Short of Apple and American politics, I can’t think of an industry more consistently skilled at building and riling up a fierce, loyal fan base than sports. Games are exciting by nature, but great sports marketers are experts at capitalizing on that foundation. They know how to make full use of tools like brand strategy, social media, and email and internet marketing, even internal marketing, to make everything about their game, their players, their ticket sales. But those sales boosting strategies aren’t unique to sports, and any business willing to invest in the value of enthusiasm can steal them to power their own home field advantage.
Track, like, and share positive mentions on social media
This is something that sports marketers do really well, and it’s an easy play for any business to add to their repertoire. There are many great ways in which the sports industry markets that any business can put towards their list of sales boosting strategies. We all know that social media is about engagement, and that engagement usually means broadcasting and interacting. But how carefully are you listening on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and other social media outlets for positive mentions by existing and potential customers? What do you do when you find them? You amplify them. Like them, but don’t just like them. Respond, but don’t only respond. Retweet, reblog, link to those mentions in your marketing emails, share them through all relevant channels. Enthusiasm is most infectious when it’s observed in an un-coerced third party (just like endorsements—and enthusiasm is a form of endorsement). Sports teams amp up fan excitement by compounding the energy of excited, individual fans, and you can do the same thing for your product or service by letting your potential customers be voyeurs to the happiness of your existing customers. Be sure to listen for other customer and market segment conversations about things relevant to your business, too, and be a conduit for those. Sharing excitement about upcoming events, new technology, and other things your customers are interested in can align you with the shared philosophies and positive feelings that are precursor to buying.
Tailor the play to the game in progress
We know what happens in the football huddle: The quarterback pulls the team together mid-game to strategize the next play, congratulate or motivate players, commiserate on a sagging score, or in general to get player buy-in back at peak levels. In other words, it’s a kind of internal marketing. Whatever it is that happens here during any given game, you can be sure the quarterback feels it’s critical to winning that particular game. Not the game they planned for, hoped for, or even expected statistically—the game that’s currently in progress, with all of its unexpected turns. Keep your sales boosting strategies and marketing plans bold and robust but flexible. This way they can be quickly adapted to unexpected changes like economic downturns, new technologies or outlets, poor product reception, social media backlash, or any of the number of fumbles, blocks, and interceptions that can plague a campaign. Internet and email marketing are especially good channels for marketing flexibility. Social media, too. Campaign messages can be quickly adapted to reflect changing information, corrected for mistakes or oversights, take advantage of new developments, or work around a mea culpa situation gracefully.
Offer premium perks that make customers feel important
Have you ever been invited to a luxury box seat for a high-profile sporting event? If so, you know how much that changes the experience of watching a game. That game is, technically speaking, the same game for everyone in the stadium. The lineup is the same, the announcers are the same, the plays are the same, no matter where you’re watching from. But I assure you the game doesn’t feel the same from up there behind those big windows, wine and cheese in hand, as it does in the crowded, sometimes too-hot or too-cold and almost always stiff-seated stands below. The VIP treatment changes—and almost always enhances—the customer experience. Sales boosting strategies that add to a customer’s value and experience will increase sales simply due their satisfaction. Levels of purchase have become more commonplace since the advent of web apps and services, and this can work for just about anything—but keep it simple, and make it meaningful. You can shift up or down with this. If your service is basic, what expansions, add-ons, or concierge-like perks can you offer at a higher price point to add value, and boost the customer’s experience (and opinion of your brand)? Even something as simple as extended support hours can boost your customers’ sense of their value to you. If your product is already complex and/or high-dollar, can you provide a pared-down version to offset the image and value of the original? This can also make your brand more accessible to a larger market, but be careful and talk to a brand strategist on this—some brands can be damaged by offering more basic and affordable options (think of a $22,000 MSRP on a Rolls Royce).
Give customers a larger-than-life story to follow
Team marketing is a big component of sports marketing, but I’d argue that player marketing is the key to the emotional resonance that gives sports its true power. Players are storied, and as humans we’re helplessly attracted to stories—particularly ancient story archetypes like the hero’s journey, rags-to-riches stories, David and Goliath. Embedded deep down in our DNA is the universal need for something to root for, and it’s why sports and games elicit the responses they do. It’s why a single sports team can affect everything from a fan’s wardrobe (black and orange, anyone?) to their emotional behavior (shouting red-faced at the screen, or the field), to their willingness in some cases to paint themselves and go out into public with large foam appendages attached to their bodies. Burt Shavitz, the now legendary figurehead of Burt’s Bees personal care products, is a favorite go-to example of the power of storytelling in a brand. The quality of his products is top-notch, but it’s his unlikely story—north country recluse living off the land and raising bees stumbles on myriad uses for beeswax—that populates the brand with its infectious personality and wins it fans (and hundreds of millions in revenue) worldwide. If you can capture the fertile seeds of story that served as the seeds for your company’s products and services, or that underlie the company itself or the people in it, marketing magic can happen. Just be sure the story is congruous with the company’s brand image, and is told consistently across all messaging.
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