What’s your sport? A look at what a sport’s brand means to you

6 10 2011

What’s your sport? What is running, swimming or football? As a current, lapsed, potential participant, or as someone that never wants to do it, what do these sports mean to you? What does each sport’s brand stand for, in your eyes?

Strong brands are ones that create an emotional response in people. When you ask them what the brand is, they don’t reply with a list of functions and features. Instead they tell you about it’s benefits or how it’s relevant (or not) to them.

Growth comes from understanding the needs and expectations of the target customers you want to buy/use your brand – a strong connection with them often means a disconnection with others. Those who don’t engage deeply with a brand will usually dismiss it as “marketing hype”. And that’s the point about great brands, they divide opinion precisely because they are distinctive enough for people to have an opinion, as the varying eulogies to Steve Jobs have demonstrated.

Brands drive growth
Growth of the iPad, Starbucks, Manchester United, Ikea – each has invented or re-invented their category and achieved growth and success way beyond the wider market or what was considered normal. Each brand has their passionate followers with whom they deeply connect, and they have passionate detractors with whom they often disconnnect equally strongly. But that doesn’t matter – if you create something genuinely relevant and meaningful, it can’t be relevant and meaningful to everyone.

If you ask someone “what is Manchester United”, you wont get a list of features about ground capacity, employees or their upcoming fixture. Instead you’ll get a story about the role the team has played through someones life, the glory of a great victory, the thrill of watching great craftsmen at work. Or you will get the complete opposite – I’ll stop there before my inner Fulham fan takes over. But regardless of where you stand, its clear they’ve succeeded in growing the revenue and success of the club, by becoming a brand that people want to be part of and engaged with, both on and off the pitch.

The same dichotomy occurs if you ask people “what is Ikea” or “what is an iPad”. But all these brands have achieved stellar growth because their brand has deeply connected with enough people to drive it.

Branding and participation
So in terms of sports participation, my question is this, “what is sport?”. Or to make it more specific: “what is swimming, running or football?”

I chose these sports to get a mix of what gemba sports research call “franchise” sports (those where the number of fans vastly outweighs the number of participants) and “grass roots” sports (where the opposite is true).

The sport of football has a strong brand for spectators and sponsors, whether people and companies choose to engage with it or not. Likewise with the Olympics around the corner, the spectator brand for elite swimming and running will get more and more coverage – which will delight some and annoy others. But that’s why the Olympics works, if everyone cared then no-one would care. It creates a deep level of inspiration and excitement, because it connects with most people but not everyone. If every elite sport became relevant to everyone, they would be passionately relevant to no-one.

But what do any or all of those sports mean to you, as a current lapsed or aspiring participant? What does running, going for a swim or playing football mean to you? Does the idea thrill you or fill you with dread? Are you constantly trying to get friends to join in, or are you always planning to start playing it “tomorrow”? Are you looking forward to your next session, or is it something you keep saying you will do but probably never will (like I do about parachuting)?

Please add your thoughts in the comments below…





The overwhelming fear of being wrong

4 07 2011

Seth Godin has made an interesting post about a consumers underlying fear of being wrong, and how they behave as a result of it. His final sentence, that this is “the lone barrier almost every product and service has to overcome in order to succeed” is particularly relevant for the sports industry.

From a sports participants perspective, the fear of being wrong could be the fear of having:
– the wrong level of skills (too rusty to try)
– the wrong level of fitness (waiting ‘another week’ until they’re a little fitter)
– the wrong friends (not in the clique)
– the wrong gear (looking like a newbie)
– the wrong attitude (not wanting to be serious / competitive)

In developing, packaging and promoting participation opportunities, sports need to be considering (which means they first need to be asking) how current and potential customers feel about their sport. And the good news is that some sports are already creating some good practice for addressing these fears. Back to Netball helps overcome the fear of no longer having the right skills, as participants can all be rusty together. Likewise the different group speeds available within RunEngland Networks and SkyRide Local’s help people get over the fear of not having the initial fitness to keep up.

But until sports fully understand how current and potential customers feel about their sport (and the same person may have different perceptions/experiences, and hence fears, about different sports), they won’t be able to talk to potential participants in a way that addresses these fears. And until then, they’ll never know what they were missing!





The 3rd place…

3 04 2011

I was reading the Starbucks entry on wikinvest the other day. The bit that particularly interested me was the short entry on Starbucks 3rd place – a market positioning based on delivering a differentiated customer experience that became a catalyst for growth within the coffee shop market. growth.
The entry reads: Starbucks’ success is due in large part to the trendsetting triumph of its coffeehouses as an informal and convenient “third place” outside of home and work, ideal both for informal meetings and a quiet moment away from the hubbub of daily life. Wi-fi internet access in all stores also makes it a place where customers can work. Book and music events also take place at Starbucks, in accordance with the company’s goal of making each location a community center of sorts to garner the loyalty of local customers.

It made me wonder whether sport can build on it’s current position, for some customers at least, as being their 3rd place between work and home. What Starbucks did wasn’t new, coffee shops were already a 3rd place for some. But what Starbucks did was build it up into a relevant and compelling customer experience, and one they could use to grow their whole market (not just their share of the existing market).

Golf is a sport that often combines business with sport, and team sports like football create social and community bonds around playing. But how could a sport deliver a customer experience – consistently across all it’s touch points – that set a completely new standard? What would it take for a sport to no longer be seen by its participants as an either/or to working or spending time with the family? Could it be West Wing-style mass jogging networking events, using voice to text software on an iPhone? Or family canoeing days that start with brunch at a cafe, and end at a cinema?

The answer probably isn’t either of those suggestions. But it is out there…





No friends, no access – no problem!

11 08 2009

Ever wish you could have an exercise buddy to train with? Or wish there was a mass participation race near-by? In the old ‘real world’ you’d be stuck with no friends and no access. But not any more.

MapMyRun have partnered with the Columbus Half Marathon, to bring Columbus to the world. On August 30th, MapMyRun members around the world will join those in Columbus, running the 13.1 mile race. But they won’t just be there in spirit. By registering in advance, and entering the route they will run, they will be able to ‘compete’ with runners in the race and around the world. Better yet, if they succeed, they’ll even get a finishers hat, shirt and medal!

This is brilliant. Never again will race organisers have to turn runners away. Meanwhile, MapMyRun further engage their community of runners, connected by their common pursuit of running (or cycling, walking and skiing, which they also cater for).

Nike have been credited with a similar level of engagement and community around Nike+. And have also held virtual races around the world. Where MapMyRun could push the boundaries, is by extending this concept to those pursuing other sports too. Or perhaps by including video recording of your experience. And by tying it into existing real-life races, they can even cater for the virtually home sick. The loneliness of the long distance runner is no more.

This also has me thinking. What other events/brands restrict access to those being physically present? Orchestra’s already play “live” to theatres full of people around the world, who get dressed up to enjoy the experience of almost being there. Sports broadcast games to giant screens, where fans can gather, sing, drink, cheer and get almost the same experience as being there.

So where else could brands take this..?





Sports Marketing 2.0 – when being a regular fan is not enough

23 07 2009

Ok, so you’re a fan, but are you a citizen?

This is the question asked by the Phoenix Suns NBA team, who are doing some intersting things to build a tribe through social media. The question is on a banner that advertises PlanetOrange.net, “a social network built just for real fans” (their emphasis).

Planet Orange includes a live twitter stream from 25 Suns staff, including the mascot (“who can’t speak but can type”) and Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq is regularly interacting with fans through twitter. So much so, that the Suns threw him a virtual birthday party where fans were encouraged to create a happy birthday video and send the link to him via twitter.

Back at Planet Orange, fans are encouraged to register as citizens, create blogs, join groups and share audio, video and photos. These include Fan Art – mashups of photos and drawing that other fans can share and use. And if all this isn’t enough engagement for the real fans, the Suns also have a Facebook fan site where citizens can share more comments and media with over 46,000 other facebook citizens.

At the centre of the Suns social media campaign is Amy Martin, aka PhoenixSunsGirl, seen here being interviewed on the Suns own TV channel.

While it’s easier to think of sports teams than businesses having fans, this level of customer engagement (Shaq has over 1.5m followers on Twitter) must have some insights for organisations in other industries. What type of content would  an airline or retail store need to share, in order to get real customers wanting to sign up and become flag-bearing citizens of their brand?





AirNZ’s ‘bare essentials’ ad campaign becomes an in-flight experience

7 07 2009

Something wonderfully strange has happened to Air New Zealand – they’ve developed a personality! Following hot on the heels of their nothing to hide ads, comes their bare essentials in-flight safety briefing. I often rave about VirginBlue adding personality to their safety briefings, but AirNZ have successfully stripped away almost everything except the personality!

This is a great example of brand authenticity. They’ve taken what is already a catchy ad campaign and embeded it into their service proposition. The behind the scenes video shows how the campaign has engaged the brave staff in the ad, and my experience last weekend confirmed it (minus the body paint). The staff on my flight from Auckland seemed to be having more fun, the announcements felt less scripted, and they were giving out double helpings of cookies/lollie mix as standard (always a winner for me).

The customers are getting in on the act too, with a website to let them confess their own ‘nothing to hide’ stories. Putting the advert, safety video and bloopers on YouTube has added to the buzz, with overseas media like the NY Times and Daily Telegraph sharing the story.

The outcome has been game-changing. Airlines regularly struggle to get even a captive audience to watch the safety briefings. Yet AirNZ have already gained  3.5 million armchair viewers! Now that’s world-class thinking!





What’s the price of cheap flights? JetStar’s 1st impressions

29 06 2009

I love flying Virgin Blue / Pacific Blue, because they continually remind me that you don’t need to be dull, just because your all competitors are. While most airlines focus on providing a service (A to B, on-time with some food thrown in), Virgin Blue provide a whole experience.

I remember my 1st impression of the Virgin experience, was that more of their staff smiled more often than other airlines. And they made eye contact…as if they were genuinely pleased to see me. This experience continued with safety announcements that were engaging enough to listen to (who says compliance can’t be fun) colourful seat back information cards and unscripted banter.

The point here, is that cheap prices don’t have to mean cheap experiences.

Compare this with the 1st impressions that JetStar passengers have been getting in New Zealand. JetStar launched with lots of cheap or free ticket offers, to gain market interest. But they have been plagued by complaints of long delays, rescheduled flights and bumped passengers.

No doubt JetStar will recover and improve, but their first impressions haven’t aligned with customer expectations. Jetstar took over from parent Qantas, so excuses about untrained staff and strict 30mins check-in cut-offs weren’t what customers expected. What’s more, these experiences are re-setting customer’s expectations in line with the cheap prices. Several people have already said to me “well I can’t complain, the ticket only cost me nine bucks”. Unfortunately, while JetStar see this as just opening offers, customers are starting to see it as a fair price. And while introductory offers can be effective at tempting trial, price alone wont keep them coming back.

Of course, airline service doesn’t have to be great. Ryanair have become very profitable offering overtly ‘cheap service’, to the point of even threatening to charge for toilet visits. But the big difference here, is that their customers are getting exactly what they expect.








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