Why #StandWitness From The Maple Leafs Works

A lot of the posts here lately have talked about brand campaigns and making sure the work ladders back. Yes, these points are a bit of an obsession for me. Why? Because there’s something powerful about holistic work where all channels align and work together.

As I’ve been thinking about these things, I wanted to find an example of a strong brand campaign from a team that was more than one moment in time. So often teams launch a strong hero piece a the beginning of the season to never tap into the narrative again. As @stephensonmc put it, a strong campaign and narrative is one that extends, evolves and sustains across channels.

After some research and conversation, @RossDunbar93 tipped me off to the perfect example: #StandWitness from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The campaign launched in 2016 to celebrate the franchise’s 100th year. Below is the background on the campaign, according to the team website:

“Stand Witness is about a journey. It recalls some of the legendary and historic moments of the team’s past, through the eyes of a loyal fan who has witnessed the highs and lows over the past century.”

The campaign kicked off with a hero spot that set the tone for what #StandWitness is all about. And, the piece is an emotional, powerful punch that is sure to pull fans in:

But the campaign did not stop at the hero spot. And it did not stop in the 2016 season. Since then, it’s come to life across tickets, in-venue, social media, etc. and during every season. Check out the small sampling of how they’ve activated it over the years:

Hype video for the 2018 playoffs.

#StandWitness is an example of what strong, integrated brand work looks like in sports. It’s work that should be celebrated and in many ways emulated. Here’s why:

First, it’s rooted in insight.

Strong campaigns are rooted in insight. They start with a brief and understand of what the message needs to convey. Creative work and campaigns should have a reason for being, well beyond a tagline and the hope to make a splash at launch. 

The Maple Leafs put a lot of thought into #StandWitness and what it represented. Check out the insight and what the creative is meant to convey:

“We wanted to be authentic about what our fans and this team have gone through,” Shannon Hosford, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Fan Experience explains. “For us, it was about finding a concept that could actually tell the story of the past and the future in a concise and powerful way. We want to own the good and the bad of the past as we look ahead to the future.”

Hosford says there are three key things Stand Witness is meant to embody: 1) Celebrating the past, 2) looking ahead to the next 100 years and 3) signaling change. The point isn’t to close a chapter in Leafs history, she explains, but rather to turn the page and be a part of the next hundred years to come.

Second, it’s a long-term narrative over a splash.

A friend in the industry, Evan Zeller, taught me something about brand work that has really stuck with me: It’s less about a campaign and more about the brand narrative.

Essentially, in many instances, brand campaigns are thought of as a moment in time. Often these moments don’t ladder up to a larger message. One season a team is talking about grit and the next they’re talking about brotherhood. Tactics and executions end up becoming fragmented, and in the end, dilutes the message.

#StandWitness was created with the idea that this is something that could carry on well beyond the start of their 100th season. Their team clearly put thought into the concept and how it could evolve with time. It would have been easy to create a hero spot commemorating their 100th season and walk again. But instead, the Maple Leafs leveraged this moment as an opportunity to remind, re-engage and articulate in a meaningful way what the franchise is all about. 

We have to shift our thinking with brand work to be less seasonal and more long-term. Consumers see so many messages today that it’s imperative we have a sharp point. What about our brand do we want to convey? This is long-term work. It’s not something where success happens overnight. 

If we shift our thinking from a campaign to a narrative, then all work will ladder back to the brand’s messaging hierarchy. This does not mean that all creative will look exactly the same. But, it does mean that all work will ladder back to the brand message strategy.

Third, it has legs to evolve.

If all work is going to ladder back up to a singular brand narrative then the idea must have the capacity to talk on many forms. It must be narrow enough to be ownable for the brand but scalable enough to come to life in different ways.

StandWitness has worked so well because of its scale. Whether the team is talking about the draft, the start of the season or a Stanley Cup run, #StandWitness works as the message. #StandWitness works in moments. It can ladder back to social content franchises. And, it can evolve and stay fresh.

In order for this idea of a brand narrative — and one that sustains — to work, the idea must have the ability to ebb, flow and evolve with the storyline of the team. And, the team must put it in the work to understand how it will come to life in all the different forms and fashions.

And finally, it has all the feels.

The best ads don’t feel like ads. They don’t scream buy tickets and focus on a transaction. Instead, they tap into emotion.

StandWitness is a campaign that took into account what Maple Leaf fans have been through. It walks up to the tension and the truth that there has been highs and lows — and that tension makes an impact.

Emotion is one of the most powerful tools we have as marketers. And, the power of emotion in sport is something that should not be taken for granted. A great brand narrative evokes a share of emotion. Tap into it.

Our job is not to cover the team. Our job is to bring the brand to life. Brand work like #StandWitness is a true case study for what an integrated and sustaining campaign looks like. And one that will more the needed in the long run over one moment in time. More of this in sports, please. 

What other brand work have you seen from team that inspires you? Share below, and as always, thanks for reading! 

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Success In Social Is Not Black & White

Success in social is not black and white. In fact, it’s complicated. Beyond the engagement numbers, the follower growth and the memes that sometimes go “viral” is a much larger picture.

It’s easy in this industry to get bogged down in the public-facing data. To focus on the engagement, the fan sentiment and what the industry holds as a gold standard. But success is greater than the numbers, especially the vanity ones.

Social media today is the front door to most teams, leagues and brands for fans. It’s a connection to what a team stands for, well beyond the scores. The nature of the platforms (conversational, nimble, always on) makes social one of the strongest branding tools.

Success is also about how well you tell the brand story. It’s about representing your brand and bringing it to life in the right light. It’s about executing on the organizational goals. It’s about communicating the messages and values that are a priority.

Here’s the thing. Fan content is going to perform differently than on-the-field content, so we can’t compare. Player reaction GIFS are meant to evoke a different emotion than branded graphics. Value-driven messaging is different than a pure, fun engagement play.

We have to be careful about what we let dictate our decisions. It’s not always about comparing your performance to another team. It’s not always about fan sentiment (because the haters are always louder). It’s not always about beating your engagement average from the last week. And, even more, it’s not always about winning the internet. 

Different content serves a different purpose. Different teams have different goals and initiatives. Things aren’t always apples to apples. And because of that, we can’t compare them. 

Success is complicated, multifaceted and ever-evolving. At the end of the day, the work is about much more than one or two tweets. It’s about the totality of everything. Take the time to understand what matters to the organization. Define the north star and invest your energy there. Keep the outside noise away where it makes sense.

We can’t get so bogged down in the data and enemy of comparison that we forget about the bigger picture. Sometimes, it’s important to remind ourselves of that.

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Let’s Talk Taglines In Sports

The start of every season is full of newness in the marketing world. Teams have new communication priorities. Hype videos are rolled out. Hashtag emojis are unveiled. And in general, there’s a slew of amazing new creative and concepts.

One thing that always comes up at the start of every new season is the idea of  taglines for teams. To slogan or not to slogan, that is the question?

It’s an interesting debate. And while many seem to like the idea of taglines for teams (as the poll above shows), it can be hard to execute on them. All too often taglines are used, abused and aimless. When so many taglines serve little purpose or change every year, the message becomes muddled.

I believe though, that taglines for teams can be extremely impactful. We’re lucky to work in an industry where people have a deep emotional connection with our brands. Teams have the ability to tell a story, evoke emotion and have people take action. If a message is done right, it matters a lot to the consumer (yes, meaning fans will actually use them).

Taglines have the ability to provide more purpose and focus to a team’s content and creative. They help tie a bow around the story. They can rally a community. But, they need more depth than “just a tagline”.  Taglines must be rooted in insight, strategy and a concept. And, that concept needs to be brought to life across multiple channels and executions. 

The key for taglines to work is to nix the idea that a slogan is just a slogan. If your slogan is only used for your hashtag emoji and nothing else, it serves no purpose. In order for a tagline/slogan to be successful, it needs to have several key ingredients:

A tagline must have a purpose.
The best taglines are deeply rooted in the team’s character, their values, their brand message. It should be ownable. Essentially, your tagline must be rooted in insight on your brand, your fans and what makes you unique.

It  should be simple (and catchy).
We all know attention spans today are short. A strong tagline is simple, easy to understand and something with potential to catch on. 

A tagline should be evergreen.
The best taglines are ones that can stand the test of time. And in order for taglines to stand the test of time, they must be multi-dimensional so the story can evolve. Just Do It is a perfect example of this; it’s broad-reaching enough to evolve with the narrative of Nike over the years.

And, connected to the larger work.
More than anything, a tagline is less about the actual tagline and more about the work that surrounds it. A great tagline is only as great as the work that is done to bring it to life. The execution matters, a lot. 

A tagline must be more than something fans see in one hype video at the start of a season. It must be part of brand messaging, creative and the design aesthetic. It’s about all channels, working together, on all cylinders. It’s about an integrated marketing plan.

Brand narrative > tagline. 
What we’re talking about is a larger campaign and brand narrative. A slogan is the simple external-facing message. The sharp point. What makes a tagline impactful for teams is when everything ladders back to that broader idea. Think more than a slogan, checking a box and walking away. Think holistically and give them a reason for being.

If your team is looking to rally around a tagline, a campaign, a big idea, it’s important to put the work to paper. Integrated marketing campaigns don’t magically come together. They take a lot of focus and disciplined work. 

If your looking to embark on this journey, below is a high-level look at how an outline might come together. Please note this is a high-level outline that will vary based on the exact work, the team, etc. And, of course, it needs a lot more detail:

Chapter 1 – The Foundation

The foundation outlines what the campaign is set out to do, keeping the broader organization in mind. This is where you give a sense of purpose to the work. Below are a few things to think about including as you work through the foundation:

The Vision.
A simple, hard-hitting statement on what the vision is for the campaign.

The Goals
What are the goals of this campaign? Are you trying to tell a stronger brand story? Do you want to rally your community of fans? Typically, the goals outlined are more broad-based.

This is the 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 campaign without key performance indicators 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.

Chapter 2 – The Concept

Now that the foundation has been laid, the second chapter is all about the concept. This should set the tone for how you got to the concept (so, essentially pulling key information from your brief and insights) before laying out the actual concept.

The Stake
The stake is really owning what this campaign is set out to do. It’s essentially another reminder for the group on what you are setting out to accomplish. For example, are you setting out to reclaim the relationship with your fans? Or, are you ready to own the story around your team?

The Insights + Landscape
Every good campaign is rooted in insights around the brand, the mission, the competitive landscape, etc. And, it all starts with a brief. Before jumping into the actual campaign concept, take the time to lay out the insights leveraged to come up with the concept. Essentially, what inspired this campaign?

The Opportunity / White Space
Out of all the insights, what is the biggest opportunity to own? What can your team own that is unique? This should be a quick overview of the white space discovered throughout the process. 

The Big Idea
This is the campaign idea in 90 seconds or less. Simple and to the point (and yes, the tagline is often included in this).

The Concept Manifesto
The manifesto is the more in-depth idea around the campaign. It sets the mood and the tone for what the campaign is and gives a strong visual the concept.

Voice + Tone
Voice and tone are so important in a brand campaign. What emotions are you trying to convey? Set guidelines for what the campaign is and is not so the right message and emotions are evoked.

Communications Hierarchy
Less art, more instruction. The communications hierarchy should identify the external communications points of the campaign. Yes, this would include how the tagline fits into the overall picture. It’s a guide for how the campaign is articulated in real life.

Visual Identity
Your visual language is important. This is the place where swipes of inspiration set the mood for the look and feel. It’s an important piece that can impact the entire tone of the work. Make sure the visual identity is rooted in insights around the campaign.

Chapter 3 – The Ideas + Tactics

Now that the foundation is laid, it’s time to get into the fun stuff. The ideas! The final chapter lays out how you’ll actually bring the campaign to life. Here is an example of what might be included (and yes, you’ll need a lot of details):

Guiding Principles 
It’s always helpful to have a guide that level sets how the campaign should come to life. This isn’t a set of hard fast rules per say, but it does help reiterate the philosophies and ideas of the campaign. For example, a guiding principle could be to “lead with emotion”.

Hero Content Pieces
All good campaigns (or taglines) need hero pieces that set the foundation for what the campaign is all about. These are developed early on with the campaign concept.

Ancillary Creative
From there, it’s important to think about how the ethos of the campaign can come to life through other content. A strong concept with be multi-dimensional and should have the ability to be infused throughout messaging and creative concepts well beyond the hero pieces. Make sure creative is molded for the platform; this shouldn’t be a one-size-fits all.

Channel Tactics + Executions
In addition to creative and concepts, it’s important to think about other tactics that can help bring the campaign (and tagline) to life. Whether it’sa Snapchat filter, hashtag emoji or a fan-engagement play, these tactics play an important role in hammering the message home.

Distribution + Media Plan
You can’t have a content strategy without a distribution strategy. Make sure you think about your distribution plan, well beyond the organic piece.

Always, Map Back 
And, as a reminder, make sure the everything maps back to the larger picture: The campaign concept.

Long story short, I think taglines have their place in sports as long as there is a purpose. They aren’t necessary or mandatory. It’s up to every team to understand their objectives and priorities:

Christi makes a great point. Every team’s approach and strategy is different. It’s important to understand your why. 

If you do decide that a tagline is the right route for your team, make sure you do the foundational work. What are you trying to convey? How does the work map back to the larger picture?  A tagline is only as good as the concept and the work that surrounds it. But if done right, it can be extremely powerful.

What are your thoughts about taglines for teams? Yay or nay? I would love to hear your thoughts below!

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The NFL Hype Is Real

It’s officially football season, which also means is officially hype season. And, it’s my favorite time of the year for inspiration. So many teams start the year through an emotional lens with their hype videos. This videos set the foundation of what this season and their team is all about. The emotional lens makes for powerful content. 

Here’s the thing: Marketing in sports is not about covering the team. It’s about bringing the brand to life. It’s about the highs, the lows, the hope, the energy and the connection between the team, the community, the fans. Teams need to tell these stories.

For inspiration, I’ve curated a collection of some of the strongest hype videos from the start of the NFL season. These pieces show the power in creating a narrative that goes well beyond the scores. Enjoy:

Carolina Panthers – Midfield Logo Unveil 

The Panthers could have easily produced a standard field prep video to unveil their midfield logo. But instead, the Panthers wove together the story of why this logo and their team is bigger than football. It’s about their brand, their fans and all that it stands for. The emotion in this one will bring you chills.

Atlanta Falcons – Welcome To Atlanta

In true Atlanta flavor, the Falcons enlisted Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri to put together a remake ‘Welcome to Atlanta’ that is sure to get fans hyped. I especially love the intersection of sport, music and culture. Plus this is creator-driven, unique, ownable and catchy as can be.

Philadelphia Eagles – Only the Beginning

The Eagles delivered hype like only the defending Super Bowl Champs can. This one needs no other commentary, just watch.

Cincinnati Bengals – Seize the Dey

Like the Falcons, the Bengals tapped an artist (Nappy Roots) to help celebrate football being back.  I absolutely love how they parallel fans and players prepping. Plus, this is a hype video that simply makes you feel good.

Dallas Cowboys – This Is Our Moment

The Dallas Cowboy’s hype video is a sort-of redemption video. It walks up to the tough year they had last year, but then moves forward to the moment now. And, I think acknowledging the struggle helps provide some tension and a strong narrative.

New England Patriots – Make Our Own Noise

This video, with its opening, is another great example of the power of tension. The Patriots know everyone loves to talk about Brady, his age, etc. For their team it just adds fuel to the fire; this video hints at that.

Baltimore Ravens – Greatness, Always More

The Ravens tap into the theme of Always More, which feels like a nod to Edgar Alan Poe’s Nevermore. I love the subtle nod to something so very Baltimore. The video is extremely well produced, so much that it feels like it could be a Nike or Under Armour video.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Men of Steel

The Steelers focus on four main points – history, family, tradition and steel. The focus on the pillars does a great job of bringing to life what the organization stands for. I also love the Pittsburgh flavor and the narration by Joe Manganiello.

Buffalo Bills – House of the Rising Sun

The Buffalo Bills made a Bills-inspired rendition of the classic song. It’s one of those music choices that it’s so different, it’s powerful.

Indianapolis Colts – Forged

The Colts video is well edited and has a nice blend of highlights and community/fan footage. The thematic plays into the Hoosier mentality of hard work and earning something.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Raise the Flag

This piece from the Buccaneers is another great example of going beyond a highlight reel to articulate what your organization stands for. It’s bigger than football. And when you watch this, you get a sense of that.

As these videos above show, an investment in emotional storytelling and content well beyond the scores is an investment in a team’s brand. And I really believe, it’s our job to champion the brand, the players and the organization.  More of this type of work, please. 

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The Work Needs to Ladder Back

The start of every season in any sport is always one of my favorite times. There’s no better time for marketers to get inspiration. From stunning graphics packages to hype videos, teams and leagues go all out with their best of the best.

While all the content and creative is always amazing, sometimes it feels like we’re consuming missing pieces vs a puzzle that works together. Too often the content landscape feels like a bunch of one-off ideas combined. We have hashtags to promote teams. We have a hype video here and an emotional video there. We have graphics that stop us in our feeds. But, very rarely, do these things ladder back to a larger narrative and idea.

Think about it. In one single day, a team releases their hashflag for a season that’s focused on one message or something generic like their team name. An hour later, a hype video is released that channels another narrative. Then an epic graphic is dropped promoting 24 hours until game day with no unique message at all (like it could come from any team).

This might sound harsh, and I don’t mean it to. The work from teams every year is incredible. But I keep wondering, what if we approached our content strategy a little more diligently? What if we stopped using our channels as a dumping ground and truly gave ourselves permission to focus on what matters? What if our content mapped back to defining our brand and its values?

Our fans see so many messages today from every corner of the internet. If you work for a team, your channels aren’t the only entity covering it. From the league to the media to the fans themselves, plenty of people are sharing content around your team and its players. Your job isn’t just to cover the team; it’s to bring the brand to life.

What does your team stand for, beyond the scores? If you don’t have a sharp point on what your brand stands for – and a plan that ladders back to it– you are going to muddle the message. And, that does not leave a lasting impression. We must take the time to define our brand strategy, and then, create a plan that rallies around bringing that position to life.

The work can be so much more impactful if we take the time to understand the bigger picture. We should make a more conscious effort to move away from the one-offs. We need to move to a holistic view of our brand, our content, our channels, our communities. In the end, it’s work with a sharp point – and a reason for being — that will leave a lasting impression.

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