Updated: Jun 1, 2019
For well over a quarter of a century, Liverpool football club has been well-off the proverbial Perch – meaning they have not been the top club in the country (England). In the 2017-2018 season, they were so far off the top that there was a 22 point difference between them and the team that won.
In the space of a season they cut that down to 1 point.
What did Klopp do?
He defined what he wanted the team to look like in detail. He defined how they should feel, he even described the feeling he wanted to engender amongst the fans – as that would help him meet his and the clubs objectives on the field of play. This was shown to devastating effect in the recent Champions League second leg against Barcelona – where the Anfield crowd took the game from Barcelona.
This article makes the point that what Jurgen Klopp has done and is doing, to accelerate the performance of Liverpool, can be considered as “marketing orientation in action.”
In their ground breaking study, almost 30 years ago, Naver and Slater concluded that there was a relationship between marketing orientation and business performance. Their measurement of marketing orientation was based on three measures: customer orientation, competitor orientation and the degree of inter-functional coordination.
In this blog, it is these three areas that are considered to justify Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool being a case of marketing orientation excellence.
Customer orientation is defined as a cross-organisation culture of understanding, meeting and exceeding the needs of customers. It is a culture whereby the customer is placed at the centre of everything an organization does.
Klopp has set out, from the outset, what he wants to achieve with the main customers of Liverpool – the supporters. He wants them to leave the ground wanting to come again (see the below video at 2.20).
In effect he is defining the same customer need as Sir Alex Ferguson had many years ago - that of being entertained. It seems obvious – but look at what has happened to the culture and style of play at Manchester United since Ferguson retired. He understood, defined and ensured his team met this need – in a similar manner to Klopp.
But, Klopp goes beyond just providing a team that delivers entertaining and energetic football.
At Dortmund, his previous club, he managed to convince his players that they should create their own atmosphere. An atmosphere in which they showed and actually did go that extras mile to improve their performance. This was an atmosphere that became contagious and over time spread to the supporters of the club, who started to become believers. (See the below video at 4 minutes).
That “extra mile” of effort helped instill an emotional connection between the supporters and the players, in essence the club, the brand. Over time the fans become completely involved in the brand that Klopp had created.
Consider how well this use of communicating and connecting with the fans has been at Liverpool. Everyone who was at the Champions League Final against Barcelona attests to the fact that the crowd played a huge part in the win.
Competitor orientation refers to an organization which consistently reassesses its strengths and weaknesses relative to its competitors and pays detailed attention to how they compete.
One of the key areas Klopp chooses to compete in, is the physical conditioning of his teams. He trains his teams “to run further, run faster and always run more than the competition”.
What is telling in the Premier League season just completed, is that Liverpool did not actually run the furthest, they were not even run second furthest but fifth. Manchester City who won the league were 12th in the list of total distance run.
However Liverpool were first in terms of the number of sprints – the combination of furthest and fastest.
The physical conditioning also helped Liverpool scored more late goals than any other club after 75 minutes of play – 22 – over the course of the season.
In addition to competing physically, Klopp also pays importance to preparation for the next game. He does so in detail. For example take the penultimate game of the season against Cardiff – a game they had to win in order to have any chance of winning the league. Based on competitor intelligence and understanding of how Cardiff compete, Klopp concluded that there was a chance that Cardiff would prepare a very dry pitch.
As a result Klopp prepared his team by training on a dry surface. Nothing is left to chance to ensure they beat the competition.
When Klopp loses, Klopp learns, makes adjustments and changes. Consider the painful loss to Real Madrid in last years’ Champions League final. Real Madrid made greater use of full-backs, who took a greater share of direct involvement in goals during the competition – at 33% versus 10% for Liverpool.
Klopp introduced more attacking use of his full-backs, moving from 10% to 27% of direct involvement in goals scored during this year (see 1minute 27second in the below video).
This is where Klopp absolutely excels and is a master.
Jurgen Klopp is famous for his teams style of play – the gegenpressing. The energetic pressing that his players undertake whenever they lose the ball, and the attempt to win back the ball immediately.
In fact, he is not a manager who changes his system too often. In the 2016/2017 Premier League season he kept the same formation for over 90% of the games being played. This ensured his players understood their roles and responsibility – they understood what was expected of them.
However, over the three years that Jurgen Klopp has been at Liverpool he has changed the way the team has been organized. In the first year, he opted for a simple stable setup. In the second year, with new recruits – including Mo Salah and the introduction of Virgil Van Dyke – he introduced greater complexity. In this season he also introduced greater tactical and psychological aspects to his game.
The way Klopp has created his team is also very telling.
His Liverpool team has not just come together by accident or finding the best players in the world. He has systematically defined his style of play and defined the type of player in each role. Then he has searched for the best match to meet his requirements, and focused on getting them. If he could not get them at first – he waited until they were available. Virgil van Dyke and Naby Kiete were two such cases.
When he finally gets his targeted players, he does rush them in straight away. He ensures they understand their roles and responsibility to the team and club, and ensures that they can meet these effectively.
On the training pitch new recruits work for the right to be able to play. It is only when they have been well drilled, know what is expected and can meet these expectations, that they get the chance to play. Note: these are players earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a week.
Interestingly, the players even have to earn the right to touch the famous “This is Anfield “ Plaque located at the tunnel leading to the pitch. See the video below. Earning money is one thing, but earning respect is quite another. No one in the team is allowed to touch the plaque until they win a title.
With a well drilled team, the focus is on performance and consistency, rather than winning and losing.
Klopp’s belief is that consistently performing at a high level will lead to continual winning, but not guaranteed winning – that does not exist.
In defeat against Barcelona at the Nou Camp in the Champions League semi-final, Klopp’s view was they were unlucky and he did not know if his team could do any better. This is despite the team losing 3-0. His comment (13 seconds into the below video) of “Happy with the performance, but not with the result” exemplifies his focus on performance.
There was, of course, the second leg, and he stated that if they maintained a good performance, with the crowd at their home ground – Anfield – they would stand a chance.
It is the crowd at Anfield where Klopp takes inter-functional team-working to a new level.
Klopp’s view on what working together actually means is a revelation in itself. Just listen to the below video (at 6.18min) where Klopp describes how football becomes the game it is today by working together.
In his opinion, the people working together (the team) is more than the 11 players playing, or the 20 -24 players in the squad. It is more than the people working at Anfield and Melwood (Liverpools training ground). Klopp’s definition of working together includes the supporters at Anfield and even across the globe. He states, as his belief, that if all these different groups work together than Liverpool will definitely succeed.
To give some idea of the end-to-end processes in place at Liverpool, consider how much structure there is around the development of future players from the Liverpool Youth Academy. Firstly they are trained to approach the game as a collective, having a common identity (see below video at 8:25).
Members of the Youth Academy are placed in a Talent Pool and go through a structured process, which gives Klopp the opportunity to have a hand in their development and connects the Academy to the First Team.
To put the importance of structure and process in perspective, listen to Gary Neville talking after the sacking of Jose Morinho in the video below (from 10:15 onwards). Specifically, pay attention to his remarks at 10:35 where he talks about Sir Alex Ferguson’s ability to link the academy to the first team.
Process, structure, earning the right to pay combined with passion seems to be core to enable the correct inter-functional working, making sure the different parts of Liverpool effectively work together under Klopp.
After the unforgettable semi-final win against Barcelona, this “coming together” even got a mention in the British Parliament (see below video at 33seconds). Unfortunately for PM May, she never managed to do a Klopp and achieve the same level of “coming together”. Not surprisingly given the lack of cross-functional process and single purpose.
Under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool has created a truly marketing oriented organization.
The customers are immersed in an involving brand experience, to such an extent that they have become an important part of team Liverpool.
The team is continually improved to remain competitive and there is focus on detail to ensure every chance of winning every game. They play to win every game.
Best in class end-to-end operations (process and structure) are in place to ensure effective inter-functional working, leading to successful engagement of customers and improved performance.
At the time of writing this blog, Jurgen Klopp is still waiting for his first piece of silverware at Liverpool. However, everyone agrees he is doing wonders at changing Liverpool and in three days time Liverpool have a great chance of winning the Champions League.
More importantly, next year will mark the 30th anniversary since Liverpool sat on their perch.
Under Klopp, next year is more likely than ever to be the year …………………