Described as ‘unapologetically un-PC’ and ‘low-brow entertainment’, World Wrestling Entertainment has been the pinnacle of professional wrestling for over five decades. This case study explores the organization through its history of brand problems and challenges and how it championed those situations through remaining fluid, knowing its niche and consumer base and going to where their customers are nesting.
Anyone who has ever purchased anything online knows what it is like to be tracked. My recent TV purchase has resulted in weekly emails from Best Buy with messages telling me that, based on my recent purchase, I may also be interested in everything from surround sound systems to extended warranties. Best Buy is not the only organization using consumer-tracking methods as a way to market and promote additional products. Sports teams have even gotten in the mix. I have never attended a baseball game live in my life, but because I recently purchased tickets online as a gift for my nephew, I receive numerous ticket deals in my inbox as well as ads for MLB products and promotions anytime I use a search engine. With this being akin to online stalking, consumers, and even some technology companie, are questioning the ethics behind the practice.
A recent Forbes article puts the practice into a perspective that anyone can truly understand when they likened the practice to going to the mall and having a store employee follow you around making notes of every item that look at or purchase and whether or not you leave their store to go to a rivals store. While as consumers we sometimes unwittingly allow sites to collect our data and in effect give them permission to use it to track us (surveys, privacy settings on social media, customer loyalty card transactions, etc.), the biggest ethical issues abound with the use of tracking software and use of third party cookies. While the Federal Trade Commission has worked with companies and created a Do Not Track list to address tracking concerns of online consumers, there is currently no legal measures to ensure that companies actually honor the request.
The ability to track consumer patterns is invaluable to online marketing. It allows organizations to not only package their products to entice their purchase, but it can also help with product analytics. However, the question many of us in the online marketing field are left to ask ourselves one simple question: When does simple tracking become stalking and cross the line of what is ethical?
In the aforementioned Forbes article, Alex Yoder, former CEO of Webtrends an online marketing company, makes the argument that a company has the right to monitor consumers if they are on their owned website, but that it is when they branch out and start to track all over the internet that violates trust and privacy. While I can certainly see Yoder’s argument, and agree with him to an extent, I would extend that statement to include selling consumer information to third parties as a further violation. As a consumer, if I provide an online site with my information, I do so because I trust them. I trust that they will protect that information not hand it over with a smile to the highest bidder.
For any sport marketing or PR professional, return on investment (ROI) data is imperative to helping determine whether or not a strategy pays off. One of the hardest parts of determining the ROI for social media is the lack of a good tool to provide quality analytics. There are several products out there that boast their premier services, but do they actually work? How? Can either of these tools be beneficial to determining the influence of a sport brand?
One of the current ways in which organizations can determine how well their efforts on social media networks are paying off is through the use of programs such as Klout and Peerindex. While these programs do not give a full scale analysis on how well a plan has produced in terms of revenue, they do offer a key aspect to social media ROI: social influence. As the use of social networks has exploded in the world of brand marketing, so has the interest in “influence.” Organizations has realized the influence that earned media (blogs, reviews, etc.) can have on their product sales, and they are increasingly looking as ways in which to reach out to these influencers as a way in which to get them to drive the communication about their brands. To capitalize on this demand, products touting means for scoring your social media influence have cropped up, with Klout and Peerindex leading the pack currently.
So how do these products work?
Klout came on the scene first in 2008. Using the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Wikipedia and Klout itself), Klout measures the influence based on one’s ability to produce action from their social activity. It measures “True Reach” (number of people who act on your message), “Amplification” (how many people respond or spread the message) and “Network” (how often people respond/share your content). The program then assigns each “user” with a Klout Score that ranges from 1-100. Positives about Klout? They are a marketing tool that prompts you to be more content-rich because it is vital to your online persona. The negatives? The Klout Score does not help an organization to determine their true authority over their consumers. It also does not look at the smaller social sites. What about blogs? Consumer reviews? They lack an overarching insight into how to truly analyze earned media.
Peerindex, founded in 2009, is also a social media influence tool that measures “Authority,” or how others rely on your content in general. The site bases your rank on the size of your audience compared to others and the amount of activity you provide. The site charts your topic footprint to show your influence compared to others. Peerindex has a huge positive over Klout in that it targets authority. It is a bit easier to understand as well. However, like Klout, they only focus on the major players in the social network. While they do include some blogs and Quora, they still do not provide a full view of an organization’s influence.
While either of these products may provide some limited benefits to sport organizations in determining their influence on the major social networks, it is important to keep in mind that they are extremely limiting in the data that they can provide. Because they do not provide a complete view, they should not be used in isolation. Instead, they should be used in conjunction with other methods of analytics.
In my previous post, I detailed the need for organizations to use content rich digital media as a brand strategy…specifically more so than brand advertising. Many subscribers to the old school thought of sport PR and marketing would argue that while this sounds good in theory, it doesn’t necessarily transcribe itself to the world of sport. I would argue that it already has…and very successfully to those who have embraced the concept.
The NFL is one of the top spenders in regards to advertising, spending over $138M in 2010 alone. While once the king of TV and print ads, the NFL’s focus in the past couple of years has shifted to more digital content. For over decades, the NFL used extremely expensive TV ads to draw fans to their broadcasts. Who over the age of 5 doesn’t remember Hank asking us if we are ready for some football in the NFL’s commercials?
Today, however, the NFL has provided fans with a content and multimedia rich digital experience that enhances our love of the sport instead of spending time with ad agencies creating commercials. The NFL’s site provides news, schedules, scores, videos, stats, standings, blogs, podcats, an online store, photo galleries, links to fantasy football and so much more. It is the ultimate place to find out all things NFL. The content uses everyday language that speaks to their consumers. It relies less on the flashiness provided by other sport organization websites, and instead focus on what their fans want…football, football and more football.
One of the questions that I was asked to think about recently was whether or not content was a better strategy than brand advertising in building a fan base and generating sales. My thoughts, in today’s digital age, unless your brand is well known already, brand advertising is probably not the place to start to build a fan base and generate revenue. Instead, using content rich owned media can not only help potential consumers better understand your product, but it can also be a force like no other to build your brand.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the digital world of marketing for me is the fact that most consumers are no longer drawn in by the flash of expensive advertising. Instead of seeing a commercial and instantly going out to purchase the product sans research, today’s consumers are better educated on the products and services that they are purchasing. My husband and I were recently in the market to purchase a new TV. Have you seen how many brands and types are out there now? 7 years ago when we purchased our last set, we saw some Sony commercials for their newest plasma, went to our nearest Sears, looked at about 4 sets in the size we wanted, and made a decision. This time, it took us over 4 months to make a decision. We went to the nearest Best Buy, got a visual of the size and models available, then went home to begin a lengthy process of research. We went to no less that 100 websites to read specs, get advice from tech professionals on one brand versus another, catch up on what other consumers thought about the different models, etc. Shelling out over a grand for a piece of tech may not be a big deal to some, but to us is meant making sure we got the best bang for our buck. We are now the proud parents of a new smart TV and are pleased with our diligence to find the best one for our purposes. One of the great things I found while filtering through websites like PCWorld and CNet as well as blogs such as Geekbeat and Techdirt is that the rich content that the pages provided were beyond instrumental in helping us make our decision. We looked beyond the brand advertisements, and instead focused on the reviews and advice provided.
So, what makes content rich digital media so important in the branding game? Successful, content rich sites begin their content by first grasping who their audience truly is. Once the personas have been identified, they will then identify the problems that each of those personas may face. When they begin the actual step of writing the content, it is done with the consumer in mind instead of the product or organization. Everyday language is used to persuade consumers that the product is fact the solution to their issues or concerns, all the while building a relationship with them. It is the content of the site that will pull together all of the stakeholders and drive individuals to action. Too often sites get focused on less important aspects such as design, logos, and flashiness. Authenticity and personality are important to make the content rich. Without great content, the rest falls flat.
I think that David Meerman Scott, marketing strategist and author of the book The New Rules of Marketing & PR sums it up best:
“Content brands an organization as a thought leader. Instead of just directly selling, a great site, or blog, or news release and podcast series tells the world that you are smart, that you understand the market very well, and that you would be a person or an organization that would be valuable to do business with. Web content directly contributes to an organization’s online reputation by showing thought leadership in the marketplace of ideas.”
The methods of marketing and branding a sporting event have changed drastically over the past few decades. Regardless of what you call them, the methods from the Mad Men era used messages to interrupt the consumer and present a product-focused, one-way spin on their branding messages. This technique is used to try to get consumers to pause what they are doing (watching TV, reading an article, listening to their favorite radio station, etc.) and pay attention to their ads. The ads are “one-way” forms of communicating their messages in that they do not allow any form of interaction between the companies and their consumers. The messages were strictly informational, and did not take into consideration any of the demographics of the consumer to which they were speaking. They were broad-based, generic messages that simply throw generic information to the viewer/reader instead of providing the consumer with what they needed to make a decision about the product they were offering. The companies used images that the consumer already associated with the product or event, and assumed the message would be received in the light in which they envisioned.
For example, in the 1970’s, despite a shift in how advertisements were being produced, boxing promoters still relied heavily on their tried and true methods of getting the word about the next big event out. Posters, ads in newspapers and promotions on news channels were the methods used by promoters in the 50’s and 60’s, and they were the fall back method for Don King in advertising the Ali-Frasier fight in 1975, coined The Thrilla in Manilla. As this was their third match up, and heavily anticipated by fans, there really was not an urgent need to change the ways in which the bout would be promoted. The time of the fight (10 am EST) was set to accommodate most world wide viewers, and was able to pull in almost a billion watchers across the globe, as well as over 25,000 in the stadium.
Let’s face it though. With the average consumer being inundated with exposure to over 3500 brand messages each day, today’s sports organizations can no longer bank on the old school methods of advertising. Modern brands aren’t built through communications, they are defined by what they do. Under the new rules, organizations are talking directly to the buyers. They are providing more direct information and open interaction for consumers to learn more about their product. The use of social media and the mobile market have opened doors for sports organizations, athletes and event promoters to speak directly to the fan as opposed to using general messages.
Today’s boxing promotions are multi-layered. They are no longer a few artistically designed posters and newspaper ads. They are bringing the brand to the people and focus where the fans are currently located. While boxing has seen a decline in viewership since the days of Ali and Frazier, the use of the social and mobile markets to brand the sport and its events have skyrocketed.
The September 2013 Mayweather-Canelo fight is an excellent example. Videos were placed on YouTube granting all access to promotional events, times and locations of where fighters would be to promote the fight were tweeted or posted on Facebook. Bloggers were granted access to information and behind the scenes access to help promote the event. As the fight itself was a PPV event in the US, the global viewership was nothing close to the openly televised event of Ali-Frazier in 1975, it was considered a success in brand promotion as it had the second largest viewership in recent history, the Facebook page reached over 80,000 likes and the fight hashtags of #TeamCanelo, #SugarHill, #Mayweather and #Canelo were trending throughout the fight.
Using the internet, mobile technology and social media sites in brand communication is not about the technology…it is about the people. For sport organizations, it is about the fans. In order for today’s sport brands to resonate with their fans, individuals that are exposed to a brand message every 30 seconds, they must go to where the fans are already located and reach out to them. Branding in today’s sport marketplace is not about the pitch. It is not about the Mad Men era ad campaigns. It is not filled with a bunch of empty promises. It is not about how much money you spend on the next best thing. It is about the story the sporting event or organization tells. It is about bringing a personal connection to the fans.
In my previous post, I mentioned that now, more than ever before, sports fans have an increasing number of entities looking for a piece of their entertainment dollars. To make sure that their fans remain loyal, and in turn keep the revenue streams fluid, sport organizations must look to ways in which to market their brand in a way, which provides a lifestyle of engagement from their consumers. Christopher Erb, Vice President of Brand Marketing with EA Sports, and genius behind transforming the way their covers are revealed, has broken this lifestyle engagement down into three main functions: collaboration, lifestyle marketing and encouraging consumer engagement.
Collaboration is pretty simple—two or more brands working together to blend their audiences. Each of the brands bring their own consumers and levels of trust provided by those consumers. Together, they provide an opportunity to reach customers, solidify their brand in the market and remove potential barriers between the companies and consumers. Collaborative marketing is not a pipe dream. It is already happening, and sport brands are starting to get into mix. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is easily the most recognized name in the realm of mixed martial arts. In 2009, they partnered with the clothing line Affliction to provide the fighters with their own signature styles. While Affliction already had a long history within the world of mixed martial arts, they have also designed custom lines for musicians, Harley- Davidson, entertainment celebrities and more. Through this collaboration, the UFC and Affliction were able to mix fashion and sport to provide a line of products that engage and blend their consumers.
The UFC has also engaged in lifestyle marketing by going to where their fans are instead of expecting consumers to simply come to them. At their inception, the UFC was a strictly pay-per-view sport. Fans who wanted to see a night of mixed martial arts were expected to pay a high premium for that luxury. Today, fans can become exposed to the sport in a plethora of ways that do not involve shelling out $50 to their local cable company. Full fight cards are now broadcast live and for free on Fox Sports and The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) series can be seen on FX. Event replays and fight libraries can also be found on UFC.com. The organization also reaches out to their fans on all of the social media channels. Dana White, UFC President, is well know for tweeting highlights of fight nights during the events. Fighters play up the upcoming fights by talking smack about each other on their Facebook pages or on their Twitter feeds. Social media networks provide fans with all access, when they want it, and on the channels in which they are actively involved.
What the UFC has mastered quickly is the need to encourage consumer engagement. They are using social media sites to allow their fans to participate in the evolution of their brand. White has touted “there’s no greater marketing tool in the world than social media. The only thing you’re limited by is your imagination and how fun you want to make it and what you want to do.” He has perfected the gamification of following the sport on the different media channels. Want to win some tickets to the next fight? White has been known to tweet the location of an employee that has a couple of tickets to the next main event, and the first fan to find him gets them for free. Want to have a say in who will be on the next fight card? The UFC has posted polls on their social sites that give fans control of which fighters will fight next.
Yes, I am a fan of the marketing and branding efforts of the UFC. They are not afraid to gamify their marketing techniques to engage fans. The lifestyle of engagement for brand marketing is about giving the consumers the power and the choice…giving ownership to consumers. I find that the UFC has mastered that technique.
Empower your consumer, and you will empower your brand.