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Building brand Murray: how businesses can learn from the rise of Britain’s No 1 tennis player

Andy Murray's rise to popularity has been a slow burn. But as Dan O'Sullivan suggests, there are things that British businesses can learn from his career.

Andy Murray won a five-set thriller against Fernando Verdasco yesterday to reach the semi-final stage at Wimbledon for the fifth consecutive year. Murray mania has gripped the nation once again - and perhaps the Scot has his best chance ever of winning the tournament with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal already eliminated - but there was a time when he wasn't so popular at SW19 or in the eyes of the wider British public.

Even now, Murray doesn't enjoy the same level of popularity that Tim Henman experienced during his late nineties/early noughties peak. Henman, the nearly man who never quite graced a Wimbledon final, would tend instead to exit the tournament following a heroic defeat that captured the nation's heart. The public, housewives in particular, fell head over heels for Tiger Tim every summer, and he profited from his huge popularity by becoming the face of a number of female-oriented consumer products, including Ariel and Robinsons.

European dominance

In Murray's earlier days in the sport, petty tantrums and an apparent disregard for the media resulted in many people having at best lukewarm feelings towards the Scot, opting instead to give more heartfelt support to Spaniard Rafael Nadal and Swiss Roger Federer.

That was when the Federer and Nadal brands were synonymous with success: two titans at the top of their games who it seemed no-one would ever topple. Everyone wanted a piece of them, with Federer popping up on Gillette commercials and Nadal teaming up with Cristiano Ronaldo for a Nike campaign that got football and tennis fans alike talking.

In Murray's earlier days in the sport, petty tantrums and an apparent disregard for the media resulted in many people having at best lukewarm feelings towards the Scot, opting instead to give more heartfelt support to Spaniard Rafael Nadal and Swiss Roger Federer

Federer not only plays tennis with a degree of grace that's probably never been matched, his bashful grin almost suggests he's embarrassed by his recent dominance of the game. Nadal, meanwhile, is a sensational athlete whose mix of swagger and charm makes him one of the world's most successful sporting brands.

Unfortunately for Murray, in years gone by he hasn't quite had the success you need to make people take serious notice. Neither has he been able to work the press like Rafa or Roger, often giving subdued interviews that indicate he isn't completely comfortable with telling the world his thoughts. As such, any hope that Murray could be a product as marketable as Nadal, Federer or even Novak Djokovic - the current world number one who is increasingly coming into the frame - perhaps started to fade.

Human touch

Of course, that changed last year when Murray made the Wimbledon final for the first time but lost to Roger Federer. On the court immediately after the match, Murray gave a heartfelt interview that revealed a side the public had never really seen before - a bitter disappointment, bordering on anguish, at his failure to claim the title. He didn't just talk of his own loss - he effectively offered an apology to the nation for his failure to deliver the success Britain so desperately craved. He struck a chord as he let down the defences he had constantly seemed to have on high alert whenever he spoke to the press.

Suddenly everyone was on Murray's side. This was a player they could believe in, a person with a dream - someone normal, just like the rest of us, determined to achieve what seemed impossible.

Success followed. First, an Olympic gold medal. Next, Murray became the first British Grand Slam champion since Fred Perry when he won the US Open. And now, for perhaps the first time ever, the resurgent Scot looks like he genuinely believes he can win Wimbledon.

With this recent success and a newly established relationship with the British public, Murray is now a person people can identify with, throw their support behind and cheer on with unbridled enthusiasm. What's more, he's become marketable - he's a brand, a product - and he looks set to go from strength to strength.

Three tips

So what are the lessons for businesses here?

First, your audience - or your customers - need to identify with your business. For this to happen, your business needs genuine personality. Being, or appearing to be dispassionate will not make people warm to you. Instead, you need care about your customers and then demonstrate your commitment to them in no uncertain terms. Do this and they're much more likely to warm to you and ultimately give you their support.

Another thing is to understand your position in the market place and respect its other stakeholders. Obviously, you'll be doing your best to outshine competitors, but it's unlikely you'll be able to do this unless you have a solid understanding of their appeal and of the elements that have brought them success so far.

Finally, growth tends to take time. It's rare that someone becomes the biggest name in the game overnight. Instead, most of the time success is a slow burner - it takes hard work, patience and perseverance - but it will come if you keep doing the things you know to be right. Take your time, find your bearings and then drive to the top.

Image credit: Carine06