By Evan Colborne | December 20, 2016
Every year there seems to be a new marketing buzzword or trend. This post focuses on content marketing.
According to the content marketing institute:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”(1)
While the term content marketing may have only been used for the past 20 years or so, in practice it’s actually been around for over 100 years! Content Marketing dates as far back to when John Deere started publishing the magazine “The Furrow” in 1895 that taught farmers how to increase profit from their operations.(2) Fast forward to today, and content marketing is everywhere you look.
So why has content marketing become so popular? Well for one, today’s marketing/advertising world has become so fragmented. It has become harder for marketers to choose where to place their advertisements because there are so many options to choose from, none of which carry the same relative size of audience as they used to. Second, with the emergence or Digital Media, all of a sudden the cost to distribute content has become virtually zero.
So as a sports team or organization, how can you take advantage of Content marketing to drive ticket sales and develop your overall fan base?
When looking at the major leagues in North America (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS), one thing that they all tend to have in common is that they have lot’s of fans, but relatively few customers. For example, in a typical season (not including pre-season or playoffs) the Toronto Raptors could potentially have 811,800 unique fans. That’s not taking into account season ticket holders and others who attend more than 1 game.
Compare that with their Facebook audience at the time of writing this post which is 2.25 Million. The Toronto Raptors are an example of a major league team with a lot of fans, but relatively (⅓) of the annual customers.
Inversely, if you look at minor league teams, the opposite tends to be true for the vast majority. Being a minor league team typically means that your fans are concentrated geographically to your market. This results in fewer fans, but a need to drive significantly more customers. The same is true for most other business. There are very few businesses out there that can claim to have significantly more fans than customers; Apple might be the best example of an exception. So most businesses are similar to Minor League Sports in that they need to use Content Marketing to drive Customers, in hopes of developing those customers into fans over time.
With all this in mind, this post is probably more suited to the Minor League teams out there. The ones who can benefit by using content marketing to drive new customers.
If this sounds like you, below are some steps to take to start taking advantage of content marketing for your organization.
When choosing to pursue content marketing, the main focus should be the needs of your target customer. Most sports teams it seems, regardless of whether they are Major or Minor league tend to do a lot of the same kinds of things when it comes to content marketing, which is focus on engagement. Engagement is important no doubt, but when most of the effort is focused on this, the team is producing most of it’s content that is designed for those already familiar with the team. If I’ve never heard of your team, do I care that you won last night? Do I care that your star player scored 25 points last night? This type of content is about staying relevant with people already familiar with your team.
The big opportunity for teams is to create content for people at every stage of the fan lifecycle, including those who have never heard of your team.
If I’m a home owner interested in installing a pool, what’s the first thing I’m likely to do? If you’re thinking “Google it”, you’re probably right. It’s unlikely that I’ve ever heard of a Pool installation company before it became important to me. The Pool company knows this, so they’ve developed content that will relate to my search query, and thus used content marketing to attract a new potential customer to their business. Had they only produced content about “Cool ways to use your new pool” they would be targeting those who already have a pool.
For sports teams, this means getting inside the head of someone who fits your Fan Persona, and thinking “if I was them, what would be important to me”?
The best way to define your Fan Persona is to identify trends amongst your current fans. Are there any common interests besides your team? Do they share similar demographics, psychographics, or behaviour? Some of this information can be collected through purchase history; some may need to be collected from surveying fans. The point is, the data is out there, and will dramatically help your team produce content that will be important to people who represent new potential customers. It would be naive to assume that you are reaching everyone that fits your Fan Persona already. The people that fit this profile that you’re not already reaching represent low hanging fruit to draw in new fans.
Now that you’ve defined who you are trying to attract through content marketing, and some topics you think will appeal to them, the next step is to determine what formats that content should take.
In terms of it’s SEO benefits, at the time of writing this post, written content still has the biggest bang for your buck. So as a bare minimum, you’ll want to get started by producing some high quality written content. However, search engines such as Google are starting to get better at understanding Video & Audio content the same way they do text.
Written content comes in many forms. Could be a regular blog, white papers, research report, case study, comparison chart etc. Written content for sports teams does not have to be limited to press releases. There’s a ton of creative ideas for written content for sports teams.
The benefit of written content is that it is also the easiest to produce. All you really need is a computer and someone to write.
Another great form of content that has become tremendously popular in recent years is audio. According to research from Edison Research, podcasts represent almost a third of all audio consumption(3). What’s more, is that the skill required and the cost associated with producing a high quality podcast have come down dramatically in recent years.The only thing stopping you from recording your own podcast is purchasing a mic, finding a nice quiet place to record, and finding someone comfortable with the sound of their own voice to record it. From there, there are several Podcast services (obvious one being Apple) that can help you host and distribute it.
While it still may be the most difficult form of content to produce, video is similar to audio in that the skill and budget required to produce video has come way down. There is still of course value in hiring professionals who can produce a professional quality video, but with the advent of camera phones, many of our potential fans are now used to seeing videos of standard Iphone quality.
A lot of teams have the standard highlight videos covered. Many have even ventured into live video by streaming their games. However, both of these types of video relate to the earlier point in that they appeal to those already familiar with your team. In the rare case that you capture an unbelievable highlight, these types of videos likely won’t help attract many new fans.
Once again, there are lots of creative ways to use video for your content marketing to attract new fans. For example, what if your coach could provide a weekly “whiteboard” video explaining a drill in practice. This might appeal to local coaches with minor sports organizations. These people represent potential group leaders for your team.
The point is, if you have the capacity to produce it, video is probably the best form of content to show what your team is all about.
Now that you know who you are targeting, and what types of content you are going to use to target them, you now must decide how you’re going to distribute the content. There are really three ways to look at distribution: Owned Media, Earned Media, and Paid Media.
Owned Media is just that, it’s the distribution channels that you control. The most obvious one would be your team website. If the goal of your content marketing is to drive new customers, than you’ll want to make sure that the content you are producing is housed on your site.
The second distribution channel is earned media, which involves, you guessed it, earning it. This means that the owner of a distribution channel has agreed to share your content, typically because it is also a valuable piece of content to their audience. For example, if you had a well produced video about what it’s like to host a birthday party at your game, then a local blogger may share that with their audience. The trick to this distribution channel is that it takes time, and it can’t be forced.
The third way to distribute your content is by paying to do. One of the most popular ways to do this is through social media. If high quality content is the fire, social media is the gasoline that can turn a casual campfire into a full blown blaze. Social media has become very much a pay-to-play world; but it is also one where your reach can be highly targeted.
Regardless of the mix of distribution channels that you choose to use, it’s important to design content specific to each distribution channel. If the goal of a particular piece of content is for it to generate earned media impressions, than you have to start with their audience in mind, as well as your own. If you’re looking at paid media, then you’ll want to make sure that your content will drive clicks and ultimately conversions since you’ll be paying every time someone clicks on it.
Regardless of the original distribution channel, the best thing that a content marketer can hope for is that a piece of content starts getting a lot of shares. Shares are the quickest and cheapest way to increase your reach exponentially. Just imagine if everyone that saw your content shared it with their network. The numbers start to get really big, really quick! The challenge is this often can’t be planned for. Most of the time you won’t know what content is really going to resonate and result in a lot of shares. So the best thing you can do as a marketer is make it as easy as possible for people to share it. If the content is on your own site, make sure there are easy buttons for users to share the content directly to their social networks.
When developing content, it’s also important to keep in mind why people share content at all.The most common reasons are A) Because it’s funny B) it speaks about a cause that they care about, or C) because they think the person they are sharing it with will enjoy the content. Keep these in mind when producing content, and you’ll increase your chances that your next piece of content will get that extra boost from shares.
To sum up, most sports teams focus their content on people who are already familiar with the team. The big opportunity is to use content to attract new customers to your team, and then focus on retaining them and developing them into fans over time.
There is no shortage of creative content ideas for teams that will drive revenue and build your overall fan base.