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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