Why We Have To Stop Screaming “Buy Tickets”

Digital marketing has come a long way from the early days. It’s no longer a platform to just push information. We can now reach consumers, engage them and ultimately get them to convert.

With the strides over the years in performance media, digital has become a powerful tool for brands to drive results quickly. The ability to map revenue back to the platforms has been a huge catalyst in leadership taking digital more seriously.

There’s a challenge to all this though. In the search for a better ROAS, we’ve become obsessed with data and quick results. We’ve become impatient as marketers often playing the short-game instead of the long-game. We’ve become flat and uninspired in our advertising often pushing people to the end of the funnel at all cost.

If we aren’t careful, we’re going to lose the true magic of what digital allows us to do. As marketers, we can’t be focused on brand marketing alone and we can’t only be focused on performance marketing alone. We have to do both and ensure they work together.

The rise of performance media has led to marketing that is often too transactional. There is a misconception that telling people to “buy tickets” and spending dollars broadcasting it across channels will drive “butts in seats”. The result is marketing that is generic, annoying to consumers and dilutes the brand foundation that’s been built.

Here’s the thing. It’s not enough just to sell. We have to sell well. This means getting consumers to buy through campaigns that feel authentic, relevant and engaging for consumers and celebrates the brand. It’s about building up brand equity, while also getting people to convert. Doing this requires a strong understanding of the brand, our consumer and what makes good creative.

Instead of treating performance marketing and brand marketing as separate entities, it’s time to treat them as partners. These two things must work together if we want to drive the strongest results possible and play the long-term game.

Nik Sharma, one of my favorite thought leaders in the space, coined the perfect term: It’s time to focus on performance branding.  Take the time to read his thread on it:

Performance branding is about driving a connection while also driving business results. It’s about building a nimble plan that puts the brand first, builds long-term affinity, leverages the right data with creative and sells tickets. It blends the magic of why people love sports (the emotion) with what we’re all hired to do (sell tickets and drive revenue).

If you are looking to adopt this mentality, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Fans don’t want to be sold too.

Fans don’t want to be sold too. They want to be entertained, engaged and delivered relevant information. If you work for a sports team there’s a good chance people already know that tickets are available. And because of that, screaming at people that tickets are on sale won’t do much except maybe close the loop on those who were probably going to buy one way or another. It’s not about saying “tickets are on sale now”. It’s about capturing fan attention.

Emotion over selling tickets.

Instead of selling tickets to fans, performance branding is about showing fans what the experience is all about. It’s about tapping into the emotion of why people love sports. The community, the camaraderie, the action, the excitement. Don’t tell people that tickets are on sale. Show them what they miss out on by not attending a game in person.

Emotion is the most powerful tools we have as marketers. Performance branding leverages the emotional connection fans have to the game versus a transactional tone. When we tap into emotion instead of transaction we pull consumers in instead of turning them off. And when we have their attention and capture their hearts, it’s more likely that they’ll convert. Sell the emotion, not the tickets.

Know what makes good creative.

For whatever reason, there tends to be a “check the box” mentality with creative in digital advertising. Too often teams have an extremely engaging presence on social, but a completely dry and boring approach to how their brand comes through digital advertising.

Brand creative and performance marketing creative should not be a separate thing. In fact, the overall brand creative should help drive and influence how creative comes to life across performance marketing. If creative feels completely disconnected from the brand values, the brand messaging and what makes the team/fan base unique, then something is amiss. The stronger the creative, the stronger the results.

At the end of the day, what works on organic is most likely going to work in your digital advertising efforts. It’s not about the sell with the content, but capturing attention, hearts and minds.

Not all consumers are created equal.

Too often there’s an approach with digital advertising to “spray and pray”. We have so much data today, yet so often we bombard our data lists with the same message, same creative, same frequency. If we don’t have a true understanding of our target consumers, then we’ll never have a true understanding of what they need from us.

It’s important to keep in mind that not all consumers are created equal. If your job is to sell tickets, then take the time to define and understand what your target audience looks like. Not everyone you are trying to reach is going to have the same reasons why they come to a game or cheer for a team. From diehard fans to social fans, their needs are different.

Do the hard work to understand your current and prospective fans. Know why they care and why they buy, then mold the message to them. More relevant messaging and products can go a long way in getting fans to convert.

Conversions can take time – that’s okay.

As mentioned, performance marketing has made us impatient as marketers. We look for the quick conversion instead of playing the long game. Not all conversions happen quickly though – but that does not take away from the important of building brand affinity, prospecting and warming up a lead. When teams invest in an approach that blends brand and performance, it allows them to still build equity with a fan or consumer that is not quite ready to buy.

Think about it. A consumer that is being retargeted from your site or cart abandoner is a completely different consumer than one that hasn’t even considered buying a ticket. Hitting up a less warm lead with a  “buy tickets now” message does not build any equity. But, hitting them up with an emotional ad that pulls them in and piques their interest helps build brand affinity. They might not convert today, but at least you got their attention and have them thinking about your brand.

Not all conversions are created equal. It’s important to remember that your investment in digital advertising does not have to be a “this or that” approach. You can build up fan affinity and brand equity, while also drive ticket sales. It’s the teams that invest in the long game and not just the short game that will win over time.

Here’s a really smart thread on why you should be invested in both brand and performance. It’s about DTC, but still extremely relevant:

Touchpoints matter.

The traditional consumer journey is changing drastically. Today, we need to think less about the sequence of messaging and more about the different touchpoints and the context/intent of the channel. Reaching a consumer through SEM is different than social; SEM is more lower-full, while social help makes a lead warmer.

So often though, we look at reporting through channel-based metrics. And, I don’t think it paints the full picture. Just because someone bought through SEM does not mean that the rest of the efforts did not play a part. We shouldn’t focus only on where people convert. It’s about the totality of our efforts and not one single ad.

We need to think about how we measure the totality efforts and look at attribution differently. It’s important to understand how all the touchpoints all work together to move consumer along to convert.

Touchpoints matter.

The traditional consumer journey is changing drastically. Today, we need to think less about the sequence of messaging and more about the different touchpoints and the context/intent of the channel. Reaching a consumer through SEM is different than social; one shows intent while one might help to warm up a lead. It’s doesn’t mean that one is less important than the other though.

So often though, we look at reporting through channel-based metrics and we invest in the areas where we see the most direct ROI. And, I don’t think it paints the full picture. Just because someone bought through SEM does not mean that the rest of the efforts did not play a part. We shouldn’t focus only on where people convert. It’s about the totality of our efforts and not one single ad.

We need to think about how we measure the totality efforts and look at attribution differently. It’s important to understand how all the touchpoints all work together to move consumer along to buy.

Be nimble.

One of the beauties in digital advertising is it allows us to be nimble. Unlike traditional marketing channels, we can test, try and tweak daily. If something isn’t working, then change the approach.

A campaign should never be pushed live and walked away from. The best results are driven through daily monitoring, making changes and keeping creative fresh.

Specific to sports teams, it’s also important to make sure your digital advertising efforts have a pulse on the team and fan sentiment. Creative should not be tone deaf to what’s happening on the field. Be nimble and tailor your creative accordingly.

At the end of the day, performance media and brand should go hand-in-hand. As marketers, we need to close the gap and make sure that we’re driving both fan affinity and ticket sales for long-term growth. Performance branding is the ultimate sweet spot that allows us to tap into why our fans love our teams while also driving business results.

Looking for a few examples of strong creative focused selling the experience, emotion or engaging content versus transaction? A few examples below:

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.

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 persona, 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?

We Have A Content Volume Problem

Lately as I’ve scrolled through my social feeds, especially Instagram, there’s been one thing on my mind: volume, volume, volume. I follow a lot of sports teams to keep up with the industry. And while it’s natural sports would take up a lot of the real estate, the volume of content has seemed high recently. Almost intrusive, really.

I see accounts with a million followers getting an engagement rate of less than 1 percent. Pair this with the volume of content that is shared and it’s made me wonder if at times in this industry we dilute our own product.

In the pioneer days of social the platforms were a tool to inform. Play-by-play was all the rage, and in a lot of ways, made sense in those “early days”. Fast forward to now and every fan can access scores and updates through an app or gamecast. Game updates — in the most dry sense — are not a problem.

But it seems that it’s been hard for the industry to shake off this idea that we have to publish and publish often. There’s an internal pressure to be everywhere. What will fans think if we don’t comment on every play? I know this feeling all too well. But in the process, we’ve created cluttered. Hurt our own reach. And, quite frankly, often diluted the quality of work.

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).

This isn’t about reducing all posts by 75 percent. It’s about revisiting the approach as the platforms and landscape changes. Take a step back and ask some hard questions. Some points to consider:

Sports, it’s crowded.

The sports space is crowded. Thanks to social, leagues and teams are competing with fans, bloggers, the media, brands, etc. for attention. Sure, a team might be a fan’s go-to source, but they aren’t the only one. You have to provide something to different to stand out.

The crowdedness, allows us to pivot.

With so much content created around a team, league and brand, it’s important to understand the differentiating factor. What’s the main objective with the accounts? What do you want to provide to fans that only you can?

The point of differentiation is no longer scores, so throw that away. The angle is the brand, the team personality and the access you have.

We’re here to entertain, really.

Because scores are readily available, the days of teams needing to provide play-by-play are long gone. It’s not about dry and boring updates. A team’s digital presence should be about inspiring, entertaining, engaging and drawing people in. It’s the emotional connection to the team and the game. Espo said it best:

Entertainment and engaging fans can come in all shapes and forms, whether it’s tone of voice or stellar content. Think about what that means for your brand and start providing it to fans. This is how you build a strong connection with them.

Get rid of the pressure.

It’s hard to pivot in this industry, especially if we’re talking about reducing the volume of content. We feel this pressure to be everywhere, all the time. This pressure is often internal though. We put it on ourselves. Our fans don’t expect us to publish fifty times a day — in fact, I would argue that most don’t want it.

The first step to rethinking your publishing strategy is to get rid of the pressure to publish for the sake of publishing. This is the first step. And, it’s freeing.

Define the rules.

If you are going to pivot how much content you’re going to publish, it’s important to define lanes so you don’t fall into the same old habits. Write the rules of the road as a team. Define the expectations. Run through mock scenarios so the team gets a feel for the publishing strategy. A few things to think through:

How many times a day should the team publish to each platform? How do platforms differ? What’s the content strategy?

During game days, what’s the expectation and focus? How does the team balance “covering” the games versus entertaining?

Where are you placing the most value? Is it in quality of content or immediacy? This is a big question that teams should be talking through.

Focus on quality.

Somewhere along the line this pressure to produce all the time has made us care less about quality. I’m not even talking about high level production. I mean that we’re willing to push out a bunch of “stuff” whether it adds value to our fans or not.

Defining the rules should include a serious conversation about the quality of work that is expected. If it doesn’t add value, then why are we doing this? Your team should get tired of hearing this question, but it should always be asked.

Package content differently.

How teams package their content has become as critical as the content itself. And, your approach to how you package your content can play into the volume you produce and publish.

For example, let’s talk highlights on IG. So many times I see teams sharing more than five highlights from one single game. At some point, all the highlights look the same as I scroll through my feed. And forget the fact they’re often showing up five days later thanks to the algorithm.

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. An example from the Panthers on how to incorporate highlights + design into Instagram:

#KeepPounding 👊

A post shared by Carolina Panthers (@panthers) on

This idea would take five posts and make it into one. Sure, it might have to wait until after the game, but the product would be stronger, unique to your brand and less intrusive to your fans.

This begs the question – is it about immediacy or about quality?

Listen to the metrics.

At the end of this day, this industry is all about being strategic but nimble. It’s a fine line, but the good news is we have access to metrics in an instant. It’s important to pay attention to how your content is performing and make the pivots as necessary.

You might go through this exercise and find that your team does have a happy medium. Or, maybe you need to make small adjustments. Either way, it’s important to consider how what we put out affects our performance. It’s easy to hit post, sure. But that does not mean we should do it? Let’s get back to a focus on quality over quantity. The volume will then take care of itself.

Do you think there’s a need for teams to adjust the volume of content? I would love to hear your thoughts below.

A Content Strategy Framework

The need to communicate and tell a story online is here to stay. Algorithms happen and our approach to distribution changes, but we still have a need to bring brands to life. That’s why a content strategy is the foundation of a strong social presence.

Too often in social we throw things at the wall. We test and we try, without understanding the why. But this fly-by approach makes it hard to map the work back to meaningful goals.

It’s hard to stop, pause and think in social. It takes a lot of work to put things to paper. But, I’m a big believer in it, especially when it comes to a content strategy. Here’s why.

First, a content strategy gives the work purpose. It starts with an understanding of your organizational goals and cascades off of that. We’re in the business of making fun things; but more importantly, we’re in the business of driving results (whatever that is for the org).

Second, it helps get buy in. When you work as a team to put things to paper, people understand the vision and rally around it. A good content strategy gets everyone from leadership to the team executing aligned. It helps you push back when things don’t make sense because you have a reason for being.

Third, it gives people a box to play in. The best creative happens when you define lanes.

So, what is a content strategy composed of? Every project and need is different for teams, but here are the critical components I like to put to paper when mapping out a plan.


Chapter 1 – The Foundation

The foundation outlines what the plan is set out to do, keeping the broader organization in mind. This is where you give a sense of purpose to the work. Normally when I’m working through a strategy deck, the foundation includes:

This is as simple as it sounds. What are the goals of the content strategy? Are you trying to tell a more robust brand story? Do you want to build a deeper connection with fans? Typically, the goals outlined are more broad based and long term.

This is the hard-hitting statement of what you want to accomplish — and it is measurable. So, for example, at the end of the day you want to increase engagement with your fan base. Make this statement to the point and measurable.

A plan without key performance indictors is an aimless plan. It’s imperative to put to paper what success looks like. Period.

You can’t build a plan without understanding who you’re talking to. As part of the foundation, it’s important to put to paper your target consumer. And remember, this isn’t demographics alone. It’s also psychographic. Define their attitude, lifestyle and interests – beyond sport.

Current State & Challenges
The current state is a reflection of the current status of the work, both the good and the work in progress. Celebrate, but also be real. After the current state, go into the challenges. What is keeping you from doing the best work possible? Identify where you need help or where you need to pivot. Be ready to address solutions too.


Chapter 2 – Content Approach

The next chapter in this journey is where you start digging into your content approach. It’s not your actual ideas, but more about your philosophy to content to guide the ideas.

Guiding Principles
Guiding principles set the approach to your content. They aren’t hard fast rules per say, but they help define your brand and team’s philosophy to content. For example, a guiding principle could be to “lead with emotion”.

Visual Identity
Your visual language is important. Studies have shown that color, shape, etc. help convey emotion. This is the place in your strategy where you pull swipes of inspiration to set the mood for the look and feel. It’s an important piece that can impact the entire tone of the work, campaign, your brand.

Content Pillars
Content pillars are the topic buckets for your content. It’s your thematics. They’re the heart of the matter, really, and should ladder back to organization goals. Every content pillar should convey a message that is important for your team, league or brand. Examples of this might include “fan content, legacy, brand values”.

Platform Approach
A platform approach is a high-level look at how you’ll mold your content ideas for each platform. Essentially, it’s nuances of what works and what doesn’t. Social media content shouldn’t be an all-out blanketed approach. Instead, it’s imperative as marketers that we play to each platform’s strength. There should be synergy to your channels, yes, but the way the content comes to life might be a bit different.


Chapter 3 – The Ideas

Now that the foundation is laid, it’s time to get into the fun stuff. The ideas! This next chapter lays out all the franchises or content pieces (at a high level) that you want to produce. Here is what’s included with this.

Map Back to the Pillars
Here you ideate around each content pillar. What unique content can you create to convey the message that’s important to your brand? The ideas can stem from everything to a photo series a podcast to a video series. The sky is the limit really as long as it maps back to what you’re trying to accomplish. As you flush out each content series, be sure to denote the platform and any creative nuances.

What’s Needed To Get It Done
Remember the challenges you addressed earlier? Now you need to tackle those and outline a solution (from a resource and process perspective) on how you can get this done.


Chapter 4 – The Distribution

You can’t have a content strategy without a distribution strategy. The last chapter should outline at a high level look at how the content will be distributed. This can be an organic approach and a paid approach.

This is just a high level framework of what a content strategy can entail. Every project has different needs, but putting thoughts to paper is critical. It helps define the work, the purpose and the mission. Now the sky is the limit for telling your brand, team or product story. Start strategizing and ideating!

What have you learned from working through a content strategy? I would love to hear your thoughts below!