Monday, September 27, 2010

Vote for Brand X

Everywhere I go these days, I seem to see one political sign or another.

Each candidate has a brand consultant that has designated colors and designs to prop up a campaign, and PR staffers who carefully script each and every interaction.  The interesting human behavior here is that people (including myself) choose to take part in this marketing effort by bringing a piece home in their own front yards -- supporting someone they've never met before, and probably know little about.

These are people who are passionate enough for a person or party to brand their own personal space with another's brand.  I think a bumper sticker is one thing ... it's limited interaction across a wide intercepts -- the very definition of "scale."  But "scope" -- which we would define as a brand presence and consumer interaction for a lengthy period of time -- is a longer commitment.  Putting a sign in your yard is commitment.

We know that consumers are as passionate, if not more, about brands (in a wide sense) than most things in their lives, including political candidates.  They love their cars, clothes, teams, TV shows, even their day-to-say C-store selections ... all of it is intensely personal.  (It's the same sentiment around wireless products -- it's one person's ultimate brand experience through technology.)

Why can't we use sports to get consumers to put our partners' brands in their front yards and profess their love for them as well?  If they're willing to support a person that's a relative unknown, why can't they put our brand front-and-center to their friends and neighbors, leveraging the passion they have for our property? 

Sure, everyone wears their favorite brands or drinks their favorite coffee, but I'm talking about real evangelism here.  I'd start with three considerations, and we as sports marketers can help brands to achieve this goal.

First, it starts with two-way communication with the consumer.  Too many brands are still having one-sided conversations -- talking to themselves.  We have to build the relationship, hear their joys and concerns, let them seek an outcome when they need, then deliver resolution.  And maybe somewhere along the way, exceed their expectations.  But the relationship must have been established prior to the bump in the road, not after the car's in a ditch.

Second, encourage brands to listen.  (And by listening, I mean this decade's version of "thinking outside the box."  I hate its use, but it's appropriate here.)  Engage your properties to help understand what consumers want from your brand out of their partnership.  Here's a thought: how about asking customers what THEY want from YOUR sponsorship?

Third, help brands show a clear value to the consumer.  Even if you don't want to turn the keys of your partners' sponsorships over to crowdsourcing, a good place to start this conversation is through quick, value-based interactions.  A good example here might be a proactive Twitter offer via the brand handle with team tickets, with a soft support mechanism.  While not true one-on-one, it might spark a conversation that never would have happened before.

We need to be thoughtful when it comes to helping brands not just activate sponsorships in a meaningful way, but engage consumers along the way.  This goes beyond ROI.  We need to turn static into active.

Because eventually, it comes down to consumers voting with their wallets, and not ballots.  And we all want to win that election, right?

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