Quick quiz: When was the last time you hit your local multiplex to catch a new flick, cheered as your favorite team took the field, or just vegged out on the couch binge-watching a show on Netflix or Hulu. If it takes you longer than a few seconds to come up with your answer, you just made an entertainment marketer cry.
Sports and entertainment properties can seem like an easy sell for marketers. Brands in this space can play a major role in how people define and express their personal identities, as well as impacting how we shape and experience our society, at large. And, as our collective passion for popular culture expands, we are coming to expect greater access to the athletes and entertainers we love – a trend simultaneously accelerating digital media innovation, fueling development of more live experiences, and driving more engaging storytelling on all platforms.
But just because sports and entertainment content is in high demand doesn’t mean it’s easy for marketers in this industry to find and engage the right audience for their content or drive casual fans to support their viewing habits with their hard-earned cash.
If you thought marketing sports and entertainment was all fun and games, there are a few things you should know about what it takes to win loyal fans and influence purchases in this landscape.
The noise in this space goes to 11 – and beyond
The saying, “All the world is a stage,” has never been more true. Virtually everybody with a smartphone camera and a dream has the power to establish themselves as entertainment impresarios thanks to the personal brand-building and revenue-generating opportunities afforded by popular social platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat.
New players are entering the field from all sides
For example, consider in just the last few years the very definition of “professional sport” has expanded beyond the pro and collegiate leagues that once dominated the scene. Football (and the Super Bowl in particular) may still be a leading player in broadcast media, but today’s armchair quarterbacks are also tuning in to cheer at ninja-like obstacle course competitions, following player stats to build their own fantasy sport teams, or even taking part in competitive video game tournaments. This has left long-established sports teams scrambling to update their marketing playbooks and create content experiences that will win over the audience – and secure essential sponsor support (more on this in a minute).
The data dilemma
Specifically, increased competition in this space is making it more difficult for marketers to determine how and where to distribute their content for maximum exposure to their target audience.
For better or worse, the solution to this challenge likely lies in a single, all-powerful asset class: data. Deloitte’s 2017 Media and Entertainment Industry Outlook report bears this out, asserting that to succeed in marketing sports and entertainment properties to the content-hungry masses, an intimate understanding of the end user is key. Deloitte concludes that companies that can figure out how to help consumers discover their content will likely have a leg up in this competitive space.
Mark Drosos, founder of Lodestone Social, agrees that sports and entertainment marketing is largely a numbers game, pointing out that data is a particularly powerful currency for these businesses to trade in, as it plays a unique, cyclical role in the content equation: “Not only should your content efforts serve as a means to help your brand gather critical audience data, all your future content efforts should, in turn, be informed by the audience insights that data reveals.”
Yet, in Mark’s experience, sports brands typically use content marketing solely for engagement purposes. Instead of pursuing “likes” and views as the end goal, he advises marketers to position their content efforts as a way to generate more robust first-party data. “The resulting behavior data can be merged with other data they’ve collected, which can reveal opportunities to drive more revenue from the fans they connect with,” he says.
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A hidden audience could be hindering your marketing growth
No doubt robust data can take your marketing efforts much further than assumptions alone; but this enhanced potential for success hinges on your brand’s ability to capture the right insights from the right audiences in the first place – a task that isn’t quite as clear cut as it may seem.
Sports and entertainment brands might have it easier than their peers in lower-profile industries when it comes to identifying who their most active, engaged fans are (hint: they’re probably the ones purchasing season tickets online, buying merchandise in the team’s online shops, or posting about their favorite shows and sports franchises on social media). But, as Mark explains, there’s an even larger fan base that isn’t as visible, which makes their behaviors and intent even more difficult to track.
Increasing your brand’s ability to tap into this hidden fountain of data is where Mark thinks the true growth potential lies for sports brands: “Thousands of fans will walk through the gates at a game or concert and yet remain unknown to the brand. These are prime customers that (marketers) let slip through their hands,” Mark says.
In addition, he points out that there’s a large percentage of fans who may never attend a game (or other live event) even though they may feel just as passionate about their favorite pastimes and players: “With more and more local and international sports fans watching from home, accessing entertainment through over-the-top (OTT) streaming services or on mobile devices, these businesses need to find better ways to turn these less-obvious audiences into leads.”
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Prepare your entertainment content to shine in the spotlight
Despite its challenges, this industry still offers plenty of opportunities to propel your brand into the content hall of fame. Innovations like streaming media, video-friendly social networks, and OTT access to sports and entertainment properties have created a huge market for content in alternative formats – from binge-worthy, story-driven streaming TV series, to exclusive short-form online segments, to serialized podcasts and more. And the success content brands are finding on so many discrete platforms is proof positive that consumers are more than willing to pay up – or opt-in – if it means they get access to the content experiences they desire most.
For your consideration, allow me to offer up a few tips and winning examples:
Embrace and enable a little healthy competition
If you can find a way to involve your sports/entertainment brand in fan-based competitions, you’ll likely attract new audiences – and may even open up some new revenue streams. Your involvement can be as simple as sponsoring a community softball league or as immersive as creating your own branded competition and broadcasting the games.
Example: Riot Games League of Legends Tournaments
Once thought of as a solo activity relegated to mom’s basement or the bachelor’s man cave, video gaming has transformed itself into a legitimate spectator sport (known collectively as e-sports) that is projected to draw an audience of 385 million and earn $696 million in 2017. It’s an enticing entertainment market segment that nobody has conquered better than Riot Games, which encourages and incentivizes fans to play League of Legends, its multiplayer online battle arena game, in tournaments around the world. Thanks in part to its dedication to making its game competitive and to promoting live events, the company easily outshines competitors in search rankings and game popularity – not to mention the potential for revenue growth its tournament broadcasts represent.
Build immersive experiences that encourage deep dives
Fans today want an experience – particularly ones they can’t get anywhere else. Since only a small minority of your audience might have an opportunity to see the magic happen in a live setting (e.g., attending a live performance, catching a game at the stadium, or taking a tour of a movie studio’s backlot), entertainment brands might want to turn their focus to simulating that level of excitement through unique, exclusive content experiences.
Creating immersive content can also bring brand benefits that go beyond the views and social “likes” your assets earn: It can incentivize fans to subscribe to your brand and/or provide valuable personal data in exchange for the entertainment value you offer.
Example: Rick and Morty Rickstaverse
Part interactive photo album, part hidden-object game, part choose-your-own-adventure-style experience, and all fun! The Rickstaverse enables fans of the subversive cartoon to join Rick and Morty on an exploration of 11 planets through a web of 80 linked Instagram accounts. Registered Rickstaverse followers can dive in and out of photo-powered versions of locations seen on the show and access a … um … universe of exclusive content, Easter eggs, and hidden in-jokes.
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Incentivize audience identification and interaction
Enabling audiences to personalize the content experience is another way you can motivate them to provide your brand with personal information – which you can then merge with other insights you’ve gathered to fine-tune your targeting and further optimize your content’s potential for deeper engagement.
Example: Straight Outta Somewhere
In the lead-up to the release of Universal Pictures’ biopic, Straight Outta Compton, the studio partnered with Dr. Dre’s Beats brand on an interactive, digital campaign that invited participants to celebrate their heritage by creating a personalized meme in the style of the movie’s title artwork. The campaign reached more than 1.2 billion people; and over 9 million of them created their own memes – including this one, shared by staff at the U.S. White House to gain support for the government’s nuclear deal with Iran:
Take care of business to business
While the sports and entertainment industry has a clear consumer-facing component, there’s certainly no lack of B2B opportunities to pay attention to. While ticket sales, viewer ratings, and even merchandise sales may be strong indicators of audience interest, sports and entertainment brands can live or die by their ability to attract lucrative sponsorship deals. If your brand can find an elegant way to incorporate sponsor-friendly content in the mix – without disrupting the consumer’s experience – you’ll have a leg up on reaching your revenue goals.
Example: Harry Caray’s Last Call
As a sponsor of Major League Baseball, Budweiser has a vested interest in being an integrated part of the in-stadium experience. For example, this subtly branded video captures all the excitement of a Chicago Cubs World series victory that the team’s fans have waited a lifetime (or two) to see – complete with actual footage of the joyful reactions at the stadium and throughout the city. The VaynerMedia-produced spot immortalized the final moments of a tense and tight game; but what elevated it to the stuff of sports legend was how the beverage brand slickly edited the footage to include long-time Cubs announcer Harry Caray, giving him a (posthumous) chance to call the final out and celebrate Chicago’s hometown heroes.
Want more insights, ideas, and examples on how your entertainment brand can leverage content marketing to its best advantage? Register to attend the Sports and Entertainment Lab at Content Marketing World 2017. Use code BLOG100 to save $100 on registration.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute