Between Brexit, Covid and the monotonous tune of recent day-to-day life, there hasn’t been all that much togetherness and camaraderie in our worlds. Whether you’re a football lover or hater, Southgate and his team rose from the ashes (of knock-out stage heartbreak) and united the country in a way that transcended across generations, communities and geography, and connected fans and spectators with a team of young, diverse and passionate players, both on and off the pitch.
It wasn’t the result we wanted. The aftermath of the loss has been ugly. But the way the team and management continue to navigate this arena is a masterclass in upholding collective values and connecting with an audience (or, a country) that every brand and institution can learn from.
Champion your players to speak up on the matters that matter.
It’s not news that humans connect with humans. And this speaks to a lot of the success the England squad have had in recent times. England Football is no longer a faceless institution that represents a sport, instead the players themselves are at the forefront of everything the brand stands for. And the men have been given the platform to speak their own truths in a way we haven’t always seen. Indicative of a new era of athlete activism, this group of diverse players have the social awareness, humility, and confidence to express themselves.
This can be applied to the Education sector too. We don’t necessarily need to hear from the FA with their corporate press releases and carefully-crafted social posts; instead the audience hangs onto the words and stories of Rashford, Grealish and Sterling which then builds affinity to the overall brand. This highlights how important your student ambassadors are. Ambassadors from every walk of life, because like we said; humans connect with humans.
Embrace your diversity.
On the note of ambassadors, the England squad truly reflects modern Britain, for perhaps the first time ever. More than half of the 26-man squad have at least one parent or grandparent born outside of the UK.
As Southgate said before the 2018 World Cup: “In England we have spent a bit of time being a bit lost as to what our modern identity is. I think as a team we represent that modern identity and hopefully, people can connect with us.”
And people do. Your campuses are a similar representation of our modern culture, and should be celebrated. Give your diverse students the opportunity to share their stories and connect with their peers, and, more importantly, your prospective students who are looking for where their home for the next three years should be.
Know that the past doesn’t have to define the future.
Gareth Southgate and the England team have shown that they can write their own history, and inject purpose and passion into their actions both on and off the pitch. The same can be said for brands (knowing the right time to accept accountability, for example), giving you the opportunity to do better, be better and face the future with confidence. Mistakes are there to be learnt from – hitting the refresh button should feel exciting, not scary.
Adopt a learning mindset to fuel the pursuit of success.
A brand isn’t static. Fact. Audience behaviours change, so don’t keep rolling out the same old tried-and-tested formula. It’s important to understand your competition, study the landscape and not be afraid to evolve. Even if you’re the number one in your industry the competition will always be snapping at your heels and trying to take your place. So, to stay on top you need to keep aiming higher and ensure you never stand still.
Experience matters: deliver on your promise.
For institutions and brands to remain relevant and attractive to the audience, you need to have a clear idea of your purpose and beliefs. England Football and the players stood proud against racism, bullying and class inequality (to name just a few), and their actions spoke volumes. And if their actions didn’t match up to the things they were saying, the audience would have quickly been able to spot it. This is the same with students; gone are the days of virtue signalling, rainbow-washing, they see straight through it, and you’ll pay the price for this further down the line. Remaining true to your values and roots will prove your authenticity and ultimately guide the decisions you make, whether it’s in commercial, ethical, or financial areas of your organisation
Football may not have come home, and there is clearly so much work to be done as a nation in the name of equality after the onslaught of racist abuse the Black players received, but one thing is for sure, there’s also a whole lot we can learn from these 20-something athletes and the management behind them.
Champion your ambassadors, give them the confidence to have a voice, stand proud with them, and be authentic in all that you do. Set out to make the world a better place, and mean it. Existing and prospective students will feel your values shining through, and the affinity you’ll build off the back of it will be unparalleled.
Here’s to the 2022 World Cup.