“Take what the defense gives you”

David Bernardino
Aug 13, 2018 · 3 min read

As an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan, I’ve begun the process of getting mentally prepared for the upcoming season. Part of that “preparation” is watching pre-season football. Yes, the results are meaningless, but I find a lot of joy watching a game that I absolutely love, seeing what the rookies can do, and trying to understand who I should look to draft in my upcoming fantasy football leagues.

During a bunch of games last night, I kept hearing the phrase “take what the defense gives you.” To put it simply, it means if the defense is playing for the run, you pass the ball. If they’re lined up in pass coverage, you run the ball. Net — you, as the offense, are reacting to what the other side is showing and you change your game plan accordingly. However, just because you changed the play doesn’t mean you’ve solved the problem. You still have to execute with excellence to get the desired result.

For those who’ve ever worked with me, I tend to use a lot of football metaphors. “Take what the defense gives you” is a common refrain that I’ve used. This has a lot of parallels to the marketing world — let me explain with a simplistic example.

Say you have a brand that wants to expand into a new market. You’re known for being a super-premium (and foreign) brand, which is aspirational to the market. You have your launch plan all developed, which is focused on reapplying what made you successful in the first place (i.e. being super premium).

However, when you start to do some more due diligence on the final launch plan, you realize a couple of things — (1) the size of the super-premium segment is really small and is dominated by a bunch of other global brands and (2) the bulk of the market is made up of local brands with not much equity and minimal differentiation.

So what do you do?

Applying the “take what the defense gives you principle”, you figure out (1) if consumers in the bulk of the market are open to your brand, (2) if you can make a product portfolio that delivers against those consumers’ needs in a profitable way (given how that part of the market is distributed), and (3) how to advertise your brand so you’re still delivering on a super-premium equity but in a way that’s locally relevant. Assuming you can do all 3, you adapt your plans accordingly and execute.

Think about your business — I’m sure you can see how this applies to your own situation. What matters is you having the vision and objectivity to see the situation for what it is, understanding what it means (i.e. the “so what”), and doing something about it (i.e. the “now what”).

In my experience, so many organizations do the “so what”, but do a really bad job at the “now what”. That’s why you see so many instances of new product launches, brand extensions, new campaigns fall flat on their face. The thinking might have been there, but the execution is also as (if not more) critical.

Going back to football, if the quarterback calls a passing play, sees the defense is lined up for pass coverage, changes the play to a run, but fumbles the snap, it doesn’t matter. The QB will still get booed like mad.

So there you have it — the next time you watch football and hear some of those cliches, think about how it can translate to your business. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you come up with.


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