Who turned Liverpool FC into winners after 30 years of being doubters, and how can you turn around your organization?

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Liverpool winning the Premier League for the first time in 30 years teaches many lessons, one of which is the influence of Jürgen Klopp. While it may seem a bit of a tangent, there are parallels between Jürgen Klopp and his role in transforming Liverpool, this British football team that hasn’t won anything for 30 years, to becoming the winners of the Premier League.

How Jürgen Klopp has mastered the Psychology of Persuasion

In Robert Cialdini‘s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he lists six ways individuals can influence others, which is something Jürgen Klopp has evidently mastered. Why that’s important is because through mastering influence by being himself and bringing in certain practices, Jürgen Klopp has transformed a team with an amazing history but had not won a title in 30 years. This means that that for people taking over a team or having their own team, it might need to be rejuvenated and it is possible to do so. Robert Cialdini’s book gives guidelines on that and Jürgen Klopp gives a case study. 

When Jürgen Klopp came over and took the reins at Liverpool FC, he gave a keynote on October 2015 where he said, “We must turn from doubters to believers.” He addressed the team, the groundsmen, but also the people of Liverpool and their supporters worldwide, as he began taking over a team that competed with 19 other teams in 38 games in the Premier League season, of which only seven clubs have won a cup since it was started in 1992. In fact, what’s amazing is Liverpool has managed to win the cup before the season was actually finished. When he took over the team, he came up with an articulated message that unified everyone, and that was identifying that people didn’t have self-belief. They didn’t have belief in themselves nor in the team of Liverpool anymore, and so his fundamental job as the new manager was to change people from being doubters to believers. With all the struggles people are facing during these COVID times, business owners and entrepreneurs must assume strong leadership roles and convert themselves and everyone else from doubters into believers, and this can be done through public relations, because public relations is not simply press relations. Public relations goes to the very heart of the messaging of the business, and there are a number of them that Cialdini profiles.

The key principles of influence

Likability

The first principle is one of likability and this idea that influence is a result of how liked a person is. Jürgen Klopp became known as a public persona with a very tactile approach, a big hugger, very much a gentle and open, non-confrontational man with a great laugh. When some fans started to leave the grandstand minutes before the end of one of the matches they were losing, he said he felt very lonely in that stadium, so he articulated the sense of disappointment that he and all of his team had that the fans were walking out before he had even finished the final whistle. Later on in that season, when they had an away match with a tool draw against another team, he got the team and they stood arm in arm and went to each side of the fans in the stadium, and they thanked the fans for staying till the end of the match. It wasn’t something that he had to do and it wasn’t something that many managers would ever have dreamt of doing, yet he engaged with the fans. He didn’t just see it as the team and the players being his job. He saw the essential role that the fans played, which can be likened to the partners (one of the three main audience groups), in the success of the team on the pitch.

Reciprocity

The second element that Cialdini says is an important influence is reciprocity; in other words, giving credit to others. When Jürgen Klopp signed a new contract in December of 2019 which would bring him to the club until the summer of 2024, he didn’t sit there and just say thank you to himself. In the press conference, he said, “I must highlight the role of our sporting director Michael Edwards in this journey so far. His input and collaboration has been just as important as anyone else’s in getting us into a position to compete for the game’s top titles.” Here is a man signing a contract about himself, but he is being humble and giving credit to others. Doing so galvanises those people around you if they feel recognised, and to be recognised in public is even greater. So, when addressing people about the success of your own business, how much credit do you take and how much do you give to those around you? 

Social proof

The third element is social proof that other people believe or support that same person as well. One’s own influence is magnified by the number of people he/she influences. It makes sense really, because if you‘re not even influential in your own home, it gets harder to be influential anywhere else. In terms of social proof, Liverpool has their own Liverpool FC international television online, which other clubs have as well. They currently have around 15 million Twitter followers,  37 million Facebook followers, and 26 million Instagram followers. These then become self-fulfilling prophecies as people bring in more people as seen from the Watts Cascade theory that people look to find people that are easily influenced to influence others. What Liverpool has done, of course, is to build social media platforms to do that, and over the last few years, the teams have become as loyal to the manager as they have to their team. Midfielder Jordan Henderson, the captain that was brought on by Kenny Dalglish, had been given a hard time but under Jürgen Klopp, he has grown in stature and become indispensable. The players and the management said, “We want to perform for the manager and for the club and for the city,” so how important is that here is a soccer player saying that he doesn’t see it just about his manager, his boss, but he’s playing for his peers on the pitch? They’re playing for all of the other people that are part of the Liverpool FC team ecosystem, but also playing for the city. As a business owner, do you think about the community you’re supporting, how important those people are, and how important the company can be to the well-being of that society and that community?

Consistency and commityment

Cialdini mentions consistency and commitment as another way to influence others. Apparently, behind the scenes, Jürgen Klopp is meticulous in his approach. He is punctual, organised, and understands modern football methods and matters outside of the game around commerce, so you could argue he’s something of a renaissance man combined with being an engineer. Every training session is carefully planned with the staff where he addresses players to outline their work. He’s not only the manager, but also the the coach, taking into aspect every particular day and every particular routine that affects his players. Imagine, as you look at your own organisation, how much time do you spend thinking about the staff, their well-being, and how to make the work environment more conducive to productivity?

Contrast

Another of Cialdini’s influence factors is contrast. He says people evaluate their situations using a reference point. In advertising and certainly in PR in America, it is more confrontational with people asking, “Who is better or who is worse?” Cialdini says that influence means that people must also be contrasting their own product or offering or service against those of others. In the case of UK soccer, there are people like Jose Mourinho who was at Manchester United and holding press conferences and considering himself to be the person most important and the players to be directed around. There’s a contrast between styles and that, of course, creates a contrast in terms of where the players want to work, because by creating a style and demonstrating that style publicly, on pitch holding arms with the players in front of the supporters, he was creating a contrast in how Liverpool has been seen and run compared to other teams in the Premier League.

Scarcity

The other element that Cialdini suggests is an important influence is creating a culture of scarcity that, ultimately, people buy from emotion, logic, and fear. Cialdini talks about the need to create scarcity and that people hate to miss out on something that’s scarce. Jürgen Klopp created some degree of scarcity on his team in that, unlike other managers in other teams, he didn’t automatically buy players when he had a slot. He looked in his reserves and junior teams. People had to compete for the places on the first team, but he also made it so that outsiders would see a scarcity of opportunity within Liverpool, and therefore, they would have to work harder to get those spots and to want those places on the Liverpool Football team and within the club. People would join the junior teams and the training teams earlier because they didn’t want to miss out, and so creating scarcity at Liverpool was not about saying that there is not enough, but about saying that it is a camp that is hard to get into. One must exert a lot of effort to get in and start at the bottom and work your way up.

When it comes to scarcity in terms of tickets, in 2012, they had an average of 37-38,000 attendance. In 2013, it grew to 40,000, 2015 to 43,000, 2016 to 53,000. In 2017, 53,000 people would attend a match, so tickets have been scarce, and they’re looking at adding another 10,000 seats to get the stadium to 60,000. The success of Jürgen Klopp and the team has led to a scarcity in availability of tickets, but what people have been doing as well is buying merchandise. In 2019, Liverpool sold 1.13 million replica t-shirts. To give you an idea, Manchester United is still the biggest club in the world in terms of shirt sales. They sold an average of 1.85 million shirts in a season for the last five seasons. One can see, then, how leadership that leads to success on the pitch consequently creates success off the pitch, as these are multi-million or multi-billion dollar businesses now. Over the last 30 years, Liverpool has bought in some 239 players and spent $1.47 billion in order to become the winners of the Premier League this year. 

Authority

The last ingredient of persuasion which Cialdini posits is that of authority. Former Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre said at the press conference when Jürgen Klopp joined them in 2015, “Is Jürgen right for Liverpool? The answer is absolutely. Everything is natural. Nothing is made up. He doesn’t do anything for effect. He’s naturally engaging, and he raises the energy level in a room when he walks in.” As leaders of organisations, it might be prudent to ask yourself, “Do I raise the energy level when I walk in or when I sit down to a Zoom call or, in other ways, engage with people?,” because it is possible to see the impact of engaging and raising the energy levels in the business.

By seeing a case study in Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp has unconsciously mastered and exemplified the psychology of persuasion but not in a manipulative or forced way. His influence is natural as a function of what he knows how to do and how he does it and in that way, he is a born leader, which organisation and company leaders would do well to imitiate. To summarise, Cialdini says there is likeability, reciprocity, social proof, commitment, contrast, scarcity, and authority. These principles will guide any entrepreneur to become a great influence not just in the business but in the community, and as seen in the case of Liverpool, great success both on the pitch and off it.

 

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by Thomas Serer on Unsplash

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