While they have been around since 1875, their first official season was 1882. They began as the Brown Stockings, became the Browns and for one year their moniker was the Perfectos – really. Between then and now they have achieved phenomenal results.
Eleven World Series titles – second only to the New York Yankees. Nineteen National League pennants. Twelve division titles. Cardinals players have won 20 league MVP’s, four batting Triple Crowns, and three Cy Young Awards.
In the 1930′s, Branch Rickey created the first farm system with the intent of owning clubs committed to providing experience and training for their young players. The 1930′s also saw the debut of the famed Gashouse Gang.
Their list of Baseball Hall of Fame inductees include Rogers Hornsby, Enos Slaughter, Joe Medwick, Branch Rickey, Red Schoendienst, Dizzy Dean, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Bruce Sutter, Ozzie Smith, Whitey Herzog, Tony LaRussa and Stan ‘The Man’ Musial (also known as baseball’s perfect knight).
They play in what many call the greatest baseball city. The attendance consistently tops 3 million annually – which is more impressive when one considers the area’s regional population is estimated at 2.8 million. Those people are truly fanatics.
These impressive accomplishments have not built a fearless brand. It is because the St. Louis Cardinals are a fearless brand that they have achieved so much success.
Fearless Brands convert their intangible and tangible assets into a discernible and relevant brand.
If doesn’t matter if you are a Cardinals fan or not – whether or not you like baseball or even sports – there are lessons to be learned from this long-term success. The key questions are how do the Cardinals do it? and How do you translate their success to your business?
The easy answer to the first question is something called The Cardinal Way. Recently this topic – this reference – has caused quite a bit of excitement and enthusiasm from Cards fans and an equal amount of controversy and contempt from Cardinals opponents and detractors. Cardinal fans hail it as something unique and almost sacred – the opposition finds it to be an expression of superiority over other baseball franchises. It is neither.
The Cardinal Way is a compilation of decades of learning, training, teaching and executing at all levels of the organization. It is based on the knowledge and experience of managers, coaches and scouts who have been with the team for decades. What had for years been kept on scraps of paper, in notebooks and in the minds of many – has finally been built into a players manual which is distributed throughout the minor league farm system, as well as at the major league level.
It is nothing that any other team, any other sport or any other business cannot replicate. The Cardinal Way is essentially a blue print for doing the basics right – in all levels at all times. The owners have to be wise with their player deals from a business perspective while listening to the wealth of experience and knowledge within the company. Scouts have to provide keen assessments of talent – is young talent available or is there a need to go to free agency? Coaches throughout the entire organization have to teach the basics of the game and the expectations for Cardinal players. The manager has to make the right decisions on the field. Players need to perform.
Clarity is power – The team’s ownership has a thorough understanding of who and what the Cardinals are – and what they are not. They realize that St. Louis is considered a small market – that its revenue potential does not match that of major markets such as New York and Los Angeles – therefore the Cardinals will have more modest budgets. They know that the team’s customers – its fans – are loyal and supportive – yet they also know that they have expectations of excellence.
Take away – Be authentic – know your value and meet the expectations of those you serve.
Trust the power of your convictions – The Cardinals are completely convinced that their approach will have them reach their goals – both on the field and as a business. Make no mistake. The Cardinals have had as many failures as they have had successes. Their overall approach has changed several times through the years. In the late 1990′s they were acquiring established players via free agency or by trading their young prospects. They made it to the 2004 World Series. However, the determination was made that such an approach was not sustainable. The focus shifted to drafting young talent and developing it in their minor league system resulting in two more World Series titles. The makeup of the team changes over time – indoctrinating the players to the Cardinal Way does not.
Take away – Your brand is dynamic – it must be stable but never stop moving – assess, adjust, evolve.
Consistency builds tradition and trust – When Branch Rickey moved to Los Angeles in 1942 his protégé, Bill DeWitt Sr., stayed with the Cardinals. Sixty-four years later- in 1996 – DeWitt’s son, Bill Jr., bought the franchise. The team still had a pair of employees first hired by Rickey. Red Schoendienst is still coaching with the Cardinals at age 91. George “The Professor” Kissell continued as an instructor in the minor leagues until he died in 2008. Those two men have been significant contributors to the organization and represent the tradition and continuity within the franchise.
Take away – Every touch point of your company affects your brand – be consistently consistent
Focus only on what you can control – The Cardinals cannot control what other teams are willing to pay athletes. They do have complete say in what their franchise will or will not pay – which is why Albert Pujols is now an Anaheim Angel. The Cardinals cannot control what their competition or the media think about them and the way they run their franchise. If their opponents perceive the Cardinal Way to be arrogance – so be it. If certain media believe it is all hype without substance – great. The Cardinals will just continue with their approach but be less vocal about why they are so successful.
Take away – Manage your brand without being distracted or influenced by factors out of your control -accept and adapt.
Branding is an investment – a long-term proposition. Building your company’s brand takes effort. Effective branding will yield the results you desire. You can knock your company’s brand out of the park – all you need do is develop your company’s version of the Cardinal Way.