Growth Lessons From Atlanta United FC

In your organization, do you have a growth mindset or an output mindset?

Today, marketing leaders hold an exciting, yet risky position in the C-suite.

Why? Because marketing leaders are now expected to be active contributors to top line growth discussions. Sadly, many are not prepared for the conversation.

Some marketers operate in something I call “the growth gap.” It’s a space between traditional marketing roles (such as branding and marketing communications) and digital transformation/ revenue generation.

In my experience advising CMOs, I listen for whether they have a growth mindset or an output mindset. If they are focused on looking busy and launching loads of programs, their tenure will be short—or they will stay squarely in the “marcom and programs” role. The first people who notice their output behavior will be the CEO and the board of directors.

Engaged board members expect marketers to exhibit a growth mindset. They are watching for marketing leaders who can create and present future scenarios, challenge status quo, invest in new skills, embrace measured failure, and search outside their industry for innovation inspiration. Board members are more involved in growth planning discussions than they have been in the past, and they expect marketing leaders to keep up!

Modern marketers, at a minimum, need to be fluent in the same financial lexicon as the board. They should be familiar with income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow. But they need something more. They must take ownership of the organization’s culture statement.

A culture statement is a declaration of your values, vision, mission, and how your brand aligns with those elements. Effective board members constantly evaluate whether cultural norms and values are aligned with rewards systems, brand health, succession plan, and risk mitigation strategies.

Passive (and dare I say lazy) board members strictly monitor risk and financials. One of my favorite clients is frustrated because their board is a haven for groupthink. Their board members believe the CEO can do no wrong. Their tenure is assured, and they generally only discuss financial and legal topics during meetings.

The Atlanta United Football Club leadership is far from passive! When Arthur Blank hired Darren Eales as their first President, Eales started from nothing. In 2013, he had little more than a vision and a recruitment plan. Yet, within just three years, they created a culture statement and ethos from the ground up. Eales mapped out an unorthodox player and coach recruitment plan that other Major League Soccer (MLS) teams never tried. Ultimately, these bold moves scored big. They catapulted the ATLUTD fan base from zero to 50,000.

Atlanta United faced an uphill brand battle when they arrived on Atlanta’s doorstep in 2014. Atlanta is teeming with professional sports teams. Traditionally, soccer teams (such as Eales’ former Tottenham Hotspur Football Club) was organized by marketing silos. They agreed on an event or sponsor campaign, then threw the ideas over the wall for marketing to launch.

Sound familiar? Sadly, that old way of thinking is pervasive across many industries.

Darren Eales took a different approach than other MLS teams. Well before fan (customer) experience was a thing, Darren Eales realized that integrating fans at every stage of the Atlanta United launch was essential to earning a following. He broke from sports marketing tradition by encouraging his leadership to throw out the Major League Soccer promotional playbook. It worked brilliantly.

During the 2017 season, Atlanta United’s marketing and fan engagement strategies have set multiple league records. These include season tickets sales (36,000-plus), single-game attendance (71,874), and total home attendance (819,404).

At CLIC ’18, I will be guiding a fireside chat with Eales at the world-class Atlanta United Training Facility. Darren will give us the inside scoop on the power of culture statements, and how they make talent your competitive edge on the playing field.

I invite you to join us and break from the pack in your field. Here’s the invitation link.

Related posts:

24 Questions to Eliminate Marketing Innovation Barriers

Taming the Four Strategic Growth Gremlins

How to Think Like a Startup CMO (CLIC ’17)

Chart a New Course with “Innovate Your Marketing” ebook

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