Sports Fanatics and the Lesson for Marketers

Patriots_bills
Patriots_bills

Are you a marketer, but don’t follow sports? Too bad, because understanding fandom can inform almost all of our work. This understanding isn’t derived from analytics, however, which are certainly vital and indispensable. Instead, I’m referring to the constantly changing, often raw and multifaceted narratives of sports that can hold even casual fans in their grip for a time. While developing a fan base may be inherently different than building a customer base, there are nonetheless lessons that can benefit marketers.

  • Your brand is a stew. Sports fans forgive, tolerate and forget, and there’s strength in that. They do this because they’ve already been given something, a curious brand stew containing fallibility, vulnerability, accountability, respectability, and so on. Sure, our favorite teams and players regularly move between these “states of being” – we’re disappointed as often as we’re delighted – but that’s all part of the balance that makes us fans. What’s in your brand’s stew? Is it really all about how you’re “first, best or only” and hollow monikers such as leading this or innovative that?
  • Consistency is great, but game scripts change. The best coaches start each game with a plan. Fans know this, but they also expect that adjustments will be made as the game changes. In fact they anticipate and often welcome it. Adversity is a strong narrative element, and even some disappointment is healthy from time to time, at least from a fan’s perspective. The trick play didn’t work, the relief pitcher was ineffective or we shouldn’t have taken that timeout. Once those mistakes occur, however, fans will inevitably put them back into the overall narrative – they are woven back into the whole cloth. Are you trying too hard to conceal what may actually be valuable to your true fans?
  • We are all people. Fans are fickle, but forgiving. That’s because we also see ourselves in athletes and teams, mistakes and all. The most beloved athletes (not necessarily the most well-paid or accomplished) show many facets. They struggle, persevere, give back, say funny things, ask for donations and share their softer sides. They are people, just like us, albeit with a special skillset we’ll never have. Do the fans of your brand like your people in the same way? What are you doing, if anything, to build up “real” affinity?

If you don’t follow sports as a true fan of a team or teams, you’ve likely read the bullets above and are finding it hard to see anything but risks. Spotlighting disappointment, acknowledging mistakes and embracing the “less polished” sides of your people can’t be a smart strategy. But it can be, especially if you acknowledge that brands no longer “control” the narratives surrounding them – fans do that. And while they may undress your hero from time to time and be critical of parts of your brand’s journey, having the freedom to criticize and cajole only makes them love you more. They don’t really know where you end and they begin – that’s what being a fan is all about.

So what can you take away from this? Look at the stories you tell across owned, earned and paid media. How authentic are your stories? Would they encourage a customer/prospect to treat you as a true fan would – as an extension of themselves? Are you reflecting them or spinning well-positioned fiction?

As you think through your content calendar for 2016 (you should already be doing this), ask yourself these questions: do all my story topics sound the same, is everything too good to be true (and messaged) and do these stories make my people seem as wooden as Pinocchio? If the answers are yes, yes and yes, think like a fan instead. Tailor your content to them and who they really want you (or their team) to be – because without them you have no story anyway.

Scott Bauman is Greenough's Executive Vice President. Follow him on twitter: @sbauman

Say Goodbye to Annual Performance Reviews, and Hello to Daily Conversations

constantexchange (1)
constantexchange (1)

If you asked the general public for the most dreaded events in their lives, most would say illness, loss, colonoscopies, root canals, stepping on a Lego at 3 AM. For us working stiffs, add to the list the annual performance review process.

So, imagine my thrill at reading Vauhini Vara’s piece in this week’s New Yorker applauding Accenture and others for banishing the process. If 330,000 Accenture employees are taking a pass on formality and instead embracing more regular check-ins and feedback, I say, good for you.

You see, to me that sounds like the makings of any good relationship. You can probably surmise from the list above that I’m 50+, and that means, among other things, that I’ve spent 20+ years working, leading, managing, self-assessing, and participating in performance review processes from 1-1 to 360, primarily with people in creative organizations. From my perch, creatives bristle at processes like the annual performance review, happening as it does like some kind of employee rite of passage.

Cue brief self-promotion: the performance reviews we conduct at my company consist of 2 short items, with credit to HBS for the inspiration: 1) What I like and 2) What can improve. This pretty much sums it up, and it dispenses with the additional busywork required. Yes, we do ask for a self-evaluation so it’s a give and take conversation. And, we do seek feedback from others. In general, it works.

But here’s where it falls down: the employee/manager relationship is really not unlike relationships you have outside the office. They are, whether we want to admit it or not, relationships. This is particularly true with creative organizations, which by definition rely on frequent communications, brainstorming, spitballing, call it what you want: they like to engage and engage frequently in search of the perfect solution, answer, brilliant idea. And relationships -- assuming, of course, you want to stay in them -- require frequent communication, feedback, correction, and “this is how what you did made me feel” moments.

Companies operate with many new rules these days – we’re remote workers working with 9-5ers in the office, channeling thoughts and ideas through email and text, rarely picking up the phone, even. So why do we promote an anachronistic model of performance reviews when all you really need to do is seize each moment of every work relationship to make you and your team better?

Like Accenture’s recent move, I’m equally smitten by what Globoforce (the self-described leader in employee recognition, and a Greenough client, I should add) proposes: you develop and retain employees by frequent acts of recognition, not just once a year, and not by checking boxes, but by having authentic conversations based on crowdsourced feedback.

You don’t wait a year to tell your friends, family or partners that they’ve either messed up or done something phenomenal. Why not apply the same thinking to your relationships at work?

Jamie Parker is president of Greenough Brand Storytellers

Stonewall Jackson, Procter & Gamble and Ineligible Receivers

I’ve become an avid reader of biographies in the past seven years. Some of them chronicled figures of whom I’d had some vague knowledge of before digging deeper into their stories. Others I’ve stumbled upon from recommendations and lists. Rebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne is one such biography. Gwynne tells the story of Thomas J. Jackson - or, as most know him, Stonewall Jackson. A man of great contradictions, Jackson became an icon of the Confederacy through his sheer brilliance as a military leader. Uncommonly brave and religious, Jackson was ruthless and generally not collaborative. But he saw the field of battle through a different lens. “(His) strategic innovations shattered the conventional wisdom of how war was waged; he was so far ahead of his time that his techniques would be studied generations into the future.” It may not seem obvious, but Jackson’s ability to fashion new strategies to win numerous battles in the Civil War is a clear reminder that in far less lethal circumstances businesses need to bring creativity and clarity to the strategies they plan to adopt in 2015. Let me explain.

First, back to Stonewall Jackson: one need look no further than the first Battle of Manassas, the first big battle of the Civil War. In the face of an early onslaught, Jackson maneuvered his troops in a highly unconventional yet ultimately advantageous position with tactics no other had considered. His rout of the North served notice to President Lincoln that the Confederates were not to be simply outmanned and outgunned. Though we all know the ultimate outcome, a better strategy in battle after battle trumped advantages in numbers and weaponry.

Likewise, in far less dramatic circumstances, I’ve seen how businesses with powerful strategies learn to outflank and command winning shares. In Playing to Win, A.G. Lafley, former Chairman and CEO, Procter & Gamble, and Roger L. Martin, dean of University of Toronto, outline the critical steps to formulating strategies in markets. It begins with defining a ‘winning aspiration’ versus a plan to simply compete. Like Stonewall Jackson’s savvy selection of redoubts, it’s about choosing the right playing field -- whether it’s product category or geography -- in combination with a clean plan for how to win by crafting the value proposition and selecting a competitive advantage in either low cost or differentiation. There is no sustainable middle ground between the two. In the skin care category, for example, P&G successfully repositioned Oil of Olay, a mature and underperforming brand, with a broader value proposition (helps more than just wrinkles). By addressing a new market of women in the 35 plus age group, pricing the product higher to convey more value and devising a wholly different approach to distribution, they saw revenue grow dramatically from $800 million in the late 1990s to $2.5 billion ten years later. The authors repeatedly point to the need to make explicit choices. “Too often, CEOs in particular will allow what is urgent to crowd out what is really important. When an organizational bias for action drives doing, often thinking falls by the wayside.”

Strategies on two different fields
Strategies on two different fields

Quite literally on a different playing field, my favorite team the New England Patriots showed fans a whole new approach to attacking an opponent in its dramatic come from behind victory last week over the vaunted Baltimore Ravens. By employing a perfectly legal but completely unusual formation, Bill Belichick crafted a strategy that enabled Patriots’ receivers to be wide open against the Ravens’ bewildered defense. Ravens Coach John Harbaugh failed to react with as much as a time out and instead earned a penalty flag for unsportsmanlike conduct as he lashed out in frustration at the referees. Yet again, this past Sunday Belichick unveiled innovative formations and plays in the drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts; the coach and the team now move on to an unprecedented sixth appearance in the Super Bowl.  In preparing for games, NFL coaches may be the most tireless workers on the planet: they obsess about every little detail and scheme for seemingly every eventuality from an opponent. And yet with only the best teams and finest coaches remaining in the playoffs, Belichick managed to conceive of a strategy that left his opponent flatfooted, literally.

This brings me to an observation formed over 30 years in business: too many organizations fail to develop creative strategies designed to win in the market. Whether it’s a preference for action over thinking, a misguided confidence that what worked in the past will do so again, or simply a lack of capacity for strategic planning, too often I’ve seen resources squandered. Better strategy is not complicated, but it is tough because it starts with hard choices. With a disciplined strategic approach to their 2015 plans, enterprises large and small unquestionably will put themselves in position to hit their goals. And that’s a resolution for the New Year we can all get behind.

Phil Greenough is the Founder and CEO of Greenough. Follow him on Twitter: @philgreenough

Feeding the Media: Turning One Strategic Placement into Multiple Big Hits

These days producers, editors and reporters are under constant deadlines. The pressure is on to fill digital and cable news sites with fresh content 24/7 and reporters are often asked to file three or more stories a day. So how do journalists continually feed the beast? By sharing content.

The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University study finds that nearly 76 percent of stations are involved with other media in newsgathering and sharing agreements. Almost a third of news directors (31.2 percent) said they ran news on another local station, and the study finds that content ran on an average of 1.4 stations. The majority of stations also have cooperative agreements with outlets in other mediums including local newspapers, radio stations and websites.

Whether it’s a pitch for an article, video, slideshow or story idea, good media relations professionals know how to take advantage of these sharing agreements and identify key “feeder” media. Take Bankrate.com for example, a feeder site for Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance and MSN. The online outlet already has an impressive 63,695,333 page views per month, but combine that with the views top tier outlets like Fox are bringing in and you’ve just increased the exposure exponentially with one strategic pitch.

Here at Greenough, we’ve been able to implement this approach for several clients. This spring, we secured an article on seasonal allergies in the print and online editions of Health Magazine for Thermo Fisher Scientific. A good hit in its own right, but then the story got picked up by ABCNews.com and FoxNews.com.

For GT Advanced Technologies, we secured an article in MIT Review that went viral – netting more than 60 article pick-ups including Yahoo! Finance, Fox News, CNN and Business Insider. We also saw 30 local news articles and 18 trade hits.

As with any good story pitch, it’s all about the research. Study your target outlets, identify their key “feeder” sites and understand who has a content sharing agreement with whom. The time and effort spent upfront will certainly help you maximize exposure and secure your next top tier hit.

Contributed by Account Supervisor Christine Williamson. Follow her on Twitter: @ChristineDBW.

PR Tip of the Day: Harnessing the Hyper-Local

Last month, our team at Greenough celebrated our fourth anniversary of publicizing Arbella Insurance's distracted driving program, Distractology 101. Distractology brings a neon-yellow mobile classroom outfitted with high-tech driving simulators to high schools across New England. The simulations give new drivers the chance to experience the perils of distracted driving from the safety of the trailer, training them to avoid these behaviors when they're in their cars.

Though the larger Massachusetts and Rhode Island outlets only run a story on Distractology once every year or so, honing in on smaller town and regional newspapers and local broadcast affiliates has kept our success rate at between 7 and 20 pieces of coverage each month— 4 years running!

More important than the number of hits alone, hyper-local news audiences continue to remain high despite uncertainty in the newspaper industry overall. In a recent study, the University of Missouri's Reynolds Journalism Institute found that more than two-thirds of residents in small U.S. communities read their local newspaper at least once a week.

The Boston Globe also ran a story this month about how local access stations—once parodied on SNL for their low-budget production and anything-goes content—have become truly viable media outlets. The article notes that community stations receive up to 5 percent of the cable companies’ annual local gross revenues; and those funds “have allowed high-definition cameras and digital editing suites with broadcast-quality graphics, turning these once primitive studios into full-blown video production centers.”

Hyper local newspapers and local TV are often passed over in media campaigns since they don’t quite carry the same weight. But for long-running PR initiatives, especially for a program that serves the community in the way Distractology does, hyper-local news outlets can be excellent venues for maintaining media momentum and creating positive sentiment in the small towns where a regional company aims to sell its services.

Secondarily, we’ve heard from a number of our television production contacts that hyper-local outlets, like the Patch sites, are where they turn to find news stories. It’s a great resource for finding the under-the-radar stories that TV stations are hungry to break. It can also lead them to local sources for commentary.

And on the technical side, the more hyper-local coverage online that links back to your client’s website, the more “Google food” you’re providing. When reputable sites, like those of newspapers, link to your website, your SEO gets a boost.

So the next time you’re building out a media list, don’t discredit your town’s paper or community TV station. They will often help you reach your local community better than the glamorous national hit will.

Lucy Muscarella is an Account Executive at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @lucymuscarella