand for corporations wanting to in invest in marketing through sports; furthermore, millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook prove how appealing the brand is for football aficionados and simple consumers (Deloitte, 2015:28).
Signal Iduna Park (home stadium). Tripadviser ranks Dortmund’s home turf #1 of the listed attractions in Dortmund with 95% of 323 reviews (retrieved 13 February 2015).
Matchday atmosphere. The club has been enjoying the highest football attendance in Europe with an average crowd of 80,295 visitors per match in the 2013/14 season (footballeconomy.com, 2014). The so-called ‘Gelbe Wand’ (Yellow Wall) encompasses 25,000 Borussia Dortmund fans and is the largest general admission grandstand in Europe and is said to give shivers even to spectators sympathising with teams other than Borussia Dortmund (ruhrnachrichten.de, 2013).
The team and its branded footballers. Over the years, Borussia Dortmund has had its good share of football stars playing for the club, such as Matthias Sammer, Michael Rummenigge, and Stéphane Chapuisat, just to name a few. The current team includes individual brands such as Shinji Kagawa, Marco Reus, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mats Hummels, and not to forget head coach Jürgen Klopp. All of the above-mentioned (as well as many not mentioned here) enrich the club’s brand with their image and can be perceived as a crucial feature of the product. For example, having an international star like Shinji Kagawa playing for Dortmund, can raise awareness and interest for the club’s brand experience in Japan or among consumers interested in Japanese football. The same can be said respectively for the likes of Ciro Immobile in Italy and so on.
Complementary services can be defined as services that accompany the same product or system and support its acquisition, installation, usage, maintenance, and disposal (businessdictionary.com, retrieved 13 February 2015). Shank (2001:30) explains that because much of sports marketing is based on services rather than goods, understanding the nature of services marketing is critical, and that services planning entails pricing of services, managing demand for services, and evaluating service quality; in addition, fans equate value with high levels of customers service that encompasses different service issues [including everything connected to the brand experience]. Next, we list and assess a selection of complimentary services offered by Borussia Dortmund:
Match broadcast. According to Deloitte’s Football Money League 2015, “The competitiveness and quality of matches between [Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich] have been key contributors to the growth in international popularity of the Bundesliga, with de Klassiker between Munich and Dortmund in November 2014 broadcast live in 208 of the 209 FIFA Member Associations. (Deloitte, 2015:28)” Giving fans and other spectators the opportunity and possibility to watch matches in basically every corner of the globe can be a significant benefit in regard to pleasing the club’s audience. Furthermore, the quality and ease of access to the broadcast is an additional services that needs to be considered.
Webshop. We have discussed the experience on a football club’s webshop on a few occasions on this blog – see here and here – and should restate a crucial question asked by Bryan Eisenberg in this context: “What can I do to make the life for my customer a little bit better in buying from me? (Market Motive, 2008)” Considering the five levels of the Hierarchy of Optimization – functional, accessible, usable, intuitive, and persuasive – it can be observed that Borussia Dortmund’s webshop is 1) functional as it works properly online, 2) can be easily accessed from the club’s official website and other online presences, 3) its usability can be regarded state of the art, 4) the navigation of the webshop is clear and intuitive, and 5) the copywriting and emotions that come with the visuals can persuade visitors to buy jerseys and other merchandising.
The sensorial dimension. “The sensorial dimension of sport brands refers to the tangible characteristics of sport products and services, those features which can be experienced via all consumers’ senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch). (Bouchet et al., 2013: 39)” If we consider the offline and online appearance of a club to be a service to the fan, it can be observed that Borussia Dortmund invests a considerable amount of resources into making such appearances as professional as possible. All media, such as photos, videos, and copy comes in top quality and brings additional value to the brand experience (ibid); just think of the official Facebook fan page, Twitter channel, Instagram, or YouTube channel. All of them are a great way to feel close to the club and bridge the time between two games.
Intensity of marketing activities
According to Grant (2007:249), this driver refers to advertising activities on the side of the company. Since simple observations done on the internet are unreliable for this exercise, we will not dive into this point, but expand on a statement by Fill & Jamieson (2006:415), “The main roles of advertising are to build awareness, to induce an engagement (if only on a cognitive basis), and to (re)position brands, by changing either perception or attitudes.” Furthermore, in order for us to be able to assess the rate of communication activities, we focus on organic online communication instead of advertising per se.
Continuing the discussion started in the previous driver about the sensorial dimension, it can be noted that Borussia Dortmund constantly – or better, intensively – pushes out pieces of communication on all its major official online communication channels. The club publishes news on their website, posts on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, and photos on Instagram on a daily basis, mostly multiple times per day. In addition, it is safe to claim that Borussia Dortmund reaches likability with its communication, which can be argued to be a feature of positioning a brand by changing perception or attitude, as stated by Fill & Jamieson.
Guy Kawasaki (2011:9) claims that four factors create a good first impression and therefore likability: a) your smile, b) your dress, c) your handshake, and d) your vocabulary. Applying these four factors to Borussia Dortmund’s online communication it can be assessed that the club is positively received by many football enthusiasts because of a) its likable demeanour, b) & c ) its professional appearance in all instances, and d) the choice of copywriting and visuals in its communication.
Part 2 of this post will be published on Monday, 2 March 2015, on this blog. Stay tuned and follow me on Twitter at @sebinomics.