3 Takeaways from Auburn Basketball On Owning Your Story

It’s no secret that I’m a devoted, crazy and loyal Auburn alum. And while I try my best to stay neutral on this blog, it’s time I give Auburn basketball some much-deserved love.

As a program, Auburn Basketball has stepped up in every way. From elevating their play to rallying people on campus around the program, everything has been taken to another level. Digital included. This blog, of course, tackles some of the digital piece.

On the digital side, their team has been thoughtful about their message and executed seamlessly from a distinct visual identity to epic video content. What stands out the most though is how they own their story. Below are a few highlights and takeaways from Auburn basketball on how to own your story like no one else can.

1- Craft a narrative.

Auburn had a strong 2018 season, but it left more to be desired. The marketing team at Auburn recognized that. And, they weren’t afraid to play into it, crafting a narrative around the idea of “unfinished business”.

This narrative allowed Auburn to create a story arc throughout the season and gave their content purpose. Each piece was a chapter in their story filled with the highs and lows. That’s incredibly powerful.

Every team should be asking, “what’s our story and how can we own it?”. Define your narrative. No, that does not mean a new hashtag. It means finding your sharp point that guides your creative, content and makes your POV unique.

Your narrative can be inspired from a variety of places whether it’s the team’s personality, fan expectations, the past season or something rooted much deeper in the brand’s DNA. Find that big idea to rally around. Create some tension. Make your content ladder back up to the broader idea.

2 – Own your visual identity.

Auburn Basketball has a distinct visual identity that only they own. The foundation of the design was created by putting paint to paper, so it’s as unique as it comes. Here’s a look at the process and the final results:

There is no arguing that Auburn’s look and feel is literally one-of-a-kind. If you scroll through your feed and see one of their graphics, you instantly know it’s theirs. There’s equity in that.

In a sea of sameness, strong visuals help teams stand out in-feed. Don’t just create a look and feel that is strong. Create one that is ownable and instantly recognizable.

3 – Don’t shy away from the journey.

Auburn’s basketball video content is some of the best around. Period. They have incredible access to the team, a cinematic style of shooting, brilliant editing and perfectly picked music. The content pulls you in, gets you hyped and makes you feel part of the journey.

While there are a million takeaways from their video production, one of the things I appreciate most is they don’t shy away from the hard times. Throughout this entire season they have let fans in.

Their digital team has chronicled the highs and lows, the “tough love” talks and the “on top of the world” talks. They have given fans an incredible look at the team’s journey. And, it’s made the destination that much more rewarding.

Words won’t do Auburn basketball’s video content justice, so just watch some of the goodness. Think about all the breadth and depth and how much they’ve let fans in.

Sometimes in sports, we shy away from the hard times completely. I get that we never want to put the team in a bad light, but there’s more to the story then just the wins. Tension and owning the lows, when done right and thoughtfully, is incredibly powerful. The fact that Auburn chronicled the highs and lows made the team more endearing, relatable and easy to root for. Our jobs aren’t to just celebrate the highs but also celebrate the journey.

Auburn is a great example of how to cover the tough times and do it well. The arc of the highs and the lows helped their fans build a personal relationship with the team. It pulled them in. Made the team feel human. And, it gave fans an extra reason to care because they saw the struggles as well as the highs.

I understand that “celebrating the journey” is nuanced and complicated, but it’s important to think through it. Some transparency, tension and owning your story builds empathy and a personal connection. After all, isn’t everything in this life filled with highs and lows? Don’t be afraid to own the full story in a way that’s right for your brand.

Auburn basketball’s digital presence is a powerful example of how to own your story. From crafting their narrative to a distinct visual identity and telling their complete journey, their team has left zero holes in their story. It’s a powerful lesson for us all in owning and our brand and our story like no one else can.

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Why Defining Your Content Pillars Matters

It’s easy to look at things one dimensionally in sports especially from a marketing/content perspective. Too often content is tied solely to everything that surrounds the game. Wins and losses, highlights and reels, previews and recaps.

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on the game, after all, that is a team’s product at the most basic level. It should be a focus (of course). It’s not the only thing a team should focus on though as the product is so much more if you look beyond the surface.

Understanding what a team offers beyond the score takes a franchise or program and turns it into a brand. It is those defining characteristics that draw people in and keep them there through the highs and lows year after year.

Going beyond the game with content is important because it’s a long-term build. It’s not about the current season, it’s not about driving butts in seats and it’s not about the flavor of the week. It’s about the long-term play of taking your team from a franchise to a brand. One that people feel connected to when the team is winning and when they’re losing. It’s about brand building.

Because of the fast-paced and cyclical nature of sports (and lack of creative resources), it can be hard to go beyond the game. It takes an understanding of what the franchise represents. It takes focus and planning. And, it takes a commitment to make sure the pillars that represent the organization outside of the game come to life.

The best way to ensure that content goes beyond the game is by putting things to paper and executing on the vision. As you map out a content strategy, your content pillars are the biggest key to making sure that you have breadth and depth.

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, program or brand.

But, what does it actually look like to define content pillars? For the sake of the exercise, let’s pretend I’m mapping out a content strategy for Auburn Athletics (a program near and dear to my heart). Here’s an outline of what content pillars might look like for them beyond the game:

Note – Remember that content pillars are part of a larger strategy. They’re a tiny piece of a bigger picture where goals, audiences, tone/voice, etc. are defined. Here’s an outline of the pieces of a content strategy.

Pillar #1 – Bring Credit To Auburn

Success, both on and off the field, is a core value of Auburn Athletics. It’s inspired by part of their mission (again, mapping everything from the top): To educate its student-athletes, and to win championships, thereby bringing credit to Auburn and its people.

Content under this pillar would celebrate the success of Auburn athletics, current students and alumni, both on and off the field. It’s a pillar that would seep into the gameday performance more than the rest, but it also defines success way beyond the game.

Pillar #2 – This Is Tradition
Auburn University is steeped in tradition, passion and spirit. It’s a hallmark of what makes Auburn and the gameday experience so special. From rolling Toomer’s Corner to greeting people with War Eagle, these traditions are something that only Auburn can own.

Content under this pillar would focus on bringing to life the unique traditions that are distinctly Auburn. There are so many creative options for bringing this pillar to life, whether it’s illustrating the myth of how these traditions came to be or offering a unique first-hand perspective on what it’s like to experience a tradition for the first time. The opportunities for creativity are endless.

Pillar #3 – Auburn Family
This is going to sound cheesy, but Auburn really is about family. There’s something unique about the connection people develop to the University. It’s not just a school; it’s a place that instills in you a sense of community, respect and commitment. You can go almost anywhere in the world wearing an Auburn shirt and be greeted by a War Eagle, followed by a wonderful conversation about what the University means to you.

This content pillar would celebrate the deep connection student-athletes, coaches and fans feel for the university. Most likely it would lean more into human interest piece and bring to life the idea of the Auburn family supporting one another, always.

Pillar #4 – Embody the Auburn Spirit
The Auburn Creed has long been a source of inspiration to the Auburn Family. Words for which to work and live by. It’s about hard work, knowledge, honesty, integrity, compassion and attacking life with a spirit that is not afraid.

Content under this pillar would bring to life the Auburn Creed, showcasing the values that make up the university and athletic program. From an athletic department standpoint, it could be about showcasing what it takes and means to be a student-athlete at Auburn.

So for example, if the football program has hype content that shows the work leading up to the season, it’s making sure the creative execution plays into the idea of the Auburn Spirit, the Creed and the program’s values. It’s about having a really sharp point with the lens and the message.

Once you define your pillars, the real work begins. The next step is to brainstorm content series and franchises that maps back to each priority.

As you go about defining your pillars, remember that it’s not always about volume and quantity. Knowing how to program (when and why you’re publishing) is a huge key when trying to have breadth and depth in your content. Don’t just a check a box with each pillar; make sure you’ve really nailed a concept(s) that does the pillar justice and will also resonate with fans.

And finally, I think it’s important to remember that not all engagement is created equal. Just because highlights are the best performing piece of content does not mean that’s the only type of content that should be shared. Content success should not always be measured by engagement. Set the table for what success looks like well beyond vanity metrics. That way, the team will be more enthusiastic and empowered to try new things.

Remember, the goal of this exercise is to go beyond the scores and find the sharp points that make your brand unique. It helps to give focus on what’s important and pushes the team to focus on breadth and depth in the storylines.

Teams and programs represent a lot more than just a game. Take the time to define and execute on a vision that brings the full picture to life.

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We Need An Emphasis On “Brand” In Sports

What does a team (or league) stand for beyond the scores? This, I believe, is one of the most important questions marketers in this industry should be asking right now.

In a time where it’s easier than ever to activate, we have lost a bit of marketing magic. Teams push, sell, scream and beg for a transaction. 

The focus has become too centered around the final product; the game. Marketing, especially with digital, has become about scores, big plays and “winning the internet”. 

The scores and the highlights are part of a team’s story of course, but they should be a piece of the puzzle and not the sole focus. Otherwise, there’s little distinction between team A and team B beyond performance. The result is a sea of sameness among sports teams. 

More than ever, we need an emphasis on “brand” in sports. We need to move beyond the idea of “just a team” and into the idea of “a powerful brand”. 

Sports are not just a game. They are an emotional vehicle for people that provide community, distraction, hope and belief. This might sound cheesy, but it’s true. People don’t get tattoos of their favorite team because of the points scored. They get a tattoo because it means so much more.

This video below from Steve Jobs on their Think Different campaign captures the essence of what brand marketing is about. As Steve says, it’s about values. It’s about being clear what your brand stands for and what you want consumers to take away about it. 

More than that though, Steve nails it when he says “even a great brand needs investments and caring if it’s going to retain its relevance and vitality”.  It’s this idea that really hits home with sports.

Sports is an industry where people genuinely care about the product. We’re lucky in that regards. But sports have taken for granted the emotional connection fans have to teams, the game, etc. It’s short-sighted to not invest in a team as a brand. 

In a world where consumers have more choices and distractions than ever, the emotional connection with a team matters. The intangibles — beyond the scores — are what separates your product from every other entertainment option.

What makes a team different from the next? What are the values associated with the teams, ones so deeply rooted that fans feel proud to be associated with it?

It’s time to start defining teams as brands beyond the scores, beyond the court, beyond the field. Because in the long run, the “it factor” and that emotional connection … it matters.

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Highlights From Championship Sunday

The postseason in any league is always a good time for inspiration. Digital teams put their best foot forward and there is so much emotion surrounding the games. This Championship Sunday was no different. Below are a few highlights from the digital teams involved, from the Chiefs hype-like content to the Rams and Patriots creative.

Chiefs capitalize on anticipation.

When teams are on a stage like the playoffs, fans have an extra kind of excitement, energy and anticipation. Their emotions are high and they actually crave more content (as long as it’s not just noise). And, the Chiefs did a great job of playing into the anticipation of the start of the game.

The Chiefs had long-form hype videos leading into the game, but drumming up excitement did not stop there. They also had short and sweet clips that counted down the hours until kickoff. The countdown videos featured dramatic footage and music, playing into fans’ emotions of waiting for kickoff.

In addition to the hype pieces, the Chiefs created a “Good Luck, Dad” video showing players, coaches and executive staff receive good luck messages from their children (and fur children). This content feels persona, gives fans a little inside view and plays into the lead up of the moment. Golden.

Anticipation is a powerful emotion. Leading into big games or the start of the season, it’s something teams should take advantage of. When emotions are high fans are more likely to be captive, engage and share.

Saints serve up different vantage points.

The Saints social team seemed to have been dispatched everywhere during Championship Sunday. Whether it was outside the Dome, with the crowds or inside the huddle, they committed to capturing a variety of moments. The result was coverage from all different vantage points, giving fans a feel for the atmosphere.

Part of a strong gameday coverage means being the eyes and ears for your fans. When teams commit to roaming and capturing the atmosphere and inside moments, as well as what happens from the sidelines, coverage becomes more well-rounded. Make fans feel part of the day by committing to content beyond the big highlights. When you open up your content strategy well beyond the scores, it adds depths to your content and presence. Don’t forget about the other vantage points in and around the game.

Patriots & Rams serve up design inspiration.

A strong visual identity is a huge key to standing out from the crowd. If teams want to put their best foot forward, they must create a look and feel that is ownable. After all, social media is the front door to brands today.

Both the Patriots and Rams do an incredible job with their visuals. From sharp GIFS to great hype, they create strong graphics that capture the eye and feel like their respective brands. Below a few examples of their standout work:

The above are wallpapers from the Rams (so sharp).

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NFL gets original with illustrations.

The NFL has stepped up their original and illustrations like the ones below are a big part of that. Illustrations are a great opportunity to create something original. Not only do they stand out in feed, but they often sit at the intersection of the brand and pop culture. Any team looking to mix up their content or add some flair should consider illustrations.

From stellar creative to unique illustrations, hopefully, something served as inspiration. What stood out to on Championship Sunday?

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4 College Football Teams Taking Video To The Next Level

Early on, college athletic departments bought into social media as a tool for recruiting. Their target? High schoolers who grew up in this digital age and are good at blocking out the noise. This began the quest for digital and creative talent within athletic departments. And, the quest turned into an arm’s race for talent so programs could create content that actually captures attention.

Today, college football sets the tone for innovation in our industry. Every year programs consistently step up their game. Every season is another season full of inspiration. 2018 was no exception.

One area that particularly stands out in college athletics is video content. Whether programs tap into the emotional bond fans have with the school or push the envelope of what it means to create for the platforms, good video content is an area where college football tends to shine. Below are four schools that stood out this season and a little insight into why:

Ohio State – Design That Brings The Fire

Ohio State has an incredible design team and they use their talent to create stunning motion graphics for gamedays and big moments. Not only is their visual identity distinct and innovative, but their use of motion is always different and eye-catching.

Video content doesn’t always mean a hype reel, game footage or talking heads. Video content can also be used for more branded plays and milestone moments, even without a lot of b-roll. And, Ohio State is a great source of inspiration when it comes to raising the bar on how design can be leveraged to create video content. Below are a few executions that stood out this season:

It would also be a miss to feature Ohio State and not give some love to their Signing Day video that shows Urban Meyer passing the control to Ryan Day. It was well executed, incredibly creative and played into their video game theme for all of Signing Day:

Clemson – Content That Feels More Personal

Clemson has been dominating the video game for quite a while now. They are no doubt one of the crown jewels in the content space and they continued to prove why in 2018.

While they do a lot of things well, one thing that stood out is how personal they make their video content feel. Their digital team appears to have an amazing relationship with players and coaches and it shows in the work. The footage they get often has a more intimate, first-hand perspective.

The Clemson vlog is definitely the star of the show. The weekly series brings fans up close and personal with the team. It’s often a one-stop shop for understanding what’s going on week after week. The vlog serves up a mix of highlights, strong b-roll and player and coach interviews.

The interviews and angles filmed are what makes the vlog so unique. Players and coaches can often be seen taking over the camera. The angles from the b-roll footage makes fans feel like they’re right in the middle of the action. It’s a bit raw and not at all overproduced, but that’s why it works. It brings fans into that moment in an intimate way. Below are a few examples from the vlog this season:

This personal style of video doesn’t stop with the vlog though. Across much of their content, Clemson picks angles that brings fans into the scene. Their interviews feel more like conversations than stiff talking heads. And, they do a fantastic job getting off the cuff personal reactions to moments. The result is content that pulls you in:

Part of our job as digital marketers is to get fans as close to the team and brand as possible. Clemson’s raw and personal approach to video is a great source of inspiration for how to get there.

South Carolina – Next-Level Production & Swagger

There wasn’t a team that brought more creativity and swagger to their video production this year than South Carolina. Each week their team produced high-quality content that was engaging and worth stopping in your feed for.

The consistent commitment to producing quality work is something that truly stood out. Watching from afar it seemed like their team took the “less is more” approach. This allowed them to push the envelope of their creativity and execute well. And when you consistently produce at a high-level week after week, fans are more willing to give you their attention (it’s a trust thing).

It’s too hard to pick on series that the Gamecocks did well because it was all so good. Here’s a snippet of their work from the season, ranging from uniform unveils to pure hype and the emotional connection of their brand:

In a season that was probably a little disappointing for their fans, their video content still performed. Why? Because their team was committed to bringing the next-level production and swagger every time they shared a piece. Consistency and a commitment to doing the best work goes a long way in getting tune-in week after week.

Georgia- Weekly Trailer Fueled By Emotion

The video team at UGA is full of masterful storytellers and cinematographers. Each week they produce a trailer that chronicles the team in a fashion that is much more than the scores. The series taps into the journey, the emotion and the fanbase that helps carry the team along the way.

The video team at UGA seems to take pride in the details. The music choice, the imagery, the script and the way the story builds week after week always delivers chills. Below are a few examples:

It’s our job to evoke the emotion our fans feel for the team in the content we produce. And, that requires going beyond the scores. If teams can show what it takes to get from here to there the result is a powerful story that goes beyond the scores. It allows teams to approach both the highs and the lows and show the emotion that goes into a season.

The UGA videos don’t focus on the scores. They focus on the brand, the team’s value and what makes UGA so special. When emotion is tied to content (like this from UGA), fans are more likely to stop, care and share. That’s a win, right?

The reality is that strong video work is hard to create. In a sea of sameness, it’s not easy to stand out above the noise. Good video works requires focus and a strong point-of-view like the examples above. Whether you want to leverage design more to create engaging videos or infuse more emotion week by week,  hopefully, these four programs offer up some inspiration.

What other college football programs stand out to you from a video perspective? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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