Approach Each Season Like A Campaign

The power to connect brands with people is what attracted me to marketing. Iconic brands from Nike to Starbucks understand the power of authenticity, values and strong messaging. And, even more, the power of human emotion.

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.

This idea of emotion in marketing has been a personal point of interest for me. Years ago I interviewed at Nike (before my time at UA). When I stepped onto campus I cried. Yes, literally. Not because I was a sneakerhead. Because as a marketer, this was the brand that had paved the way in making an emotional connection with consumers, especially in sport. They bought into the idea of entertaining and storytelling above selling. I felt a personal connection.

An quote article in FastCo said it best:

Popular brands had multifaceted personalities. They could make you laugh, or cheer, or lean forward and take notes. They’d stopped hammering away at a share of mind, and were expanding to achieve a share of emotion.

Enough with the personal and embarrassing anecdotes though. My point is that as marketers — and as marketers in sport — emotion is one of the most underrated tools we have. It makes the subject relatable for the consumer and connects at a deeper level. We all laugh, cry, smile and cheer. That’s how we connect as people. And, that’s how people connect with brands.

The idea of storytelling is daunting though. It’s too vague, too big, too vast. Sure, teams and leagues can tell a lot of different stories, but how do you make it impactful? They key is to hone in and focus.

If you want to tap into more emotion, consider taking a page out of how consumer goods (especially sporting) approach their marketing. Product launches and company priorities come with campaign roll outs. A strong message, a reason, a rally cry that’s consistent across all channels.

To do this, 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. Below are two examples:

 

South Carolina’s Here

The campaign was not just about football and the gameday experience. It was bigger than that. The campaign was about the culture of the school and town, a retreat from the grind, the commonality that ties all Gamecocks together and the passion of the team and fans. Instead of just selling football tickets, South Carolina told their story.

 

MLB’s This

Back in 2018, MLB launched a creative campaign called “This is Baseball”. Focused on the word THIS, it was ode to the great things in baseball that need no explanation (exactly how THIS is used in social media). The campaign’s strengths was in its simplicity and ability to integrate across teams. THIS campaign was relatable to every fan, no matter which team they root for.

As you can see from above, creating a campaign helped the Gamecocks and MLB rally around a common theme. It made their message clear and strong. And, it helped them move beyond the scores to the emotional side of sport.

Campaigns like this have a revenue purpose too. They might not be a hard ticket push, but they sell an emotion and an experience. And that is more likely to get people to click and convert than screaming “buy this”. A great brand campaign paired with a smart paid plan has the potential to be a big win.

The process for creating a true brand campaign is long, tedious and collaborative. But, here a few thoughts to get going:

 

Know your brand pillars.

Even if you think about each new season as a brand campaign, the DNA of your brand should not change. A great campaign has a clear message hierarchy. One that starts at the core of what your brand stands for and cascades off of that.

 

Find the idea.

A brand campaign isn’t about a new hashtag. It’s about a thematic that brings to life the brand’s story. The best campaigns come from an insight. Pull insights from the current team’s personality and nuances, fan chatter or something rooted much deeper in the brand’s DNA. Find that big idea to rally around.

 

Simplify.

Too often as marketers we try to get fancy and lose our consumer. It’s important to talk with them, not above them. Go through the process of fine tuning and simplifying your message. Simple is powerful.

 

Create a visual identity.

Today’s world is increasingly visual, which means your visual identity plays an important factor in convey the message. A great brand campaign should come with a strong visual identity.

 

Think through tactical and creative executions.

Once you have nailed the idea, it’s important to think through how the campaign can come to life across all channels and executions. A brand campaign is about a cohesive story across all channels. Nail your idea and then execute well.

 
Teams and leagues have never competed with more attention than they are now. Every space is cluttered and it takes something special to stand out. If you can think of every season is an opportunity rally behind something more, then that’s a good place to start. Emotion matters. And in sport, there’s plenty of it.

What examples of a brand campaign have you seen from team or leagues?

5 Social Media Lessons From The 2017 World Series Teams

The games during this year’s World Series have been exciting and fun to watch. And, that’s not the only thing. Both the Astros and Dodgers have hit it out of the park (sorry) with their social coverage. Below are five takeaways, strong visual identities to carefully curated feeds.

 

Your visual identity matters.

Creative is a reflection of your team, league or brand through and through. When people see content as they scroll through their feed, they should immediately know who it is coming from.

The Dodgers and Astros are both great examples of what it means to create a visual identity for your team. The creative is sharp, consistent and feels right for their brands.

Social is the front door to your brand. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward visually.

 

Dry information is about the presentation.

Sometimes you have to plug information that’s simply not sexy. Things like game times and tune in info have to be pushed out, even if it’s not all that bright and shiny.

While the information might be dry, it’s still important to capture attention. Both teams have done a good job creating content around dry information that still catches the eye. The key is to focus on moving image and good design. A few examples below:

Almost game time! Some things to know ahead of first pitch. #EarnHistory

A post shared by Houston Astros (@astrosbaseball) on

Remember, design plays an important role in standing out from the noise. Even with dry information, it’s all about the presentation.

 

Curate, thoughtfully & carefully.

When you work in sports, it’s not about what happens on the field or court alone. It’s also about everything that surrounds it… before, during and after. When a fan glances at your account, it should tell the full story of you team or brand. Think about it as a snapshot.

The Dodgers do a fantastic job selecting photos and videos that tell the full story, from the stadium to the fans to in action. And, they also do a good job of varying the photos in style and angles. Below are a few examples:

#ThisTeam!! #WorldSeries | 📷: @jon.soohoo

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

Soon. #WorldSeries #ThisTeam | 📷: @jon.soohoo

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

#WorldSeries relationship goals. #ThisTeam | 📷: @jon.soohoo & @jill.weisleder

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

@awood45 is DEALING! He's through five no-hit frames. #WorldSeries #ThisTeam | 📷: @jill.weisleder

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

The Dodgers’ photography is outstanding. But on top of that, they carefully curate their feeds. They don’t share similar photos back to back to back. Instead, they focus on diversifying what they share both, both in subject and in style.

When you work in social, you play publisher. It’s important to think about the totality of all your posts and the story they tell together, not think of each one as a “one and done”. Curate thoughtfully and carefully to paint the full picture.

 

Hype is real.

Good content is about evoking an emotion or response in fans, especially when it comes to video content. And, nothing gets fans to share more than a good hype video. This below from the Dodgers is a perfect example of it.

World Series. Game 2. Let's go Dodgers!! #ThisTeam

A post shared by Los Angeles Dodgers (@dodgers) on

 

Try new formats.

In the battle for attention, it’s important to try new content formats and creative executions. Mixing up content keeps things fresh and fans interested, especially in this 365 day world where there is no offseason.

If you need an example of what this looks like, the Astros do a good job mixing up their content and creative executions, from the use of stop motion to illustrations.

‪Countless heroes last night, but it was @abreg_1 that delivered the final blow. #EarnHistory ‬

A post shared by Houston Astros (@astrosbaseball) on

‪The last minute miracle. ‬ ‪Here’s a look at @justinverlander’s road to the 2017 #WorldSeries. #EarnHistory‬

A post shared by Houston Astros (@astrosbaseball) on

It’s important to push creative thinking throughout the season so content does not get stale. Take a page from the Astros and leverage all kinds of formats to get your message and story across.

 
When you are on a big stage like the World Series, it’s so important to be prepared. It’s an opportunity to rally your community, earn new fans and elevate your brand. Both the Astros and Dodgers have seized the opportunity and it shines in their work.

The examples and lessons above scratch the surface of takeaways from both of these teams though. What stood out to you in their coverage? Share your thoughts below.

Why The Lakers Get Instagram Stories Right

It’s time to face reality. The chronological days of Instagram are over. A new wave has surfaced. It’s a reality where posts might appear at the top of your feed three days after the fact. It’s annoying, I know.

This new reality isn’t going away though, and it means that anyone in sports must pivot their strategy. A win or lost, after-the-game post is not relevant three days later.

In-feed posts are no longer real-time. Instead, you have to think of them as evergreen. They are a news source anymore. They have to be able to be relevant 24 hours – even 72 hours after the fact.

The rules have changed. It’s time to pivot. This means teams must rethink sharing game previews, score updates and anything else that’s time sensitive in-feed. Instead, they belong on Stories.

The Lakers have done a fantastic job this season with their approach to Instagram Stories. They have leveraged them for game previews, uniforms, highlight and score updates. All things that are real time, instead of constantly forcing them in-feed. And, their visual identity is the best of the best.

Below are a few examples of the content they share:

 

 

Working in social is all about pivoting. We might not agree with or like all the change, but it’s our job as marketers to go with these changes. Pivoting with changes creates a better consumer experience. And in the long run, that’s how you create a winning presence.

So, it’s time to face the facts. The Instagram algorhithm probably is not going anywhere. How are you adjusting your strategy to reflect that?

Bleacher Report, The King Of Original Content

It’s crowded in the online sports world. Today, fans have a multitude of options for conversation, content and information. Teams, leagues, publishers, brands, bloggers – and even fans – all share content across channels.

This crowded space makes it even more important for brands to understand their why. Sure, it’s tempting to resort to gimmicks — but gimmicks don’t last. Instead, focus on building something that is different from everything else. It’s about original content that entertains and adds value.

If you want an example of a brand that has cracked the original content code in sport, it’s Bleacher Report. They have defined an audience, voice and creative approach that delivers on social.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bleacher Report was a blogging site trying to gain credibility. But over time – and with buy in from Turner – they became an industry leader in sports, culture and content. Here are some highlights:

Marshawn f–ks up a race car 😳. Watch the full premiere of #NoScript

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

In this fight alone, Conor says he will quadruple his net worth.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Aaron Rodgers is on another level in the 4th quarter.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Wiggins came up clutch.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Watch out NBA, Thunder are here to play.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Leaked text messages between Kyrie and LeBron during trade saga.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Still King.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

As seen above, again and again they produce content that outshines everyone. So, what’s their key to success? A few takeaways below:

 

Define & own your POV.

Bleacher Report starting seeing success when they defined their sharp point and owned it. For them, it’s not about being the next ESPN. Forget the x’s and o’s – there are plenty of people covering that. For Bleacher Report to stand out, they found their sweet spot at the intersection of sports and culture.

As CEO Dan Finocchio put it in this article from Recode, they are building the next MTV (just without the whole TV thing).

 

Invest in creative.

In 2016 Turner invested $100M to build a 35 person social content team at Bleacher Report. This move has been the key. Investing in a strong creative department has allowed Bleacher Report to go well beyond highlights. With the team, they’ve been able to create original content series unlike anything else in the industry.

Bleacher Report took a risk by investing so much money in creative. But through it they built an engaged audience, credibility and a brand– all things advertisers want to associate with.

There’s no such thing as a great social presence without a great content strategy — and the resources to execute against. Bleacher Repot is proof of that.

 

Know the pulse.

Bleacher Report has a pulse on the sports and culture space. And, it’s allowed them to create creative that has a shelf life well beyond the play of a game. With content series like “Game of Zones“, they have found a way to brilliantly merge sports and culture. The content resonated with their audience, making it both engaging and shareable.

If you work in the content business, you must have a pulse on what’s going on – in culture, in sports, in entertainment and your fans. That doesn’t mean every team, league or brand must merge culture and sports with their content like Bleacher Report does. But, having a pulse on the conversations helps you understand what fans capture. Spend time studying the internet.

 

Plan, even when it seems like you can’t.

Good content does not come out of thin air. Period. Even in sports, you have to plan for the unexpected. For every great illustration from Bleacher Report after a game, there are probably five that don’t get pushed out. That’s because they have to predict scenarios ahead of time to produce content that is original. This quote from James Grigg, international operations director at Bleacher Report, sums it up best:

“We plan creative concepts so that when something does happen, it looks very spontaneous. People may think we’ve produced 30 pieces of content around these moments within 12 hours, but really, they have taken a lot of careful planning.” (via Digiday)

Sports are all about the now. Yes, you might end up producing pieces that aren’t published– but the use of resources is worth elevating the game. You have to prepare for the moments when the most eyes online… and in sports, it’s real time.

 

Vary your content.

There is no offseason in social media and sports. As such, it’s important to mix it up. Bleacher Report does a great job of varying their content, from animated videos, infographics to inspirational features. Below is a small example of the mix of content you will see.

Alicia Woollcott is not your average homecoming queen

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

4 Super Bowl wins and 15 Pro Bowl appearances. Is the class of '04 the best QB class of all time?

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Eagles give SuperCam the L

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

 

Distribute where your audience is.

If you want to win in sports today, you have to meet your fans where they are. Long gone are the days where every single post can drive fans to a website to read more or consume a video. No one has the attention span for that extra click over and over again. A strong social presence requires a smart distribution strategy, and Bleacher Report has done that.

Bleacher Report has taken a platform agnostic approach to content distribution. Meaning, they don’t care where a fan consumes their content as long as they engage and build brand affinity. The publisher has adapted their content with the platforms and the changing trends – and they’ll content to evolve as the space does. They’ve made it easy for their target to discover, consume and share their content. That’s key for any team, brand or league.

 
This post only scratches the surface of what we can learn from Bleacher Report, the king of original content. What lessons have you taken away from their approach to social media and content? Share them below.

Sponsored Content: Partnership Not Ad Space

Years ago the idea of sponsored content was forward thinking. But today, leveraging a team or league’s social audience to bring in revenue through a partnership is commonplace. Everywhere you look there is a logo slapped onto social content as part of an agreement. So much, that sometimes the internet feels like a live billboard.

It’s time to take a step back and evaluate this sponsored content thing. Because slapping a logo on a score graphic 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 examples of sponsored content done right:

 

 

We win. You eat! 😎

A post shared by Carolina Panthers (@panthers) on

 

@jetmckinnon1 delivers in every way possible. #Skol

A post shared by Minnesota Vikings (@vikings) on

 

 

 

 

Of course, this is no easy task. It takes creative thinking, the right partners around the table and collaboration. When done right though, you can elevate your content, add value to your sponsors (and fans) and bring in even more revenue.

So, how do you create sponsored content that actually works and goes beyond a logo like the examples above? Below are a few tips to think about:

 

Know the value.

Your team has worked hard to build an engaged community, so don’t take it lightly. Sponsored posts on social shouldn’t automatically be part of every deal or pitched as x number of posts a year. The audience you’ve built is worth so much more than that! Don’t sell the worth of your channels short. Activating on social should come with a price tag – and a commitment to doing it right. Know the value of your channels and push back when something isn’t right.

 

Ban the word sponsored.

The word sponsored content automatically makes a partnership transactional. And when we have in our head that something is transactional, it’s much easier to slap a logo on a photo. It’s important to combat the idea that you’re just selling sponsor space on your digital channels. In order to actually move the needle for sponsors, fans and the brand, it has to be so much more than that.

When creating content with sponsors, go into it as a partnership. What is your team/league’s goals on social? What are your sponsors trying to accomplish? Why does this make sense? How can we make this the best together? Make it a thoughtful partnership, not an ad space.

 

Find common values and themes.

The best sponsored content is one that has a natural tie to the sponsor. It will take some creative exploration, but it’s so important to find where the synergy is between the sponsor and your team/league. What is a message or value that you can both rally around?

In the examples above, the content and message aligns with the sponsor. FedEx Air & Ground plays, Gatorade’s Path to the Splash and Chevrolet’s Drive Summary are all great examples of strong content that has a natural to the sponsor.

 

Take a content –first approach.

Like everything that goes out across channels, good sponsored content must add value. How is content useful or engaging for fans? Create a series that peaks interest, evokes emotion and is something you would share with our without sponsor money behind it.

Quality content means fans will pay attention. And when fans pay attention, it means more eyeballs for your sponsors and probably more revenue in future years. That’s a win, win, win.

 

Do not disrupt your feed.

It’s important to have brand guidelines and share them when working with sponsors. What’s the box to play in? What are the brand guides that the content should follow? Sponsored content shouldn’t disrupt your feed in a negative way. Instad, the content should flow very naturally with the rest of your feed.

 

Sometimes, you have to walk away.

The worst thing you can do is try to force a sponsor play on social that does not work. Do the due diligence to find partners that align with your message, creative vision and goals. Don’t dilute what you’ve built by cluttering it with noisy ads. If it starts to feel forced, phony and of no value, it simply might not work.

And at the end of the day, sponsored content has huge upside for teams / leagues, partners and fans – if done right. Go into every deal as a partnership, not ad space, and you’ll start adding value all the way around.