In September of 2013, I had a past life experience. I wielded a pair of shiny gold pompoms and performed at Candlestick Park during halftime when the 49ers played the Colts. I’m, how shall we put this – no spring chicken, so you’re probably wondering what the heck I was doing shaking my booty for 60,000 people on the 45 yard line.
You see, I don’t talk about it much, but I was once a cheerleader for the San Francisco 49ers. Yep, it’s true. My hair was a tower that defied physics. It was the 80s after all – 1988 and 1989 to be exact. If you’re up on your Niner history, you know those were SuperBowl years, so I couldn’t have worn the red and gold at a better time.
When I was a Goldrush Girl I didn’t know much about branding, but as I took to the field with nearly 200 other former cheerleaders for the reunion performance, I realized that during my time on the team, I got one of the biggest branding insights of my career. At 19, I hadn’t fully internalized it yet, but I understood it instinctively. It was the idea that people are a far more powerful extension of a brand than any other element within an organization. Logo, tagline, website – they’re all nothing compared to the almighty power of the person.
Back in the 80s, when I cheered at each game or did appearances at events like the grand opening of an AM/PM mini market in Modesto (oh, yes I did), I wasn’t Kristin Slye (or Kristi White as I was known back then), I was a living breathing expression of the 49er brand. As you know, loyalty runs high among football fans. When I put the uniform on, people wanted to meet me, talk to me, and get my autograph. I was part of something magical to them. When I took the uniform off, I was just me — student and part-time bank teller.
My fellow cheerleaders and I were chosen not just because we were experienced dancers, but because the 49er organization felt that we were an accurate human reflection of the brand. Furthermore, we were asked to conduct ourselves in accordance with the brand’s values. For example, not fraternizing with or dating the players.
Similarly in every company, the people are the true essence of the brand. In many ways, the HR department is far more responsible for maintaining the integrity of a brand than the marketing department. I was a double major in Advertising and Organizational Behavior. The latter degree has helped me far more as a brand strategist than the former.
When I work with new clients, I always start with interviewing and observing the employees to get an accurate gauge of the personality and culture of the organization. It’s essential that marketing promises be delivered by people who reflect the brand. And when the right people are in place, it’s certainly something to cheer about.