College football is in full swing, and full attention is lasered in on Colorado Buffaloes football Coach Deion Sanders and his Cinderella team. They’re 4-2 after week 6, following a dismal 1-11 season last year before the takeover of “Coach Prime” — as he has branded himself. But the wins and almost-wins (including a one-touchdown loss to the mighty USC) are what have everyone tuned in and talking.
Coach Prime is loud, unabashedly so. Plenty are rolling their eyes at all the hype (especially other teams and more traditional coaches). But whether they love him or hate him, college football fans and the media cannot ignore Coach Prime or what he and the football team are doing right now. Consider:
- His September 18 interview with 60 Minutes drew the most viewers for the news program in over 2 years. Over 1 million tuned in to watch Coach Prime, compared to less than 150,000 who watched their interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
- Tickets for the remainder of the Buffs’ season are sold out — a first in the history of the program.
- In a single day in September, sales for the Blenders sunglasses that are Coach Prime’s signature topped $1.25 million. The total this season? Well over $5 million.
- In one social media video, he managed to turn a 98-year-old lifelong fan into the heart behind his personal tagline of “Give me my theme music!”
The mark of a strong brand is one that is seemingly seen, heard and talked about everywhere you turn. Building one that hits these marks is challenging, but attainable. Like him or not, and however the rest of the season plays out, Coach Prime right now is a best-in-show case study of the 5 ways to get it done:
- Be authentic: Coach Prime is who he is — and he is unapologetic in who he is. In PR, we build brand identities for clients. We would describe his as: Flashy. Bold. Aggressive. Attention-seeking. Passionate. Faithful. These brand attributes date back to his days at Florida State University where he was dubbed “Neon Deon,” to his time in the NFL and Major League Baseball. His brand has always been one you cannot ignore and one that he holds to unwaveringly.
- Be disruptive: Brands that question the status quo get noticed. Apple disrupted the way we think about computers and phones. Tesla has disrupted the way we think about how we drive. AirBnB and VRBO disrupted the way we vacation. Coach Prime came into the University of Colorado at Boulder’s losing program and has completely disrupted it, to turn it into a team that can win. He used the player transfer portal to essentially wipe the slate of former players and hand select a new roster. Disruptive? Yes. Effective? Yes, based on what the current roster is accomplishing.
- Be consistent: Coach Prime has always been this way; the stages have simply shifted — and he has moved his brand from one to the next. From college football player to pro player to major league baseballer. From coach of a smaller HBCU (Jackson State) to coach of a Power 5, Division 1 school (University of Colorado at Boulder). His “We Believe” mantra worked at Jackson State, and he has consistently used it successfully to invigorate players and fans at Colorado. He shares weekly on social media his motivational pre-game talks with players. Brands that are consistent stay top of mind, and their content stays at the top of social media algorithms. In a single day after their second win this season, the team grew its social media followers by over 61,000.
- Cultivate brand ambassadors: The Rock. Urban Meyer. ESPN Game Day hosts. Snoop Dogg. The coaching staff that followed him from Jackson State to Colorado. Tens of thousands of fans wearing Colorado gear emblazoned with “We Believe” and “We Coming.” Coach Prime’s passion lights people up and makes them loyal. It has turned an entire town — and arguably, a lot of the nation — into believers in what he’s preaching. Strong brands have an army of believers behind them who are doing the work for them by singing their praises, buying their products (in this case, sold-out tickets, and millions of team sweatshirts and player jerseys), and echoing their message. Coach Prime’s army is mighty and growing.
- Be a brand with heart: Yes, Coach Prime is loud. He is “a lot,” so to speak. But watch him in the Amazon Prime documentary series Prime Time, and watch him in interviews now, and the care he has for his players cannot be denied. When the hometown of Jackson State had a water crisis for three weeks, he moved all players to a neighboring town for safer practices. He holds injured players out of games when needed, telling them they matter more to him than a win. When one young assistant lost both parents in a short window, Coach Prime took him under his wing as a surrogate son. And when a blood clotting disorder during his time coaching Jackson State nearly cost him a leg and led to toes being amputated, Coach Prime insisted as soon as he was discharged on being with his players at every practice and game – 35 pounds underweight and in a wheelchair.
Strong brands shake up conventions. They get people talking. They fuel passion and curiosity. They make you pay attention. Just like Coach Prime, every organization has the opportunity to do those things. This is how you are a change-maker in the landscape of ordinaries.