Career Advice

Brands, Baseball and Missing the Call

2 Apr 2014  

Brayden King, one of my colleagues at Kellogg, is in the news this week with a new study about baseball. It is a fascinating bit of research and highlights why brands matter so much.

King worked with Jerry Kim from Columbia Business School on the study. They looked at umpire accuracy, comparing the umpire’s call to the actual pitch. Overall, they found that umpires incorrectly called about 14% of non-swinging pitches.

The research also showed that umpires favored well-regarded pitchers. They were 16% more likely to call a ball a strike (favoring the pitcher) for pitchers who had been to the All-Star Game five times, compared with pitchers who had never been to an All-Star game. They were also 9% less likely to call a strike a ball for All-Star pitchers.

In other words, the calls were significantly shaped by the umpire’s perception of the pitcher.

This study is yet another example of the power of brands. A brand shapes perceptions. A strong brand can make ordinary things special. A weak brand can make ordinary thing inferior.

If a pitcher has a strong reputation then umpires give him the benefit of the doubt. If a pitcher has a weak reputation, they don’t.

All of this is reinforcing, of course. A great pitcher gets better calls so enjoys better results. This makes people think the pitcher is very skilled and leads in turn to better calls and better results.

Building a strong, positive brand has to be a top priority. This is true whether you are running a brand, building a career or pitching a baseball.

* * *

After three trips to Europe in the past three weeks I’m happy to be back in Evanston starting the spring semester. I am teaching two sections of marketing strategy this spring and one section of biomedical marketing. It will be a busy stretch, especially with a several corporate programs along the way.

The next session of Kellogg on Branding is coming up May 18 to 23. It will be an entertaining week with some great learning about building strong brands. You can read more about it and register here: Who knows, maybe some pitchers will take time off from the season to sit in. Clearly branding matters for them, too.

2 Responses

  1. Brian Motter says:

    Tim, this is really close to a theory that I have about personal branding and educational grading. Not sure if a similar paper is needed, but my past experience personally and through my kids is that it is very important to establish your brand early in school relationships with teachers and school systmens. Many things contribute to your educational brand: your records, your older sibling’s performance, etc. However, I think the biases you establish early in the relationship go a long way to predict how you’ll finish a course. For example, my kids will often get many “benefit-of-doubt” calls their ways on assignments and tests, because their educational brand of “Straight-A-student” biases the grader that way.

    It would be interesting to see in both subjective grading and objectective grading of work, how a student’s personal brand influences the graders accuracy. I think you’d find an even larger influence in this field than Baseball Umpires to make your point.

    • Tim Calkins says:

      Brian—Thanks for the observation. I think this dynamic definitely exists in school and at work. If we think someone does a good job, we overlook mistakes. If we think someone is a bit slow, we look for (and find) mistakes. I haven’t seen a study on the topic but I bet the dynamic exists. Establishing a good reputation early is critical. And if you find yourself with a weak brand, go somewhere else and get a fresh start.


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