Monday, May 16, 2011

From "Like" to Love: How Brands & Sports Fans Interact

There it was.  Right there in front of me.

"IN2NIKE"-- a Nissan Xterra with a Wisconsin license plate.

Most days, I'd just let this go.  But this struck me like an ... well, an adrenaline rush.

The iconic brand made enough of an impression on this consumer that he felt compelled to shout his love to the world - all in a seven-character license plate.  I thought to myself, "What is he saying here?"  Does he work for Nike?  (Probably not.)  Is he saying that he loves Nike clothes, shoes and apparel?  (Likely.)  Does he have an affection for the Nike brand ideals, such as fitness, competition and hard work?  (Yes, we have a winner, Bob!)

In this ever-changing age, smart sports brands realize that they have to activate through as many consumer touchpoints as possible to move targets down the purchase funnel.  Social media is obviously a big part of this mix.  Some brands even focus specifically on one channel, such as Facebook.

Oh, the Facebook "like" -- it's now become the "impression" of the early 2000's.  Whereas sports brands once solely coveted the impression, be it in-stadium, in-program or at-event, the like has now come the measuring stick of sports activation success.

While it's true that driving likes through our sponsorship activation, then we're able to apply a hard metric based on empirical data.  According to industry sources, most brands value a like at $1 to $5 of media.  This is a pretty significant number to be placed on one click.  We have to go beyond the like.  Smart sports brands are already thinking beyond the like, in developing the relationship in as many channels as possible, all though integrated communications closely tied to brand and creative strategy.

At the end of the day, we need to (as industry partners between brands, properties and agencies) drive consistent value to our consumers, all the while communicating to them in an endemic way.  Consistency of value and messaging tied to the brand strategy are ultimately important.  While anyone can produce a one-time stunt to spike sales or reach objectives, it's that commitment to consistency that will ultimately pay off -- leading to that "consumer love."

Five questions that can help us frame up that commitment to turning "like into love" are:
  1. What are we trying to achieve with this sponsorship?  
  2. How are we going beyond the assets to activate in a meaningful way?
  3. Does this activation truly drive value to consumers?
  4. How are we communicating this value to our target consumer?
  5. How are we measuring the change we're affecting in our targets through sponsorship and activation?
The aforementioned questions aren't exhaustive, as there could be 100 more questions we could use as a measuring stick.  But asking these tough ones will help us frame up what on Earth we're actually trying to achieve sponsorship.

For a brand like Nike, the relationship has moved beyond the value equation, based on their longevity in the market place and emotional connection.  The result is a strong brand with products that are considered leaders in the category, and consumers are showing loyalty to the brand through their dollars.  No relationship is ever perfect, as even Nike and consumers have had their issues.  But at the end of the day, when you really look at it ... for Nike, the "like" has turned to love.  And don't we all want to be loved?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Linked In: How #sportsbiz Approaches The Channel

I'm going to start today's blog post with a little trivia.  How many Linked In users list the key term "sports" on their profile?  Any guesses?  Would you say nearly 1,000,000 of us?  924,329 to be exact (well, as of this moment).  This is roughly 2% of the estimated 50,000,000 users globally.

With nearly 1MM users mentioning sports in their profile, it got me thinking.  I think it's funny just how many #sportsbiz folks I'm not linked to on the Linked In platform.  Does it seem like a larger commitment than just a follow on Twitter?  I think so.  When we connect on LI, we're looking to establish a deeper (if that can even be said) relationship with a colleague, sharing more personal information.  I think that the LI search has even replaced the Google search for those we're looking to learn more about.  I know I certainly do.

The interesting thing to me about #sportsbiz on LI is just how disjointed we seem without the organizing concept of hashtags.  It's like we're lost sheep continually looking for a shepherd!  The sheer number of groups related to sports marketing is astounding.  Take that key word alone, and we're looking at 247 groups just in that universe.  Expand the term to sports alone, and it's almost 4,500.  I know we're talking in hyperbole here, but it begs the questions: how do we use Linked In as an industry? 

For me, it's all about making new connections and maximizing existing ones, all in the hopes of creating opportunities by driving value out of the relationship.  Yes, that's a mouthful, but really ... it's what it's all about.  How can what I do on a daily basis, help you and your needs, and can we find a reason to work together?  The concept doesn't seem all that much different than Twitter, and LI has taken a major step forward in the status and following additions to the site.

But I would still challenge #sportsbiz to think about how we connect on Linked In.  How can we work together to create opportunities, bridge challenges and build solutions?  I would guess that this is a rhetorical question, but I do think there's real application there.  Here's five ways I think we can maximize our value on the network:

  1. Learn more about each other.  Get to know your connections' backgrounds.  See where there are commonalities that might be able to help drive value.
  2. Take advantage of the longer interaction.  We have more than 140 characters to communicate with each other.  We need to lever this opportunity and maximize it.
  3. Don't just join a group; contribute to a community.  I believe this is one of the major opportunities for us.  We all have 20 to 30, perhaps even more, groups we're a part of.  Pick one or two that are a particularly good fit and make your communication useful.
  4. Think about the mentoring opportunities.  I still believe that one of the biggest issues we have in #sportsbiz today is the development and cultivation of solid, young talent.  We need to commit to doing more to develop it.
  5. Lead by example.  There may be other ideas you have on how to maximize your value on Linked In.  Tell us, and then show us.  It's all about sharing and creating best practices.
In closing, I really enjoy using Linked In as a networking tool.  I want to see #sportsbiz continue to use this as an opportunity to honestly connect, rather than just going through the motions.  As with any situation, you'll get out of it exactly what you put in.  Commit to the community, and it will commit to you!

One last thing.  Are we connected?  If not, let's get connected. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Commitment and Team: Not Just For The Locker Room

I've failed. 

Yes, I committed to updating this blog on a fairly regular basis, yet this is the first time in nearly three months that I've logged an entry.  So, yes ... my commitment has wavered a bit on this front.

I've failed many times, in fact.  I've also failed myself over the span of my career, learning all too often how much work I still have to do to reach my own potential.

However, this Friday afternoon, it's a time to celebrate.  It's been a particularly rewarding three months for me personally and professionally.  Bottom line: I'm having a blast, working with some of the best people in the industry and having a great time doing it.  But, I found that I had to re-commit myself and go back to the core of what I believe to be important.  What I feel is most important, is being a team player and making the team better overall.

I had lunch today with a colleague in the industry, and she and I talked about what it was like to be a part of an organization and team that you truly believe in.  We both sat there and felt really blessed to be where we were.  It's not complacency, mind you.  It was just a moment to look off that proverbial mountain and see where you are and say, "Wow ... thanks."

As a member of the #sportsbiz industry, we all work on teams, and many of us for teams.  We realize that we're part of a bigger structure that only succeeds at the highest level when we're working together.  What that requires is a commitment to the people around me.

Let me say by no means I have this figured out.  But the older I get, the more I am starting to see the value that certain relationships have in my own career and life.  These are bonds that will go long beyond work, but into our lives.  And it's not necessarily about having people you can call and hang out with on the weekends.  It's about people you can count on when it matters most.  I just wrapped up an experience like that.

I was fortunate to be a part of a team that I felt like was one of the strongest I have ever worked on.  Each of the players had been assigned a role in the project, and each of us played critical parts that led to a solid performance.  Now, it's to be determined how successful we ultimately are.  But this team, this day ... we were on.

There's also some people I work with that I also learn a lot from.  I see them interact on a daily basis, and they do a really great job of succeeding while working in a team environment.  But it's a commitment on their parts.  They choose to play up each others' strengths, minimize their weaknesses and all-in-all, put up with their individual eccentricities.  It's a great learning exercise for me. 

In closing, as you know, I'm big on lists.  So, fresh off this collaborative process and teamwork example, I'll give you five things to think about as you are a part of your team on a daily basis.  Just some thoughts to frame your considerations, but things I consider to be important in my own life.
  1. What's my role in this organization? Think of it like a play.  What's your casting?  What are others looking to you to achieve?  What are others counting on you for?
  2. What's my motivation in this process?  Why have I chosen to work hard, other than it's my job?  What's driving me?  (For me, this oftentimes is competitive spirit, but could be something else for you.  If you're in sales, it's likely commission.  If you're in creative, it's often a great product.)
  3. What can I do today for the team?  What value can I deliver to this process, this effort, this moment?  How can I really be of the utmost utility to my teammates?  What are the steps I can take to succeed?
  4. How can I help another team member?  Is there something I can do to help someone else in this process or project?  Can I build them up, and give them confidence? 
  5. What's our end goal?  What are we working to achieve together?  How can we work better together?  What's mission critical?
I find myself more and more coming back to: how can I help others?  Honestly, I need to do a lot more of it.  But I think that I'm finding an increasing amount of satisfaction in working as a part of a team, and building against a greater goal.  I know it's passe in some circles as we face a me-first social mentality, but I do believe in the common good.

How are you improving?  What steps are you taking to help others in your own life?  What does that mean for your career?  I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.  And as always, thanks for reading.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Evolve the 140: How #Sportsbiz Can Lead on Twitter

Twitter has become a core communications channel among those in the sports business (err, #sportsbiz) community.  We have gathered around the electronic campfire, so to speak, to share our experiences, insights and even stories (sometimes, true ... sometimes, not so true) among our closest virtual contacts.

It has made our world smaller, more accessible.  We're in contact with people we likely would not have known before, all through Twitter, Linked In and other like creatures.  The information cycle has shrunk to near zero.  We are more in front of issues, and more on top of news.  We know what's going on almost before it happens.  We're smarter ... or so we think.

While we have more access to information, it's provided mixed results.  We lose critical components of messaging through translation.  We make mistakes because of our inability to tolerate detail that easily accessed information allows us to pass by.  Sometimes, I truly believe that information has made us smarter than we need to be -- information does that.  There's a statement that I've heard several times in my career that I absolutely believe is true: "paralysis by analysis."  But I digress.

Our ability to quickly and concisely communicate has come at a price.  I find that sometimes, we're wont to not pick up the phone, make the meeting or go the extra mile because communication has become so effortless.  Such is the case with Twitter.  It's the easiest form of communications we have in our community.  But we have to move past the ease of the medium, and move towards collaboration without a loss of communication.

When I first started tweeting, I didn't really have a focus on each of my tweets.  Now, I find that I spend considerable time planning out that line of text in Tweet Deck.  I'm careful to make sure that, like a writer on a fine manuscript, I want the message to be perfect.  I want to assure that my message is not misconstrued.  I need to consistently think about thought and intent.

Bottom line: We have to commit ourselves to a simple task -- "evolve the 140."  Through, being the operative term, as I believe we are capable of using Twitter in a much more thoughtful way.

Let's consider thought and intent.  Thought is more about clarity than design.  Is what I'm saying relevant?  Does it make sense to the reader?  Is it appropriately placed within the conversation?  Intent is about targeting the message to the appropriate audience.  It's not, "Am I saying the right thing?"  It's "Am I talking to the right people?"

Now, you're probably asking yourself, "How does this apply to #sportsbiz"?  Well, honestly, if we can evolve ... we can lead.

By my count, there's probably 500 or so Twitter users that are worthy of a follow.  Some because they're captains of industry.  Some because they're thoughtful and insight-rich.  Others because they're downright funny.  But if I apply the lenses of thought and intent, how many of us make the grade?

What does "evolve the 140" mean?  If I were to humbly set out a list of rules for #sportsbiz to demonstrate leadership on Twitter, I'd lay out the following 5 commitments.

  1. We commit to thought leadership.  We provide our expertise where warranted, and we use this knowledge to improve the greater community.
  2. We commit to relevancy.  We're always on point with the #sportsbiz thematic, and not what we had for dinner tonight.  We find content that is relevant to our audience and we share.
  3. We commit to timeliness.  We always make sure that what we're talking about is "in-the-now" or looking forward.
  4. We commit to the audience.  In choosing the subject of our tweets, we always make sure that it's of benefit to the readership at large, not for our own personal self-worth.
  5. We commit to clarity.  Nothing is worse than a ill-constructed tweet.  We'll take the time to build something worth sharing -- clearly and concisely.
In closing, I'm hopeful that the evolution of the #sportsbiz community will continue, and perhaps this blog post will cause just one person to take pause and think of the implications of a stronger group of sports marketing professionals.  I know we're one of the smartest, savviest, most forward-thinking groups on Twitter.  It's just up to us to show it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ten Things: SBJ Sports Media & Technology Conference

As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the Sports Business Journal Sports Media & Technology Conference in New York this past week.  It was undoubtedly one of the most valuable industry gatherings I've ever attended from an insights standpoint.  Every session brought something valuable to take away.  I'd encourage you to search the hashtag #SBJSMT on Twitter to see great coverage from the event, including from @SBJSBD.

Today, I thought I'd share "Ten Things" from the conference.  It includes some of the more salient points from the two days of discussion, in addition to the coverage that's been out there.  While this doesn't represent the whole event, it's what's interesting to me and I think is applicable to #sportsbiz on the whole.
  1. There's still a lot to figure out from a sports streaming perspective.  No one's truly figured out how it's going to all completely shake out.  Renewals of deals like ESPN & Time Warner Cable, rumors of an MLB/MLBAM reconfiguration, the potential for more arbitration between programmers and distributors ... it has people up at night, no doubt.
  2. "Cord cutting," or eliminating cable in favor of online-only programming, remains a threat to cable, but it's not one that is really likely at this point -- at least for sports fans.  While ESPN is doing a nice job with ESPN3 and, the majority of sports content remains through cable boxes.  However, with cable subs who aren't sports fans and only enjoy a subset of programming, it's a real option.
  3. Authenticity and tonality remain two key ingredients to great social media by teams and properties.  I did not hear much about value, which I also consider critical, but sports media professionals are definitely understanding that consumers/fans want real content, not contrived tweets.  One panelist went so far to say that most teams are still "playing defense" when it comes to SM (which I read as functioning more as PR) and I tend to agree with that.
  4. The marriage of CBS Sports and Turner for the NCAA Tournament will be huge.  It will reshape how we look at March.  From the advent of a "National Bracket Day" on Monday after Selection Sunday all the way to the TNT crew working programming around (and maybe even in) the Final Four, it's going to transform our viewing experiences.  I can hope that they'll approach SM engagement this same way, and continue to push the innovation that Turner has achieved around the NBA.
  5. Tablets are huge.  Period.  There was more passionate talk around how we can integrate sports programming through tablets than just about any other topic at the conference.  It comes back to the same streaming discussion as takeaway #1, but there is real potential and application across the board.  (Funny to think, but the iPad was probably the number one promotional giveaway at the conference.  Sports Business Journal/Sports Business Daily even gave one away at the #SMTTweetup.)
  6. 3-D sports viewing was probably the second-most interesting discussion.  After the ESPN release on 3-D, there were several sports media professionals who doubted the future of the offering.  However, after seeing this panel, I don't think the future so much is in doubt as is the means to pay for it.  A YES Network executive reported on the panel that the cost to produce a game in 3-D on the channel was six times more expensive than a traditional HD game.  Those metrics simply don't work.
  7. The fantasy panel was interesting, but it really didn't show any major advancements for the category, honestly.  I am a huge proponent of fantasy, but I sensed that everyone is still waiting for the next big advancement.  A question was asked from the audience as to whether or not social media can drive more interest in fantasy.  One panelist went so far as to say that SM can't drive the next wave of players.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  I think between SM, TV Anywhere and iTV enhanced television applications, there is major opportunity.
  8. Speaking of room for growth, one of the most anticipated panels of the two days was the discussion around local fans.  Each of the panelists saw wide growth potential in the coverage of local sports online, which validates the ongoing evolution (not destruction) of newspapers.  Everyone looks to ESPN as they are promoting their market-specific sites nationally, but it might be networks and individual blogs that has it really figured out.
  9. Verizon and the NFL have had some early success around their mobile offerings, as more than 5,000,000 have downloaded NFL Mobile.  However, it's clear from the discussion on the case study panel about the parties' record deal that Verizon is holding the NFL and itself accountable to monetize the relationship in a positive way.  Reps from Verizon said that the company is evaluating the value "every day."  This should not be a surprise to anyone in #sportsbiz.
  10. Finally, the most important point of the conference: the threat of a labor stoppage scares everyone, even those whose sports are secure in their current CBA.  A panelist stated flatly that a lockout threatens the entire sports industry, as sports fans tune out and turn off.  I think the #sportsbiz industry sees major opportunity for college sports if there's a lockout.  College football still has room to grow to catch the NFL in popularity, and with a stoppage, we might see just how much growth there is to accomplish.
Thanks to SBJ and SBD for putting on a great conference.  Again, it was one well worth attending and anyone who's in #sportsbiz should sincerely consider attending.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why Do We Go To #Sportsbiz Conferences?

I'm thankful to be headed to the Sports Business Journal's Sports Media & Technology Conference in NYC next week.  It's my first time there, and I'm looking forward to hearing several speakers, including my friend Jim Bankoff from SB Nation, on panels throughout the two-day event.  I'm also attending the #SMTTweetup, so if you're attending the conference, please consider attending.  (Details here.)

As I'm looking at the upcoming agenda, I'm thinking to myself, "Why do we go to conferences?"  The #sportsbiz industry is full of great ones, including the National Sports Forum and the World Congress of Sports, but what drives us to attend these events?  What makes being at these events critical to our success as an industry?

I've been to a few of these, and for me, it's all about a few factors.  In the day and age where every dollar has to be scrutinized, we need to ask some tough questions and think hard about why we go to these events, and what do we get from them.  So I'm going to provide a little feedback from the old "focus group of one" as to what drives my attendance. (Conference marketers, are you out there?)

Subject Relevancy -- If I know that the subjects discussed at the conference will most likely be directly applicable to what I'm working on on a daily basis, and I can add something to the conversation that lingers afterwards, then I'm interested.

Attendee Population -- Like many other people, I'm also looking to engage with new #sportsbiz colleagues to find out what's on their minds and keeping them up at night.  I want to make sure that the people who are attending are able (and interested, more importantly) in continuing the ongoing #sportsbiz conversation.

Engagement Opportunities -- Are there chances to engage with new #sportsbiz colleagues in an intimate environment?  Are there "think tank" sessions or small group breakouts that could help me unlock an equation I'm trying to solve for?  What can I bring to the table that might help someone who needs to find an answer.

What doesn't necessarily appeal to me is probably what's first on other people's lists.  Location.  Hotel.  Watering holes nearby.  Big-name speakers.  Impressive sponsors.  Whether or not people from 4 million different organizations are attending.

What drives me nuts is that there is one particular location that is very popular for conferences that people always turn their noses up to.  Out of respect for the city and the host hotel, it will remain nameless.  But you want to know where I found the best opportunities for partnership?  That place.  In other words, don't judge a book by its cover.

For me, it really comes down to: how can this conference help me drive solutions for my clients and my business?  How can the people that I will interact with help me solve for marketing equations down the road.  Are you asking yourself the same question when you send in your registration forms this year?

Let me be clear: I'm not advocating for fewer sports marketing and sponsorship conferences.  I'm standing up for smarter approaches to attending and more opportunities to engage.  If you've read my blog and tweets long enough, for me, it's all about the #sportsbiz conversation.  Let's keep it going strong.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Most Important Brand: Yours

We know that sports in the U.S. is an extremely small community.  We talk to each other,  about each other, on a daily basis.  We look for connections or ins, wherever we can.  We need for this person to make an introduction to that person, so we can get the pitch opportunity we need.  We need to call this guy to help this client get tickets to that event, which of course has been sold out for years. Those of you looking for a job (and I have been in that position), it's especially critical to rely on your network.

In my opinion, your personal brand is even more important than your network.  How do you come recommended?  What do people think, say and feel about you?  In the last 18 months or so, I've been evaluating my own personal brand as well.

It involves not only how I'm perceived in reality, but also digitally.  How do people see me offline and online?  Do they like working with me, or would they rather pass?  Would they want to work with me in the future, or look for opportunities to avoid me?  Am I a leader or someone that needs more seasoning?  Am I a people person or difficult to work with?  These are all pretty difficult questions to ask yourself looking in the mirror in the morning.

(I want to digress a bit here.  This effort for me involves a pretty major personal fitness rebranding, a.k.a weight loss and fitness effort.  I think it has helped my confidence and overall approach to life.  If you're considering something like this in your life, do it.  Don't wait.  It will make a difference.)

To expand my brand digitally, I've recently launched this blog and have been into the #sportsbiz Twitter scene for a while, but I wanted to continue to cultivate my digital presence in the hopes that it might drive opportunities for me to connect and build on this brand. 

I've recently updated my LinkedIn presence with new details and I'm hoping that it continues to bridge to new opportunities to engage with smart #sponsorship people.  But, today, I took a step that I had not felt comfortable taking before.  I asked for recommendations. 

Here's the email I sent:
Sports and Event Marketing colleague --

As you know, LinkedIn is a powerful connection tool for reaching out to new partners and potential opportunities out on the horizon. In this effort, I'm continuing to build out my personal presence on the site.

I'd like to personally ask you for an endorsement of my work and our relationship. I'd be more than happy to reciprocate.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.


It was something that I really had not been comfortable with before now. 

I'm not a serial LinkedIn user (I know they're out there), but it seems that the platform is here to stay and probably has more value than I originally assessed.  And, even though it sounds haughty to say so, I'm not honestly in the self-promotion business -- but I think we all have to be at some point.  For me, it felt like the right time.  (It's something you can't always articulate -- you know?)

When I looked upon why I was really engaging more with my LinkedIn crowd, it came back to my own personal brand, and how I'm trying to build it out.  It's a part of a discovery process.  But man, is it hard.

To understand my own personal brand, I'm going about it much like how we'd work with the companies we engage with on a daily basis.  What's my brand character?  What's my brand purpose?  How would I define my brand character?

If I'm being critical, which I think is important, I think there's areas that I can continue to build equity in.  I think there are other areas where I'm probably stronger than others.  It's something that I'm constantly evaluating, and trying to keep in consideration.  I don't always do that.

So, in today's post, I'd like to challenge each reader to think about what their own personal brand is, and how it affects their day-to-day professional life in sports.  Push yourself to think about what you mean to others, those who are close to you, those who are at arms' length and those who you're no longer close to, but were at one time in your professional career.

Then settle in to understand the most important brand you'll ever represent: yours.