How a strong brand can save you $14 million in salary

On the morning of July 1st, John Tavares announced he would join the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a big deal. To date, the most notable free agent to test the market was Scott Neidermeyer - where he’d go on to win a Stanley Cup with Anaheim, an Olympic gold medal with Canada, and get inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame. And yet that Neidermeyer signing never made the same type of noise. That’s because Tavares was a former first-overall pick, and, he was allegedly leaving millions of dollars on the table to sign with his childhood dream team. In short, he took a hometown discount to the tune of $14 million dollars.

As the story goes, the San Jose Sharks offered Tavares $13 million per year, over a 7-year term for a total $91 million. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs tendered an offer of $11 million per year for $77 million. On paper, it was a no brainer. It was a decision 99% of us would make in a heartbeat. But John Tavares is in the 1%. He had already defied the odds to become an NHL superstar and he had been paid well along the way. His decision wasn’t based on money, that would be using his head. He made his decision with his heart. He opted for the brand he loved. He signed with the team that had almost literally been near his heart since he was a boy.

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What does this have to do with a strong brand?

Most people focus on their customers when it comes to branding. As Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” But at Here Be Monsters, we love to remind our clients that a strong brand isn’t just for their customers, it’s for their employees too. We believe people want to work for a purpose, not just a pay cheque.

When courting an employee like John Tavares, many teams probably talked about what they do and how they do it. They could show their process and what kind of teammates he’s played with and how he’d fit into the team’s powerplay. And, they likely talked about their city; the schools, neighbourhoods, attractions and events. Essentially, they would do what any employer would normally do. But ultimately, they couldn’t offer what the Leafs could - the purpose of making his hometown, Toronto, stand up and be proud of their team. A reason that had been sorely lacking for decades.

The purpose came in the form of a video featuring Mitch Marner, another hometown boy and star of the emerging team. Marner has said about the video, ‘It was really well done...just put him in that atmosphere of being a Toronto Maple Leaf before he was. I got shivers watching it.”

According to a source, the narration made it very clear to Tavares that with him, “We can be forever remembered in the city.” while showing the Stanley Cup standing alone at center ice. The video isn’t available to the public but it resonated with its audience  “Whatever they showed, it got to John,” a friend of Tavares has said “I know he asked for a copy.” It was a compelling way to finish the presentation.

Strong brands have a compelling purpose. Sinek might call it the brand’s why. At Here Be Monsters, we call it Brand Spirit. It’s that spirit that guides everything you do and separates you from the competition, including attracting customers, partners, and yes, employees. In the Maple Leafs case, their Brand Spirit attracted a bonafide superstar at a price lower than the competition.

Parity amongst brands is at an all-time high, that’s why any good, progressive, modern company needs to have a Brand Spirit to attract talented people and keep them engaged. It can save you a lot of time and maybe $14 million.