Future of digital marketing in sports

Arvind Iyengar
New Update
Future of digital marketing in sports
When I’m shopping online to buy Diwali gifts, I like to think I behave like a rational human being (for the most part anyway!). I look at the perceived benefit of a product versus the costs incurred and make a purchase decision.

But when it comes to decision making with anything sport, I know rationality gets thrown out the window. I have to sit in my exact spot during a cricket match (and in my head that spot played as critical a role as Laxman and Dravid in India’s famous 2001 Eden Gardens Test victory); I have to wear my favourite jersey; and I have to avoid saying certain things so I don’t jinx the match result. Sport at the end of the day is so much more to me than some other transaction where I am a traditional consumer. Sport goes a level deeper and is linked to my very sense of identity. And that’s the sentiment marketers need to tap into to reach sports fans, which differs from what they’d need to do to attract a traditional customer.

Added to the complexities of engaging this crazy sports fan is the constantly evolving digital landscape, making it critical to have the right digital marketing strategy in place. There have been some very interesting campaigns around sport in recent times. During its second season, the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) launched #MyIPTLSeat, a campaign run exclusively on Twitter and Instagram for valid ticket holders. Fans had to share selfies with their tickets, and a lucky few had the chance of a lifetime to share the bench with the home team!

During the 2015 edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), fans were invited to tweet with #ISLYatra to ‘digitally’ move the ISL ball across India through the eight venues. The sheer concept attracted fans to tweet and make the ball ‘move’. Such innovative campaigns connected with them to produce unparalleled fan delight.

Stakeholders ranging from leagues, athletes, teams, federations, broadcasters, publishers and sponsors need to continuously adapt to connect with their fan base. Here are four things sports-focused digital marketers need to get right to reach and engage their fans:

  1. Find your voice: Across digital properties, brands need to make sure they have a well-defined voice and consistently stay true to it. It is critical to invest time upfront in determining what your brand voice on digital is - are you funny and witty, are you thoughtful and knowledgeable, or are you something else? There is no right answer, but there is a right way to go about it. Brainstorm to help define your voice, make sure everyone working on the account is educated on how to communicate, and be consistent. And don’t forget to have some fun with it - like Adidas with the Brazuca handle that brought a football to life on social media and got close to three million followers!
  2. Innovate with technology and content: Innovations are key on driving engagement on social media, and using technology can help drive real scale. Take the ICC for instance, that allowed fans to collect virtual trump cards on Twitter using the hashtag #WorldT20Heroes. Through use of technology and back-end algorithms to power automated responses at scale, these virtual cards achieved massive reach with over half a million tweets. Other brands have used technology to power unique first-of-its-kind innovations to excite fans. Like the Indian Super League having its Facebook cover photo automatically update whenever there was a change in score in a match during Season 1. And it’s not just technology where innovation ends, you can experiment with unique content forms to drive conversations with fans. Star Sports did a fantastic job with this while extending their Mauka campaign on digital during the 2015 Cricket World Cup, and got really innovative with custom emoticons from the Mauka Man (‘Maukaticons’) that delighted fans on social media. Digital is a medium that allows you to innovate, and the best brands are constantly experimenting to create magic.
  3. Be data-driven: Unlike traditional forms of media, digital gives you instantaneous data which should be used to help inform decision-making. Whether it’s optimizing the creative on a banner or tweaking the UI of your website, be prepared to change execution elements of a digital campaign based on what data tells you. Just as important, focus on the metrics that matter and do not get lost in the vast sea of information you get from digital platforms.
  4. Be real-time: Sport is all about those moments of magic, and to be a part of it you need to be real-time. Whether that’s through the use of sports data like live scores and stats, or responding to fans to drive interactions, you will need to be real-time to engage sports fans at moments when their interest peaks.

So there you have it - find your voice, innovate with technology and content, be data-driven and be real-time. Get these four right and you have a real shot at being relevant to sports fans and being a part of their moments of magic in sport!

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