Insight Into Wimbledon’s Social & Digital Strategy

Every year I look forward to Wimbledon. For the matches, yes, but also for the show their digital team puts on. Wimbledon serves up a strong dose of inspiration for anyone in the industry, from stunning creative to brand consistency. They set an example of what digital and creative excellence looks like for those of us in sports and beyond.

I’m really excited about this blog post because Wimbledon’s Head of Communications, Content and Digital — Alex Willis — gives insight into Wimbledon’s digital strategy in a Q&A below (jump to it here). Before we dive in though, here are a few things that stand out about Wimbledon’s approach:

First, they are thoughtful about their brand.
From Wimbledon’s visual identity to their voice/tone, it’s clear they take pride in their brand. Their creative is instantly recognizable year after year. And, it’s held to a standard one would expect from Wimbledon. Strong visuals and voice are the foundation of a great presence. Wimbledon delivers on it.

Second, they disrupt through creative executions.
Original content is a great lever trying to capture attention. Whether you vary your executions or leverage design in unexpected and fresh ways, strong creative can disrupt in so many instances. Wimbledon understands this. They offer a wide range of content series and creative executions throughout the tournament (and also get bonus points because content varies on platforms). Take a look at the wide range of content they produce.

Too often voice and tone is the tool teams leverage to disrupt and get attention. The problem is it often ends up being snarky, troll-ish or over-the-top. The lines blur between what is right for the brand and what the social media manager prefers. It’s a slippery slope.

Wimbledon has a knack for capturing attention, without taking away from the brand. They prove that when you have a purpose, know your why and focus on strong creative, everything is elevated. You will tell a better brand story, engage your fans and make your social feeds stand out.

And finally, they celebrate everything Wimbledon offers.
In sports, it’s easy to get caught up in the scores. Butm it’s our job to bring to life much more than that. From the history of our organizations, to fans and everything behind-the-scenes, sports has so much more to it than the scores alone. And, fans crave the “other” things.

Wimbledon does a fantastic job celebrating all that the tournament has to offer. It’s clear the digital team has a content strategy a and clear focus. Their thoughtful approach to go beyond the court provides a unique glimpse into what Wimbledon is all about. From its history to small moments we don’t see on TV, they truly bring to life everything Wimbledon has to offer. Below are a few examples of what you might see.

A (day)break to love… 🌞 . #Wimbledon #sunrise

A post shared by Wimbledon (@wimbledon) on

Almost. Time. #Wimbledon #sixdaystogo #TakeOnHistory

A post shared by Wimbledon (@wimbledon) on

Our jobs are to be the eyes and ears of the fans and bring them inside our world. When you open up your content strategy well beyond the scores, it add depths to your content and presence. Don’t forget about the “other” stuff. As Wimbledon proves, it matters too.

Enough on my perspective though. Alex Willis, Head of Communications, Content & Digital at Wimbledon, has an immense amount of knowledge that I’m eager to share. Below she gives insight into everything from their overall strategy to how they make the magic happen during the tournament. She’s someone I admire in the space for not only doing strong and consistent work, but for always raising the bar. I hope you all enjoy!

What’s the overall digital strategy surrounding Wimbledon? What role does digital play in the event?

Digital… or content, delivered through a variety of platforms, is absolutely fundamental to our goal of keeping Wimbledon relevant, both in the present, and in the future, making sure that for all those who love Wimbledon because they grew up watching it on TV, in 10 or 20 years time there will be those who love Wimbledon because they grew up following it via mobile and social. It is our mouthpiece to the outside world, the thing we use to make a traditional institution human. It is the engine that drives our marketing, the principle that Wimbledon is always trying to be better – in pursuit of greatness – but it is also our way to give anyone, anywhere, a Wimbledon experience, whether they are a Federer or Serena fanatic, or they just like videos of tweeners. It also, naturally, represents a critical part of our commercial product for our official partners and broadcasters.

It appears you all have a really thoughtful content strategy, ensuring you not only cover the live event but also tap into the brand’s DNA. Can you talk about your content strategy and the key areas of storytelling you are focused on?

One of the things that helps us so much is that Wimbledon as a place, brand and event has such a strong purpose. Having that purpose, and identity, helps us challenge everything we create – does this feel Wimbledon to you? – while also in turn challenging what that means. So rather than compromising the brand or the live, we think the ability to put a Wimbledon spin on the live is what helps us differentiate it – whether it’s through beautiful imagery of flowers and grass and whites, whether it’s through a little idiosyncrasy and humour, whether it’s just through a certain standard of execution, taking the time and attention to make it just that little bit more special.

In terms of storytelling areas, we try to focus it roughly as follows: celebrate the sense of place, the traditions, the atmosphere, the fans; celebrate the excellence of the players, their stats, their celebrity; celebrate the sport, the history, the rivalries, the nationalities.

Speaking of content strategy, you all had a beautiful campaign called #TakeOnHistory that celebrates the history and evolution of Wimbledon. Can you give some insight into the campaign (what you all were trying to achieve and the creative direction)? And, what did you learn are the keys to success for launching a brand campaign?

2018 is an important year in terms of milestones – it’s the 150th anniversary of the founding of the All England Club, it’s the 50th anniversary of Open tennis, it’s the 125th anniversary of having a women’s tournament… so we wanted to settle on a way to celebrate this history, but not in an old fashioned way, and importantly in a way that our broadcasters would embrace. They are all about reaching younger audiences and so black and white footage, the traditional archive montage, wouldn’t cut it. So we settled on an animated approach, with the animation style evolving through the decades as we picked out certain players and certain evolutions of the Club, such as colour TV, electronic scoreboards, roofs and all, to try and bring this history to life in a modern way. The idea being that history is our constant inspiration to be better than we were the year before.

In terms of keys to success – we have a very simple message – sometimes we can get so into the detail of a particular campaign that you forget what you are trying to achieve. We spent time selling it in to our broadcast partners in advance, so that they would play it out, not just in the broadcast but on social too. We got player support – Federer, Serena and Nadal cross posted it. And we created additional pieces of content to support it – an illustration of moments from the open era, which built over time, a montage of all 100 Championship points of the open era, individual player story features. All of that has helped convey an integrated message.

I’m always impressed with the diverse portfolio and quality of content from Wimbledon. From your experience, what are the keys to strong social content?

Be very clear with what you are trying to achieve. Make sure each piece of content has its place in your overall ecosystem – and we really recognise that we have very different audiences out there. Don’t rush to push something out that you aren’t happy with – take the extra time to make it right and sometimes don’t even do it at all.

With Wimbledon happening once a year, how do you keep fans engaged?

A big challenge for us. We have our particular place in the season and we want to respect that, and to support the other Grand Slams rather than try and steal their share of voice. We have found that there is an appetite for Wimbledon content during the year though, and our social audiences do tend to grow year on year, and that broadly fits into: commentary on the tour, reflecting whats happening; archive footage and re-living famous moments; and what’s happening at Wimbledon itself – the renovation process, the building works, but also the work of the other bits of our business – the Museum, the Foundation.

Switching gears a bit. You all have been declared a “digital media brand” by media publications. How do you balance the traditional history of Wimbledon while still be forward thinking? And, why is the technology piece so important?

We’re privileged to be thought of that way and it hasn’t always been the case. We’ve tried to focus on sticking true to our traditions, celebrating them, but also not being afraid to push the way we convey them, even stretch them. So we try to think about using innovation to preserve those traditions, rather than it being a trade off. The digital platforms are a good example of that – they are pretty complex from a tech standpoint, but we try to bury all that under the surface so you just have a beautiful experience. So the technology is the enabler rather than the driver. It’s so important because not only does it enable us to push things forwards, we can’t stand still, we’re also still changing the perceptions of our brand, and being able to demonstrate a role for AI, AR, etc at Wimbledon is still surprising to people. But it has to be meaningful. It can’t be hype. Because that wouldn’t be very Wimbledon.

What’s new for digital at Wimbledon this year (or the ones you’re most excited about)? And, why did you take on the new initiatives?

We’re very excited about our new platforms – we hope we’ve built beautiful experiences on web and mobile that have a very clear roadmap to become even better, fully personalised and much more fluid than we’ve had in the past. Why? Because we needed to overhaul them to truly put them at the centre of the business, join them up with our CRM, and develop that vision of a personalised experience for anyone.

Very excited about our Facebook Messenger App – you can subscribe to any player in the draw and receive alerts on their progress, live scores, video content. Being able to give a new audience access to deeper, richer info and of their choice has been fascinating.

And the Take On History campaign – I think it’s the first time we’ve truly managed to create something that hangs together across multiple platforms, that has a life beyond the high spec ad.

Can you tell us about the “day in the life” of running digital for Wimbledon? How many make the magic happen (if you can give insight into how many content creators, that would be awesome)?

We have a team of around 30 people in the digital team for the tournament – and this year we tried something new. Rather than separating out people by platform – ie we had a video team, a social team, a photo team, a web team, etc… we separated them by the behaviour of what they are creating / what the fan will be consuming.

So the live team has the creators managing twitter, the website homepage, live clips, live blog, live streams, all sitting together. And the features team has the creators managing long form video, long form stories, photo galleries, all sitting together. Both supported by a production team in the middle who are editing and uploading for both teams to tap into. We’ll see how it turns out by the end of the event, but so far it is working out well.

We also have a dedicated team on foreign language content for China, Japan, India, Korea and South America.

In terms of my day during the tournament – it’s mostly spent planning each evening and reacting all day to what’s going on. Trying to pick out the stories we think will differentiate us, deciding how we cover them and then changing tack when the story changes. And importantly making sure the team has what they need – being a bridge between the other bits of the organisation – the schedulers, the CEO, the comms team, to ensure that the flow of information is there to enable them to be best equipped. And make sure everyone has enough to eat and goes home eventually!

During the rest of the year, we’re down to a very small few, and we are planning, assessing, learning from others, and generally trying to move Wimbledon forward every day.

Working a live event is fast-paced. What three tips do you have for social media managers in sport?

1 – Make sure you know where you fit in the overall strategy. Own your place.
2- Tone of voice or character or purpose is everything.
3- Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if they don’t work. Everything’s a learning experience.

It’s clear your leadership has invested in digital and content. For those trying to get buy-in in their organizations, what advice do you have?

Start small, take leadership with you and build trust. We are so privileged to be trusted to do what we do at Wimbledon, but that’s because it’s been a gradual shift rather than a rapid climb. We are lucky that the Wimbledon philosophy of taking a long-term view supports that – as opposed to short-term immediate gain, but getting upward management right regardless makes such a difference.

Finally, when does planning for 2019 begin?

It has already started! We have a list of things on the truck that we are already working on to roll out the day this tournament finishes, and we will spend much of the second week thinking about things we could do differently, better…it’s so much easier when the event is going on around you. But we also have to balance that against the fact that we have no idea what will be possible in the platform space this time next year. So we have to be structured, but flexible at the same time.

A big thanks to Alex Willis of Wimbledon for taking the time to answer questions. Please, give her a follow here (along with the Wimbledon accounts): @alex_willis

Let’s Talk What Not To Do In #SMSports

Most of the time with this blog I prefer to celebrate the wins and focus on the amazing work in this industry. Occasionally though, it’s good to consider the other side. What can we do better? Or, what should we avoid completely? Guardrails of what NOT to do are a strong and helpful guide.

This post focuses on that. It’s a list of things NOT to do in social media and sports, or at the very least, things to consider. Some of these points are tactical and some of them are philosophical, but I hope it makes you step back and give some reflection.

So, without further ado, here’s a list of things NOT to do with help from some Twitter friends.

 

1 – Do not give into the FOMO.

It’s a bit of a running joke now, but I’m on a serious mission to #StopTheFomo. Ever since Oreo dunked the dark, brands have been forcing their way into conversations. They’re willing to discount their brand voice, visual identity and even alienate their core audience all for vanity metrics. Too many teams, leagues and brands jump into every holiday for the sake of doing so and add clutter to the space.

I understand real-time moments are important and that teams and leagues won’t forever be silent on holidays. I’m not saying teams should never activate. But, it’s imperative to understand why you’re joining the conversation. Is the holiday or trending topic relevant to your brand? Do you have an original spin? Is the content or idea that is fresh, new and something only your brand can own? If the answer is no, then you’re just giving into the FOMO (don’t!).

The beauty of working in sports is we don’t have to resort to gimmicks to capture attention. The stories we have access to of the team, history, fans and excitement are better than any flavor of the day. People already have an intense emotional connection to our brands. Take advantage of it.

If you’re interested more in this topic, here’s a little bit of a deeper dive into it.

 

2 – Do not get caught up in video length.

There is always talk in the industry around best practices for video length. And often, this focus is detrimental to creative. We don’t have a length issue. We have a quality issue.

We need to focus less on long-form vs short-form and more on actual concepts. What’s the story we’re trying to tell? And, how can we execute in a way that portrays it best? Both long form and short form have their place. Focus on the best ways to deliver the idea/message, entertain fans and create something people care about. The rest will take care of its self.

One note: I do understand there are some platform best practices where certain lengths perform best. When this is the case, you might have to splice, dice and package your content a little differently. The point is it’s not about exact length but more about the actual idea.

 

3 – Do not formats an behavior.

With the launch of IGTV, this is a good time to remind ourselves that we should not try to force formats and behavior. IGTV was created with mobile-first in mind. It’s for vertical video consumption, period. The moment we try to force horizontal on the platform the moment we will lose credibility with our fans/consumer.

This industry is all about evolution. Change is hard, yes, and we might not personally like the way things shift at times. As marketers though, our job isn’t to force consumer behavior that isn’t there. Our job is to understand consumer behavior and go with it. Forcing formats and consumer behavior is a battle you won’t win. Go with the changing tide. When brands and teams pivot they create a better experience for fans. It’s a win.

 

4- – Do not cross-promote lazily.

If you want to drive your audience from one platform to another, you have to do it right. People don’t jump ship without a real reason for doing so. As a result, it’s about more than simply pushing a link. It takes creative energy.

A critical component to creative strategy today is thinking about how we package content. How do we make an idea/piece fit each platform? How do we tease a launch of a series? How do we make people want to watch, consume or go elsewhere? It’s not easy to capture even three seconds of attention today and it’s certainly not easy to convince people to leave a platform where they prefer to play.

Whether you are trying to drive people to your website or a new podcast, you have to be creative and give people a reason to care. And, when they get there, you better deliver something that is engaging.

Below are a few examples of good cross promotion. Don’t waste output on something that’s not going to do the job. Drive people to go elsewhere through a strong tease and good content.

 

5 – Do not over retweet.

People follow accounts to hear from that team, brand, etc. They aren’t looking for a feed that’s simply curating another perspective. Lynnea says it best below … own your message:

Sometimes, accounts take the approach to retweet as a way to reward fans. Here is a good rule of thumb though: Reply to acknowledge and retweet to add value. If you’re retweeting something, it should add value to the entire audience.

In addition to retweeting, it’s also important to not abuse the quote tweet:

The bottom line of this: Every action you take, whether it’s a retweet or a quote tweet should add value to your entire audience. Don’t abuse these two tactics as a way to reward fans (that’s what replies are for).

 

6 – Do not focus on pop culture GIFS.

Repeat after me: Brand GIFS trump pop culture GIFS any day. Don’t take my word for it though, take the word of some Twitter friends:

Teams, leagues and brands need to spend less time scouring GIPHY and invest more time in creating their own original content. Here’s the thing: Pop culture GIFS can alienate your audience. They also themselves to personal biases as we are more likely to share what we think is funny and clever. If you didn’t grow up in the 90s or aren’t a Stars Wars fan, then there’s a good chance you don’t get or care about the pop culture GIF. It’s all relative.

You don’t know for sure if your fans relate to Seinfeld, but you DO know that they relate to your team. Why push out content that is unoriginal and has nothing to do with your team when you can invest energy in building your own content and unique voice?

When you work in sports, you have more access to content than most brands. There’s no need to rely on others for content, even in humorous moments. Tap into existing content, leverage your designers and create epic GIFS that not only resonate with your entire audience but also help build your own, unique team voice.

 

7 – Do not feed into the false pressures.

Due to the public and “always on nature” of this industry, we tend to put a lot of pressures on ourselves. And often, at times, these pressures are not needed (in fact, they hurt us). We feel the pressure to be first. The pressure to constantly publish. The pressure to put our work above everything else. If you want to survive the long game in digital, both from a brand and personal perspective, you have to stop giving into to this false pressures.

This industry is exhausting, yes. But I also believe we’ve created part of the frenzy. We need to understand the moments where we need to scramble and also understand the moments where it’s okay to not be a participant (gasp, I know). Our fans don’t really expect us to be on 24/7. They don’t really expect us to be the “first” to everything. They don’t really expect (or maybe even want us) to publish twenty times a day. These are pressures we put on ourselves; not actual expectations of fans.

If you feed into the false pressures, eventually, this industry will drive you insane. Take time to understand the big picture and what really matters. And know that it’s okay to breathe, pause and think.

 

8 – Do not neglect community.

Community management is probably one of the most underrated aspects of social in sports. Resources and manpower can be limited, but even setting aside five minutes a day to interact with fans can go a long way.

Social media is not just about pushing content. It’s about building a community and relationships. And, working in sport is a powerful platform. A reply or the opportunity to surprise and delight someone can leave a lasting impression. Simple gestures of appreciation for fans go a long way.

If you need some community management inspiration, look no further than the Rockies or Phillies. Both teams have mastered the art of being human and know how to tie the perfect line.

 

9 – Do not throw away your brand hat.

Somewhere along the way in the quest to become digital-first, social channels became a silo. Social is often the the wild, wild west. Too often the focus is not on putting the brand in the best light, but about winning the internet.

It’s time for social media to grow up (yes, we’ve been saying this for a long time). Marketing is digital and digital is marketing, and as such, we should treat it like that. It’s time to make sure everything we do ladders back to the brand strategy – we have to put time into nailing the brand foundation.

The voice of an organization on social media should be a marketing team exercise— not just that of the social media manager. Once the voice and tone are set, it is up to the social media manager to leverage his or her creativity on the platforms, writing ability and artistic eye to shine. Creativity isn’t limited to voice and tone alone. Put your brand hat on first, and then from there, build out the rest.

I’ll leave it with this quote from the Padres social team: It’s about the team/brand, not the tweeter. Yes, yes, yes.

 

10 – Do not publish for the sake of publishing.

Volume, volume, volume. We have a content volume in sports. Too often we publish on autopilot and simply check a box. It’s time to take a step back and give serious thought to content volume and distribution strategy. A less than 1 percent engagement rate should show a serious need to pivot (and no, don’t blame it on the algorithm).

It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day when it comes to content distribution (especially with the adrenaline of real time). But, it’s important to take a step back and realize that we cannibalize our work when we aren’t thinking strategically about our distribution strategy. If you can pause and think about why you’re doing things and how can you package content a little bit differently, you’ll see really strong results.

We need to rid this pressure (again, the false pressure) to churn out content for the sake of doing so. We need to back off the volume if it helps us create the best work possible. We need to be bold in how we package content. And, to think about distribution differently.

Instagram, especially, is an easy example where I see too much content volume. With the addition of an algorithm, Stories and IGTV, teams and brands need to think differently than how they approached the platform before. And, for some reason, teams have not pivoted.

To combat this, I believe content packaging is more important than ever. Instead of publishing five individual highlight posts, what if it could be packaged differently? What if after every game a team leveraged the Instagram carousel? They can highlight the “five plays of the game” and include design elements to make it unique to the brand. A few examples of how to package content differently:

Maple Sugar is all you need. Mariners move to 54-31. #TrueToTheBlue

A post shared by Seattle Mariners (@mariners) on

Respect for 2️⃣8️⃣

A post shared by Carolina Panthers (@panthers) on

Zach Miller’s emotional story and inspirational outlook… picture by picture.

A post shared by Chicago Bears (@chicagobears) on

It all comes down to this. #BringItHome #Skol #MINvsPHI

A post shared by Minnesota Vikings (@vikings) on

Want more tips on tackling the content volume problem? Check out this post here.

 

11 – Do not forget about the business case.

Digital should finally have a seat at the big kid’s table. No longer about retweets and likes alone, it’s a channel where brands and teams can drive revenue and true ROI. Don’t get caught up only in the bright and shiny vanity metrics. Focus on the actual business case.

The real beauty of digital is that it does not have to be a “this or that” when it comes to driving awareness/engagement or revenue. In a sense, you can have it all. Digital allows teams to focus on the full marketing funnel. If teams invest in a sound strategy, community management, creative and paid then they can drive awareness, engage and ultimately convert. For digital to get its due, we have to focus on all of this.

If you want your organization to continue to build out the team, it’s imperative you understand the organizational priorities and the priorities of your boss. Let’s say you report into a brand person who’s really eager about fan engagement, your job is to make sure your work maps back to that. If your boss is a revenue person and they’re focused on how are we driving revenue for the business, you have to focus on that.

Spend your time investing in a strategy that matters to the organization and executing on it. And then, make sure you advocate for the work so people understand how digital is helping to drive organizational success. Our jobs are about a lot more than likes and retweets. Demonstrate that.

 

12 – Do not abuse sponsored post.

Sponsored content is all the rage these days, as it should be. It presents a huge opportunity to drive revenue for organizations. When done right, sponsored content is an amazing value add. But when done wrong, it is a huge disservice to the community you’ve built (and to your sponsors).

All too often sponsored social is sold like add space. We slap a logo here and there, which really doesn’t move the needle for your brand, your sponsor or your fans. Instead, the focus should be on integrating sponsor’s message with your brand in a natural way. Here are a few good examples:

It’s important to remember that the best-sponsored content provides value to the fans, the sponsor and the team. That requires a content-first approach and nailing the execution. Take the time to get the process right for coming up with concepts and pushing the creative boundaries. It’s hard work, but worth it. A few examples of sponsored content done right:

As we continue to sell social sponsorships and the volume rises, integrating right needs to be a big priority. Invest in sponsored content, but also invest in doing it right Here are two blogs that dive deeper into the topic: Partnership Not Ad Space and Nailing the Concept.

 

13- Do not forget the other side of sports.

Sports are about more than scores. They are about unity, passion, community and hope. It’s our jobs to celebrate the success on the field, while also tapping into the passion of our fans, the cities we call home, our players off the field and the emotional stories. Scores are nice and all, but it’s the belief in something bigger that ties sports fans together. Don’t forget about that other side.

Everyone has “access” to cover the scores today. The other side – the heartbeat of your team, your fans, the inside access, etc. – is what makes your brand and your story unique. The other side of sports is something a team can own in a way no one else can.

The scores are easy to tell. It’s everything else we have to make a conscious effort on. And, a content strategy can help you identify the priorities for the organization (info on how to start one here). Lay the foundation on what you’re looking to accomplish and then tackle the content ideas that go well beyond the scores.

We’re in the business of understanding people. Our job is to evoke something in people. Make them laugh, cry, cheer or even question. Emotion is the most valuable tool we have, so go beyond the scores. Emotion always wins, my friends.

Need inspiration? Here’s a great example from the Panthers of going beyond the scores and tapping into emotion.

 

14 – Do not #hasthag aimlessly.

Hashtags are a tool in the toolbox and not a foundation for an entire social media presence or campaign. Yet over and over again we see them get tossed around, misused and abused. The hashtag madness has to stop.

If you’re going to use a hashtag, you need to understand its purpose. Are you trying to curate community and a conversation? Are you asking fans to enter something? Make sure the purpose and CTA are simple and clear. And, from a brand perspective, be consistent.

 

15 – Other awesome insights from Twitter friends.

Here are some more strong thoughts from the #smsports community on what not to do. Be sure to share yours in the comments below too.

 
What’s on your list of what not do? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

On The Race To First…

This post is a simple reminder that being “first” is pressure we often just put on ourselves.

With the launch of IGTV this week, I was reminded of how eager we are to celebrate the quick wins in this industry. We scramble to activate right away, have teams completely shift gear and barely get a moment to breathe. Social media updates, man, they cause a frenzy!

As I watched the conversations unfold around IGTV and the desire to “be there” right away, I couldn’t help but to wonder if the frenzy is always necessary. Do our fans care that we are there right at launch? Does the scramble of getting in on the moment help elevate our presence? What’s the difference between jumping in on launch day or seven days later? It’s important to ask these questions.

Experimentation is absolutely part of what we do. It is our jobs to stay up on the trends. It is our job to push organizations to innovate. It is our job to download and understand IGTV when it launches. It’s our job to have a pulse on this landscape. I’m not debating that.

But, I believe we have to be careful to not confuse “first” with “best”. We should not measure our success on being first in line unless it really has a value proposition. We have to understand why being first matters.

When our work is so public and the community of people in it is active (and awesome), it’s easy to get caught up in the game of comparing. It’s easy to feel the pressure to go and go now. Understandably, we all feel this desire to be in the middle of it all.

The reality is we operate in a world with small teams (typically) and already endless amounts of pressure. If you want to survive the long game in digital, you have to learn that there is, in fact, a balance. We don’t have to create false frenzies and false pressures. It’s okay to observe, brainstorm and then act. We have to make the conscious effort to prioritize.

I’ve learned that working in digital is the ultimate balancing act. Be strategic, but also be swift. Focus on acting quickly when it really helps drive your goals. Resist the urge to check the box for the sake of doing so. Give yourself permission to breathe, pause and think. If the team can execute the moment something new is launched and it makes sense for your brand, great, but we need to get rid of the false pressure. That’s all I’m saying.

Back To The Basics: A Strong Brand Foundation

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the fundamental need to approach work differently. But even more specific, how we can shift from this digital vs marketing mindset and get back to the basics of doing strong brand work.

It wasn’t that long ago I was pumping out decks that screamed from the mountaintop the need to be “digital first”. As I’ve written about before here, that extreme notion became a mantra because companies needed a radical shift in resources. Digital needed its due. Now, I cringe at the thought of promoting that within an organization.

Social in its early days was the thing you gave to interns. But as we like to say in this industry, we aren’t d@mn interns anymore. Digital is the front door to brands today. Tools have matured and evolved to a place where we can track true ROI. These channels are about our brands, building relationships and driving revenue and business. And for the most part, organizations don’t question the value of the channels.

In the quest to become digital-first though, so many organizations have created (unintentional) silos. Sometimes these silos manifest through an actual structure and sometimes in how we approach the work.

Digital often lives on an island with free reign to do whatever it wants from a voice, tone and creative perspective. A level of autonomy is critical and valuable, but operating in the total wild, wild west doesn’t do a brand justice.

As a result, we’ve lost sight of what matters most: A strong brand foundation. We start with the tactics instead of the big picture. We’re too focused on the day-to-day and not enough on the long-term vision. This results in an inconsistent experience and our brands end up showing up differently across channels.

It’s time to get rid of these silos and mend what we’ve broken. We have to start treating digital as marketing and marketing as digital. We have to start with our brand strategy. Taking this holistic approach matters in sport for a lot of reasons.

It’s your “it” factor.
First, a strong brand strategy will set your team apart from the rest. It becomes your North Star for how your brand should come to life through voice, tone, aesthetics and the stories you tell. When you have defined what your brand is and isn’t, long gone will be the days of pop culture memes and gimmicks. You have your own, unique thing to focus on.

Gets buy-in & gives guidance.
Additionally, when you work as a team to put things to paper, people understand the vision and rally around it. A strong brand strategy gives everyone alignment on the focus and what they should be executing on. It eliminates the guessing game. Additionally, it helps you push back when things don’t make sense because you have a reason for being.

Moves us beyond scores.
Finally, when we focus on our team as a brand, it pivots us away from just the scores. It’s easy to get caught up in the on-the-field performance with the tactical nature of social. Teams have the ability to connect with consumers in an emotional way though. It’s our job to bring to life the DNA and value of our team to life way beyond the scores. We have to build the emotional connection with fans. This work takes focus and a strong understanding of our actual brand DNA and what it stands for.

So, how do we start approaching our work more holistically? A few tips at a high level (aside from blowing up the org chart):

Put your brand strategy to paper.
Every team, league and brand should put to paper their brand strategy. This could be a blog post all its own, but the exercise can include and is not limited to: Defining your values, stating your goals, understanding what makes you unique, writing a mission statement, knowing your consumer, tapping into a personae, etc.

All work, whether it’s social or a more traditional marketing channel, should ladder back up to the overall brand strategy.

Approach seasons like a campaign
Because sports are cyclical it can be easy to get caught up in the same routine each season. As marketers, we have to fight the urge to fall into the same ‘ole trap. One way to ensure you are mixing things up is to think about every new season as a brand campaign. That doesn’t mean every season comes with a new tagline (although that could be a component). It means creating a compelling narrative through which content and creative filters across all channels

Good ads are an art. They don’t sell; they move people to stop, pay attention, share and (hopefully) convert. Good ads entertain and connect on more than a superficial level. New campaigns each season helps us to share a strong message and a rallying cry for fans that’s consistent across all channels. More on brand campaigns here.

Begin with a brief.
Any seasonal campaign or a content series (actually any creative) must start with a brief. I’m a big believer in creative briefs and getting teams to buy into it. Good briefs start with your why. This includes your brand strategy and then your specific goal for the project. Briefs ensure that creative has a reason and gives the team a solid box to play in.

Start with the idea not the channel.
Understanding what you want to get across to the consumer is a key component to taking a holistic approach. This means a couple different things.

First, it’s about understanding what as a brand you want to communicate to your fans. What are the key things you want them to takeaway? Start with the priorities.

Second, it’s about defining your content strategy that cascades off brand priorities. This ensures your channels focus on pushing messaging that brings to life the DNA of the brand. It also helps ensure a quality vs quantity approach instead of throwing things at a wall. In essence, it gives the content you produce a reason for being.

Finally, when it comes to seasonal campaigns or a big content series, concepts presented back from a brief during the first round should be high level. It’s not about tactics; it’s about nailing the one thing you want to get across. Getting the message right is critical. And, it should be simple enough to communicate in 90 seconds or less.

Adopt an IMC model.
Adopting an IMC model helps to bring all the channels together. Even if digital, creative and marketing are technically in silos through organizational structure, an IMC model can help bring every channel together. Weekly editorial meetings and collaboration documents (like Google Docs) are a great way to start the process.

Mold the message to the channels.
Once you’ve defined your content strategy or nailed your big concept for a campaign then you can focus on the tactics. This is where you define a platform approach and mold the message to each channel. Essentially, it’s the nuances of what works and what doesn’t. It’s imperative as marketers that we play to each channel’s strength. There should be a synergy to your, yes, but the way the message comes to life might be a bit different. The tactics matter here, at this point.

Define the lanes.
I promised I would not get into org charts, but I have one thing to say: It’s important everyone understands their lanes and where’s the final say. When organizations treat digital and marketing separate, the lines of responsibility get blurry. For example, does the Marketing Director have final say over the digital creative or does the Digital Director? It can cause tension if people feel like they are stepping on each other’s territories. There should be a clear line of delineation of where responsibilities start and end to remove any guessing game. It’s important that everyone’s responsibilities are clearing outline and they know their part in the IMC model (if you’ve adopted).

 

This blog post barely scratches the surface of what we need to do to break down silos and start treating our channels more holistically, but it’s at least a start. What tips do you have for getting back to the basics of a strong brand foundation?

Package Audio With Design For Engaging Content

There’s a new philosophy I’ve adopted. And, it’s this: If you work in digital and sports, one of the big keys to your job is packaging content in a unique way. In a world where almost everyone has access to the information and assets, your job isn’t just to distribute. Your job is to find a different (on brand) angle with the content.

We’re in a constant state of content overload and a sea of sameness. Even highlights, which weren’t widely distributed a few years ago, can feel exhaustive in feeds. Between broadcast partners, teams, leagues and even fans, distribution is not the issue. The challenge is thinking about things differently. To stand out today, one of the keys is to continue to push the envelopes of creative through design and execution.

Thanks to podcasts, audio has become a recent trend in content creation. From strong quotes at press conferences to play calls, there are a lot of different opportunities to capture and leverage audio.

One thing I’ve noticed with audio, is teams, brands, etc. tend to be creative in their execution. The blend of sound plus design (since people don’t always turn on sound), makes a powerful combination. And, it’s the perfect example of how to think about packaging content in unique ways.

If you’re looking to mix up your content and do something different, below are a few examples of leveraging audio in sport. And, they are all great examples of how to package content:

 

NBA On TNT’s Audio Toons

Forget watching the broadcasters sit around and talk in the studio or the broadcast booth. Listen and watch them in cartoon form. This is probably one of the most creative executions I’ve seen. They took audio from what could be a traditional studio segment and leveraged design (and fun) to mold it for social. This, my friends, is the perfect example of packaging content.

 

Razorbacks – Call of the Game

Calls add a level of excitement and emotion to a normal highlight. Good ones especially, have a way of pulling you in. This “Call of the Game” example from the Razorbacks is a perfect example of combining design and audio into an engaging piece. Layering in the call with the highlight makes it more than “just a highlight”. Plus, the design helps to capture attention when scrolling through the feed.

Additionally, this is a great sponsorable series. It would be really strong with a mobile partner since there’s a natural integration to “call”.

 

Warriors Talk

Talking heads aren’t always the most visually appealing thing. So, even if a coach or player had an interview that would really resonate with fans, it can be hard to pull them in. The “Warriors Talk” execution is a great example of how you can leverage design to pull people in to listen. It’s is a great example of packaging content a little differently. And, it could work in a variety of situations, whether you take a page of out this for simple interviews on the field or for press conferences.

 

The Players’ Tribune

First-hand accounts are the heart and soul of The Players’ Tribune content. And, as a result, they rely a lot on interviews and audio in their content. They do a good job experimenting with how to package content. Below are a few examples that stood out recently.

 

ESPN + Split Screens

ESPN uses split screen executions with audio bites and highlights. Showcasing interview snippets with the moment the audio is referring to gives amazing context for fans. And, the design pulls you in. This is a great example of why packaging content is so important. The audio clip alone might not capture attention, but the use of the clip and the highlight with the design makes for a powerful creative execution.

 
As you can see from the examples above, taking the content we have at our fingertips and infusing design is a critical. The teams and brands that stand out now and in the future will push creative envelopes. They’ll take something ordinary (like an audio clip) and make it unique. How we package and design today is key.

What executions with audio bites have you seen that stand out?