Pep Guardiola, the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, and how brilliant branding and marketing can win you bids

As much as it pains me to say as a Manchester United season ticket holder, when it comes to bid strategy, a lot can be learned from Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.

It may sound simple, but City focus on scoring goals from inside the opposition's penalty area. In fact, in the last five seasons, they have scored nearly 400 league goals from inside the box; far more than any other team. The logic again is blindingly obvious - the closer you get to your opponent's goal, the more likely you are to convert. Players like Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and most recently Erling Haaland have been labelled as 'tap-in merchants'. But when they count their medals, I doubt very much they care. Haaland has over 250 career goals, and won't turn 24 until July. Aguero has his own statue.

In my experience, too many work winning teams ignore this seemingly straightforward truth. They struggle to get close to goal, and therefore take as many pot-shots from distance as they possibly can. Some of these may go in. But many more will undoubtedly miss, leaving their people exhausted, frustrated and disillusioned, and their trophy cabinet empty.

Building on solid foundations: defining your brand and capture strategy

So, how do you get into the penalty area? You need a capture strategy. To quote Shipley Associates, a leading authority in bid world, capture "is the process of identifying the opportunities, assessing the environment, and devising and implementing winning strategies oriented toward capturing a specific business opportunity". Moving the ball up the pitch, in short.

Good capture planning starts with brand. You need to decide what kind of team you want to be, your style of play, your values, and your target clients. As a general rule, the most successful sporting teams have a clear and unmistakable identity and philosophy. Without this, you risk trying to be everything to everyone and following a haphazard, scattergun approach that rarely breeds success (see United, Manchester).

Define the brand and its principles, and ensure your people live and breathe it, and can prequalify opportunities according to it. Your 'bid/no bid' process starts to write itself. Clear thinking and targeting the right opportunities is critical, because good capture planning takes time, effort and resource. You can't do it for every opportunity. It's for the champions league finals. The 6 pointers. The shots you can't afford to miss. Be selective. Shoot less. Score more.

Getting closer to goal: strategic marketing & the frequency illusion

Once the targets are chosen, an essential pillar of any good capture plan is effective marketing. Win the hearts and minds of your prospects, and they'll be waving you through to their goal before the ITT has hit the tender portal. They’ll even move the goalposts for you so you can't miss. Easy right? No. But fortunately, there are elements of human psychology that can help.

There is a psychological principle known as the 'Baader Meinhof Phenomenon', or 'frequency illusion'. Once we become aware of something, our brains begin to seek it out in other contexts, leading us to believe it’s more ubiquitous than it really is. It is the perception of frequency.

Your friend tells you all about their new car; and it sounds great. Suddenly, this brand of car is everywhere you look. You notice them in supermarket car parks. You see their adverts on the telly. Pep Guardiola drives one. Of course, they were always there; it’s just now you notice them.

To get target clients to notice you, you have to create relevance. Research them. In football they call it scouting. Find out their priorities, goals, vision and hot topics. Shape messaging for how you can solve their problems. Then, come up with a marketing strategy that gets those messages to them. Speak at conferences they're at, create videos, use LinkedIn, write blogs (if I can do it…) Create the relevance. Target the content. And let the frequency illusion kick in. Soon they’ll be seeing you everywhere; and every connection, every interaction, is a pass up the field, getting you closer to the goal.

Use influencers to help. Influencers are not all 23 year olds who've been on Love Island. When Pep Guardiola talks about football, people listen. Do you have existing clients who would provide a testimonial on how great your service is? Or speak on a video? Or co-author a blog? Here's where another psychological quirk jumps on board: confirmation bias. We seek confirmation of our opinions and world view from like-minded peers. Find these peers, put them in front of your target clients saying lovely things about you, and you're on the road to glory.

Converting the chance: an exceptional bid

The holy grail is that clients realise you're the one for them, and shape the ITT with your solution in mind. Even if you don't quite get there, the client should at least have a favourable view of your brand by the time they sit down to mark your bid. You're in the penalty area, with just the goalkeeper (the procurement officer, obviously) to beat. The finish, the bid itself, still needs to be exceptional. It's all too easy to miss a sitter; even Haaland does it occasionally. But an exceptional bid should be the final flourish at the end of a calculated team move, not a desperate Hail Mary because you've spent the last 6 months dawdling around on the halfway line.

So in summary, when it comes to bidding, be more like Pep. Establish your brand identity, carefully target your capture plans, then use marketing and human psychology to get within shooting distance, before delivering an outstanding bid. Become the tap-in merchants of your industry. Your competitors will hate you for it. But what will you care? You might even get a statue one day.

SANDBOX Capture Strategy

At SANDBOX, we connect brand, marketing, digital and tenders through playful creativity and collaboration, helping our clients deliver on their objectives and brand ambitions. Please visit our website, or get in touch, to find out more.

I will be attending UKREiiF in Leeds between 21st and 23rd May. If you'd like to arrange a catch-up, please drop me a line ( or a DM on LinkedIn.