Insight Into Crafting a Visual Identity

We often talk about the importance of written language. Words are powerful, but so is design. As digital platforms have become increasing visual, design has become increasingly important. It’s another form of language to communicate your brand; an extension of it, really.

Consumption today happens in a split second. Consumers scroll, tap and move through their social feeds without giving things a second glance. As they scroll, content needs to stand out. It should be clear which team, brand or league the content is from with or without a logo.

Visual identity matters because social is the front door to your brand. If you want to put your best foot, you must create a look and feel that is ownable and stands out. Below are a few examples of NFL teams this season:

 

Seattle Seahawks

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

LA Rams

Creating a visual identity like the ones above takes a team effort and a commitment to the cause. Below, Tyler Trout from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sr. Designer, Graphic Design) and Kenton Olsen (Director, Digital) from the Seahawks give some insight into how they’ve invested in a visual identity and made it happen.

 

Why a visual identity matters.

Tyler: It is important to have a visual identity because your brand is the first thing viewers see before making a decision to buy in or not. If your message or look is all over the place and not consistent with what they saw the first time then there is a sense of disorganization and separation. Almost like a dividing line between when the company had a vision and lost its vision. Starbucks, Target, Apple, Nike all give you overwhelming visuals of different branding, but their looks looks are distinct and undeniably memorable.You can picture each brand without even seeing them. If they did not focus on their visual identity, then their brands would not be as recognizable or as memorable.

Kenton: From a digital and social perspective having a consistent visual identity is important for us because it differentiates our content from others in the digital space. It also allows our online content to mirror creative in the physical world.

 

The keys.

Tyler:The key to keeping things consistent is to focus on your brand first and then push the fundamentals. Once we establish the identity, then we can push ourselves to be as creative as possible within the parameters we’ve set. By pushing fundamentals like typography, composition, hierarchy, imagery, color, etc. we can expand and reinforce our brand with new ideas that all look and feel like the brand but are noticeably different from the last time you presented it.

Kenton: Great photography. We have some of the best photographers in the NFL. They make all of our content feel fresh, while keeping visual style the same.

 

Creative’s role.

Tyler: I am lucky enough to work with 4 graphic designers (3 fulltime and 1 intern) and each are a necessity to our brand. Some of us have specific responsibilities like designing for events around the region or designing for a corporate partnership. When it comes to social, we all help to create content that get used throughout our platforms. We understand our brand and all try to develop new ways to push it.

Kenton: We work very closely with our Marketing & Brand team. They are tremendous in involving us with developing the creative direction for each season. Having a creative team that involves us in the process is helpful because we can ensure all of our digital designs compliment those our fans may come across in the physical world. It also allows us to provide input on what creative wells will work well on digital versus elements that may be tough to work with.

 

Gameday flow.

Tyler: We have two designers working every game. One designer will focus on scoring drives and quarter graphics and the other will focus on content/photos for IG and IG story. Our contracted photographers give their cards to a runner on field who then loads and sends to us to use throughout social. As far as tools that make it easier…We use Photoshop, Dropbox, Topaz, and sometimes AP Images. We’ve looked into getting wireless for our photographers so we can instantly get the photos but we’ve heard through other NFL teams that the connection becomes an issue and they have to revert back to card running.

Kenton: We are fortunate to have an extremely talented social media producer and amazing designer that is dedicated to our digital content. They collaborate together to ensure we have consistency across our content. On game days specifically we have a system in place where our photographer(s) will add photos to a central repository. With technology in modern cameras (and improved connectivity) we can often see a photo from the field within a minute of it happening. Once that photo hits our repository our team collaborates over Slack where that photo will be used. Our digital designer will handle more intense graphics, while other staff members will take on less intensive tasks. These treated images are then sent to our social producer who will distribute as he sees fit. The current process is very focused on photos, but we are in the process of integrating more video into this same workflow thanks to an amazing new control room at CenturyLink Field. Another key to our consistency on game days, and throughout the week, is our designer has put together templates that are easy enough for anyone in our department to use. Pretty much anyone can take a photo and turn it into a graphic that is consistent with our visual identity.

 

Tips for making it happen.

Tyler: My tip to any team trying to find a visual identity is to create a style guide to your brand and push yourself within it. Reach out to different departments and help them understand why this is important and how they can help to maintain this identity and vision. Focus on the QUALITY of your brand instead of quantity. And always challenge a traditional project and ask why it is done that way and can it be done more effectively. So many designers just do what is asked instead of thinking if this is actually effective.

As far as any other tips, it would be to hire a project manager. That position is so crucial in the creative world because it allows us to do what we were hired to do.

Kenton: I have two pieces of advice for others looking to improve consistency. First make sure you work with your organization’s overall brand team. While it is nice to be consistent on digital, being across all channels should be a focus. Invest in resources. This can be anywhere from having a dedicated designer, to building templates anyone can use, to equipment to allow you to get content faster.

As Kenton and Tyler’s answers show, creating a visual identity and seeing it through to execution takes teamwork and dedication. But, it’s work that’s worth it. After all, you want to put your best foot forward.

Thanks to Kenton and Tyler for some fantastic insight. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter: @Kentono and @TheHooksta.

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?

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.

Why You Need a Platform Strategy

Social media moves in a frenzy. And if you work in the industry, it’s easy to feel the pressure to “do, do, do”. This pressure can result in a firehouse approach to push out whatever you can, whenever you can.

The firehouse eventually (and often quickly) results in a cluttered space. Consumers have to shift through a lot of uninteresting content to unearth any gems. This cluttered space doesn’t affect the consumer alone—it also hurts brands, teams, leagues.

Everyone in the industry must work to fight the frenzy. We have to pull ourselves out the weeds and think about how we’re distributing, where and why. 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 content on channels should also be different.

So, what’s the key to maximize each channel effectively to tell your story? It all starts with defining a strong platform approach—and sticking to it.

Defining a platform strategy ensures several things:

 

Reason for being.

When you define a reason for being with each channel it helps to differentiate content across platforms. It’s not about telling a different story across all channels; it’s about molding the content to the platforms.

 

Forces you to think consumer first.

Hopefully when you define a platform approach, the consumer is at the center of your thinking. And, since you have defined a reason for being on each channel, your approach will make for a great consumer experience. across each channel. This way the consumer won’t be bombarded with the exact same content across every single channel and it will feel more authentic the platform.

 

Helps push creativity.

Finally, when you put yourself in a box creativity is unleashed. You and your team will end up with a stronger presence and stronger creative if you stick to a POV and understand what makes each platform unique.

 

So, what does a platform strategy look like? Every brand and team will have a different approach based on audience and goals. But for inspiration, here’s a high level look at how you might differentiate each platform.

 

Facebook

Facebook platform is about mass reach. Video and live are key here, so take the time to think through how to elevate and innovate the experience of live. Facebook also presents a huge opportunity to drive direct ROI. Their robust ad options and targeting capabilities can help you drive ticket sales, merchandise, etc. if you’re strategic about it.

 

Twitter

Twitter is where moments happen. It’s a place for real time. One-to-one engagement with fans is also important, as well as letting your brand personality shine. From a content perspective, GIFS, moving image and short soundbites are key.

 

Instagram

Instagram is the best visual expression of the brand. Period. The creative must be visually eye-catching to get people to stop in their feeds. Think of in-feed posts as more evergreen; Stories more real-time.

 

Snapchat

Snapchat is about real, raw access. The people and personalities behind brands shine. Think about your programming like reality TV; create consistent programming, faces and give people a reason to come back and tune it. And the biggest key? Have fun, doodles and all.

As mentioned, this is just a high level example of how you could define a platform approach. Take the time to put yourself in your consumer’s shoes, brainstorm and create a POV. Sticking to the POV won’t always be easy, but in the end you will have a stronger community, stronger engagement and stronger overall presence.