Monday, November 06, 2006

Manning vs. Brady: Who's the Better Brand

I admit, I’m not getting as much joy out of this post as I would be if the Patriots had actually beaten the Colts last night in what had been hoopla’d into the game of the season in these parts. Still it’s interesting to take a look at the different brands of each team’s superstar quarterback.

For those completely uninterested in sports and/or who never turn on the television, that would be Peyton Manning for the Colts, and Tom Brady for the Patriots.

Like Microsoft and Apple, like Coke and Pepsi, Manning and Brady dominate their game - or at least dominate the conversation around the game. The run-up to last night’s game revolved around a hyped-up head-on between these two guys.

Peyton Manning’s brand is about unquestionable talent. When it comes to stats, he beats Brady pretty much across the boards, and he’s arguably the single most talented quarterback in the NFL today. I don’t like him one little bit, but when he’s got game, he is amazing to watch – just a machine. The Manning brand is also about pedigree. Manning’s father was a pro-football quarterback and is Hall of Famer. His kid brother is the quarterback for the NY Giants.

Manning’s brand is about personal performance, and his is formidable. But it’s also more or less a me brand. Until the Colts manage to win a Super Bowl, that’s what it will remain.

If you’ve seen any of the ads that Peyton Manning is in – I’m not sure what they’re for, but he eats things, goes shopping, cheers for people, and kicks his brother in the butt – they seem to exemplify the jock who hasn’t quite grown up yet. I’m sure these ads are intended to create the image of a good-humored guy, but he comes across as a case of arrested development.

Tom Brady's brand is unquestionably about winning. Even though he just got upstaged by Manning – as he did the last time these two teams met - when it comes to winning the big games (i.e., the games that win the Super Bowl), Brady’s the one who’s got game. He may not have the breathtaking talent of Peyton Manning, but somehow it comes together to put a lot of W’s up there. There’s nothing robotic or perfect about Brady’s performance. And maybe because I’m a Pats’ fan, whenever “we’ve” got the ball, I’m nervous – is he going to get sacked, is he going to get intercepted. (If you watched last night’s game, you saw why a Pats’ fan has reason to be nervous: 4 interceptions.) Yet whatever is happening, I tend have faith that, in the end, Tom Brady will pull things out.

Brady’s brand is also about leadership. When he’s interviewed after a game, he takes ownership and responsibility, but it’s not in any “all my doing/all my fault” kind of way. It’s as if he just finished internalizing a business book on the habits of effective leaders. He doesn’t let people (including himself) off the hook, but I’ve never seen him toss someone under the bus, either. And the only ads I remember Brady doing - and I haven’t seen any in a while - were for some credit card or other – and he did them his teammates, not solo. No wonder his teammates love the guy.

Like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady’s brand is somewhat about family. In Brady’s case, however, it’s not about Crown Prince son and “spare heir” trying to play out their Oedipal strife on the football field. It’s about the hug and kiss little Tommy gave his father in the locker room after a big loss (which showed up in a 60 Minutes profile on Brady, but did not seem staged at all).

Frankly, both of these guys are overexposed, but most of Brady’s overexposure is at the hands of press and media that just can’t get enough of Mr. Wonderful. I have no idea how many handlers he has at work getting him on the cover of Sports Illustrated, GQ, and this week’s Boston Sunday Globe (in an article entitled “The Brady Brand”, no less.) He even made this week's list of the most fashionable people in Boston. (OK, in the land of LL Bean and Brooks Brothers, that might not be saying that much.

But listen to the announcers talk about Brady during a nationally-televised game. They’re typically gushing to the point where I’m embarrassed for them and for him. Sure, the announcers do a lot of talking about Peyton Manning, and most of it’s positive. But there’s always the ‘can he win the big one’ question lurking there. And the sense that he’s just not as likeable (and, let’s face it, adorable) as Tom Brady.

Yeah, I’m sure it helps that Brady’s a cutie while Manning’s kind of bland looking, but if you ask anyone who’s got the better brand, Brady by a long shot. (I’d bet that even Peyton Manning would agree to that.)

Brady’s brand is better because he has won more. Manning might have better features, but when taken together, the overall package works better for Brady. The sum is more than the parts of the whole. With Manning, the sum is so far less than the parts. Maybe this will be the season when he takes it all. We’ll see.

If on feature-by-feature basis you come out ahead of your competitor, and they’re still the winner, look again – there may be something missing in your product. If you’re product is truly better, you’re being out-marketed. (Now, if someone’s outspending you 100:1 there may be nothing you can do about it, but if that’s not the case, get in there and figure out how marketing can make your product add up.)

Brady’s brand is better because his exposure comes from the “objective” press – not through advertising. Advertising can be a very powerful way to raise awareness and, in fact, gain credibility. But real credibility comes when “someone else” is saying good things for and about you. That’s why getting in front of press and analysts is so critical. That’s why having customers talk about you is so potent.

To me, Manning always comes across as kind of befuddled that he’s not adulated the same way Brady is. It’s as if he’s thinking, Hey, I can’t help it if I’m already the best. Brady knows he’s not the best, and in a sense that makes his brand all the better. He doesn’t rest on his laurels – if ever there were a poster boy for continuous improvement, it’s Brady. Don’t assume that his year’s good press, Magic Quadrant, and customer satisfaction will last forever. It won’t if you’re not doing something about it.

For all his undeniable brilliance on the field, and his supreme confidence when he's got the ball in his hands, Manning’s brand just doesn’t seem all that confident to me. Brady’s brand is better because he exudes confidence. I think he’s one of those athletes (or business people) who can really look at himself objectively, look at his strengths and weaknesses, and not get into his head about it in either direction. You need to have confidence in your products. Focus on what you have that’s great, acknowledge what you have that’s not so great. Don’t whine about it, improve on it. But don’t let it get you down on your product. If marketing doesn’t have faith in its products, there’s no way they’re going to be capable of convincing anyone else that they should.

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