Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why Brand Authenticity is Important

Think about brands that you admire; one trait many of those brands likely share is that they seem authentic to you. Those brands deliver against the promises they make and are driven by a deeper meaning than their latest ad slogan. We appreciate brands whose performance and actions reinforce our perceptions of them. However, brand managers walk a fine line between being authentic and managing brand touchpoints.

This issue surfaced late last week for NASCAR. Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski gave a candid interview with USA Today two days before the Daytona 500. In it, he made remarks some people interpreted as critical of sponsors, track operators, and TV broadcast partners. Keselowski spoke from the heart about his feelings for what NASCAR needs to do to strengthen fan relationships. His interview earned him a trip to the principal's office; Keselowski met with top NASCAR executives Brian France and Lesa France Kennedy. Apparently, the purpose of those meetings was to "inform" Keselowski on points about which he may have lacked insight or knowledge.

The dilemma facing NASCAR or any brand is how to balance giving free reign to people associated with your brand (e.g., drivers or employees) with maintaining a consistent brand message. Many racing fans liked Keselowski's candid take because it was consistent with the personal brand image he has crafted. NASCAR executives must weigh the extent to which they want individual drivers to be authentic against "corporatespeak." Does authenticity like that exhibited by Brad Keselowski benefit the NASCAR brand, too, even if it occasionally means less than flattering opinions are expressed about it? 

Building a great brand is not about striving for perfection; it is about being perceived as being authentic. Brands, like people, have flaws and make mistakes. It is how brands respond to their shortcomings that either cements relationships or sabotages them. 

USA Today - "Brad Keselowski Won't Slow Down On Track or Off"

Monday, February 25, 2013

What's in a Name? Considerations for Brand Makeover

Brands, like people, can sometimes benefit from tweaks to their appearance. An updated logo, modifications of brand colors, and in the case of sports brands a new appearance for a mascot are examples of how brands are updated. It is not much different than a person going with a new hairstyle, switching from glasses to contact lenses, or adding variety to his or her wardrobe. But, one change most brands (and people) do not make is changing their name. An exception for brands is in the sports industry. It is not unusual for relocated franchises to change nicknames. What characteristics make sports brands a more likely candidate for changing brand names than other types of brands?

This question has come up most recently in the case of the New Orleans Hornets. The NBA team relocated from Charlotte in 2002 and kept the Hornets nickname that it had since beginning play as an expansion franchise in 1988. The rather generic name Hornets worked in New Orleans, as it did in Charlotte or would work in most any other market. If the nickname Hornets was not bad or an awkward fit (like that of the former New Orleans NBA team, the Jazz, in Utah), why would a brand makeover be undertaken more than a decade after the team relocated to the Big Easy?

Certain variables or market conditions set the stage for a more extreme brand makeover of a name change. Among the strongest of the forces are:

  • No strong connection between brand name and market exists
  • Brand does not have high equity or value
  • A fresh start is needed

The New Orleans situation resonates with all three of these considerations. First, the Hornets nickname had no particular connection to the New Orleans market. The brand could benefit from developing an identity more closely identified with the city. Second, although the Hornets nickname could be used indefinitely, it does not a particularly high level of brand equity. In contrast, when the Oakland Raiders moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, the value of the Raiders name was so great there was no reason to consider making a name change. Third, the brand does not necessarily need a new start, but it has new ownership (New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson). Mr. Benson owned the rights to the name "Pelicans" and opted to re-brand the Hornets as the New Orleans Pelicans beginning with the 2013-2014 season.

Cynics might say that the brand makeover of the New Orleans Hornets is nothing more than a ploy to sell more jerseys and team merchandise. Fans will want to show off their loyalty to the team by wearing the new look. But, in the long run the New Orleans franchise made a wise decision. It has aligned its brand identity closely with its home market, strengthening bonds between New Orleans residents and "their" team. - "Hornets to Officially Become Pelicans"

Friday, February 22, 2013

How Nike Used Its Strengths to Become a Software Company

Nike made its mark as a footwear company. Michael Jordan's "It's Gotta be the Shoes"commercial in 1988 with Spike Lee says it all. Although Nike is an iconic footwear and apparel brand, it is being lauded for transforming itself to take advantage of opportunities in the digital age. Fast Company ranked Nike number one in its list of the 50 most innovative companies in the world for 2013. Nike won praise for development of FuelBand, and electronic wristband that tracks energy output. It is not Nike's first digital product, but FuelBand symbolizes the strategic direction that Nike plans to take going forward.

If the decision to move away from a core competency like designing footwear and venture into a category that has greater risk such as software-based products is puzzling, consider what Nike CEO Mark Parker says about strategic planning. Parker maintains that core competencies, skills or abilities that a firm possesses that are key to growth, are less relevant in a rapidly changing business environment. In Nike's case, the core competency of design need not be abandoned. What is changing is that Nike no longer limits application of its core competency to designing footwear and apparel; it is applying its expertise in product design to developing technology-based products like FuelBand,

In Chapter 3 of Sports Marketing, application of the strategic planning tool SWOT analysis is discussed. Specifically, translating SWOT analysis findings into marketing strategies is explained using the acronym MAC-Match, Avoid, Convert. Match is a strategy for coupling a firm's strength with an opportunity in the external marketing environment. Nike accomplished this with FuelBand by matching its expertise in product design with opportunities to incorporate technology into personal fitness products and meet athletes' desires to support their training efforts with technology-enabled products.

Nike will not stop making shoes any time soon. In fact, another innovation cited in recognition of Nike as the most innovative company in the world was its design of the Flyknit Racer, a featherlight shoe. But, Nike has effectively adapted to the external marketing environment my leveraging its strength as masters of product design to expand into new product categories. Growth through new products is not as much about entering new categories as it is utilizing expertise to meet customers' needs. This mindset likely means that Nike will not stop at technology-based products as it plots its future growth strategy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Will People Tune in to NASCAR in 2013?

It is late February, which means it is time to drop the flag on a new NASCAR Sprint Cup season. The sport's signature race, the Daytona 500, is coming up on Sunday. Unlike other sports that have its premier event at the end of a season, NASCAR's biggest event kicks off the season each year. Anticipation for Sunday's race has ramped up thanks in large part to marketing darling Danica Patrick becoming the first woman to win pole position for a Sprint Cup race. NASCAR executives and their broadcast partners hope that the build up for the Daytona 500 carries over into the 2013 schedule and reverse the trend of decreasing TV viewership of NASCAR races.

NASCAR's TV ratings experienced a bumpy ride in 2012. An average of nearly 5.8 million people per race tuned in to watch Sprint Cup Series races, down 10 percent from 2011. If that trend was not enough bad news, audience ratings among the highly coveted 18-34-year-old demographic dropped 25 percent to 0.9 percent of that age group. NASCAR officials cited uncontrollable factors like a rare weather-related postponement of the Daytona 500 and the London Olympics that hurt viewership. Add to that expected competition from the NCAA basketball tournament in March and the NFL in the fall and NASCAR finds itself challenged to spark TV interest in race broadcasts.

What can NASCAR do to encourage more people to watch televised races in 2013? Three ways that NASCAR is working to combat the ratings slide include:
  1. Emphasize NASCAR's "Main Street" brand positioning - The fan base for NASCAR mirrors the American middle class in income and values. NASCAR must continue to make the connection between its brand values and those of the "99 percent" of America.
  2. Harness the power of digital media - TV audiences are important for attracting advertising dollars, but a social media strategy is vital for connecting with more fans. Digital media and TV does not represent an either/or situation when it comes to fans' consumption; they should be used as complementary tools to increase fan engagement with NASCAR and its drivers.
  3. Reach out to key demographic audiences - NASCAR might resemble Main Street, but it must continue efforts to reach out to a more ethnically diverse audience that acknowledges the changing demographic composition of Main Street. Also, attracting young people is crucial to developing NASCAR's fan base in the long run. Research shows that many people identify with a sport or athlete between the ages of six and ten. 
 What else could NASCAR do to enhance the appeal of its sport and entice more people to watch races on TV? In particular, how would you recommend NASCAR market to 18-to-34-year-olds?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Stepping Up the Connectivity Game in Sport Venues

Technology has become an indispensable part of our lifestyles. We have a second screen (TV), third screen (smartphone), fourth screen (tablet)- you get the picture. The unprecedented level of connectivity we have means that you can engage with technology seemingly anywhere we are... unless you are at a sporting event. If you have ever been at a venue and found it nearly impossible to access your wireless network you are not alone. The gathering of thousands of people in one place, many of whom seeking to access networks, significantly overwhelms infrastructure capabilities at most venues.

Meeting the technology demands of connected sports fans was a main topic at the recent On Deck Sports & Technology Conference. Industry speakers acknowledged that fans' expectations are not being met. Three reasons should compel venues to explore solutions for improving the technology use experience:
  1. Ubiquitous in everyday life - Technology availability should be no different whether we are at home, shopping, or taking in a ball game
  2. Extension of venue consumption experience - Tweeting, sending text messages, or watching video are examples of how technology is used as part of the consumption experience at a sporting event. Viewing content or sharing with other people are ways we respond to stimuli that comprise the environment at a sport venue.
  3. Make fans brand evangelists - Improvements in technology infrastructure will serve to increase exposure via social media communication. In effect, fans become brand evangelists by sharing with people in their networks. 
The reasons why sport venues must step up their connectivity game are obvious; the answer for making it a reality is not so clear. The cost is significant to equip a venue with internet connection capabilities to serve thousands of fans. And, at first glance technology upgrades appear to be pure expense, a cost to please demanding customers. Two potential solutions to the financial challenge of funding technology infrastructure improvements are:
  1. League-pooled investments - Use revenues earned via other streams to develop a uniform fan technology experience at all venues in a league. It would be in a league's best interest to have consistency at their member clubs' venues.
  2. Sponsorship category (in-kind or sell) - Sport properties have creatively developed sponsorship inventory; creating a category such as technology partner or connectivity partner would be a way to offset some or all costs. A drawback to this option is that some clubs would have an easier time attracting sponsors given their brand equity while lesser brands might struggle to secure a technology partner.
Upgrades for technology infrastructure at sport venues offer more promise than pleasing fans that cannot put down their gadgets. Improved connectivity can enhance fans' enjoyment at events, foster communication by fans with their networks beyond venues, and even offer potential revenue generation (e.g., ordering food and beverage via smartphones). But, sport marketers must make technology upgrades a priority to turn these possibilities into reality.

Biztech Magazine - "Sports Stadiums and Wi-Fi Connectivity: Will It Ever Get Better?"

Friday, February 15, 2013

Athlete Endorsements: Risk and Reward

Two events this week lead us to reflect on the tenuous relationship between brands and celebrities hired to endorse them. First, the upcoming 50th birthday of Michael Jordan gives us pause to reflect on the impact MJ had not only on the NBA but sports marketing as well. ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell dubbed Jordan the "father of modern sports marketing." Jordan's 25-plus-year career as a product endorser has revolutionized the relationship between top-tier athletes and the marketing world. Jordan's role as a product endorser transformed the practice of endorsement from passive association of athlete with product to an active relationship in which athletes often are involved in product development and branding decisions.

Of course, not all athlete endorsers possess the charisma or marketing savvy of Michael Jordan. Moreover, the actions of some endorsers create unwanted publicity for the brands with which they are associated. In some cases, athletes that encounter controversy are able to overcome short-term, embarrassing situations and eventually retain their value as a product endorser. For example, Olympian Michael Phelps had to deal with negative publicity from unflattering photographs that went viral. The controversy died down, and for the most part Phelps continued to be an effective brand endorser.

However, there are times when the actions of an endorser or so controversial or unacceptable that there is no turning back. In the late 1990s, pro golfer Fuzzy Zoeller saw his career as a product endorser all but end after revelations that he had made several racially insensitive comments. Of course, the brand equity of the endorser comes into play when he or she is shrouded in controversy. Tiger Woods lost several endorsement deals after his personal problems became public, but he was not completely abandoned by companies that wanted to associate their products with his persona. High profile athletes may stand a better chance of weathering controversy, although it is not a certainty (see Lance Armstrong).

The latest story of an athlete potentially creating negative associations for a brand is South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius. He made history and inspired millions during the 2012 London Olympic Games, but his inspirational story came crashing to earth this week when he was charged with murdering his girlfriend. Nike has a relationship with Pistorius, and while it will undoubtedly show concern for the parties involved the brand will also show concern for protecting its reputation. The Pistorius incident is a tragedy, but a brand like Nike cannot afford to maintain an association with athletes or anyone else who find themselves in this type of situation.

Athlete endorsers are a risk/reward proposition for marketers. Anytime a brand is associated with an external object or person, a risk is assumed because there is not total control over the actions of the external party. But, associations can deliver exceptional rewards when an effective association is established between athlete and brand. Just as Michael Jordan and Nike... and Gatorade, and Hanes, and others.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Can Wrestling Get up off the Mat?

The International Olympic Committee has announced its intentions to drop wrestling after the 2016 Rio Games. Although the decision is not final, the prospect is likely of dumping a core Olympic sport from the Summer Games . The IOC can be questioned for the wisdom of such a move, but the decision also shines a spotlight on what various organizing bodies are doing to promote and protect the sport. According to a story appearing on, wrestling was not the only sport considered for elimination (modern pentathlon  and field hockey were other possibilities), but lobbying efforts on the behalf of those sports protected their interests. Wrestling was not so fortunate.

The IOC's recommendation clouds the future of the sport of wrestling. In the book The Elusive Fan, one segment of the sports industry is identified as sports that are in decline. Wrestling seems to fit that description - many colleges have eliminated wrestling programs because of financial reasons or to aid in compliance with Title IX regulations, TV ratings during the Olympics have been low, and the sport is largely without any star power. Can wrestling get up off the mat, or will it continue a gradual decline?

In Chapter 2 of Sports Marketing, five different paths to sports fan identification are identified:
  1. Participation (Especially youth involvement in grassroots programs)
  2. Community (Desire to be part of a group of people with shared interests)
  3. Socialization (Sport serves as social interaction point with friends or others)
  4. Family
  5. Star power
 Which of these paths hold the greatest promise for wrestling to attract more interest and ultimately, fans? Or, do you see wrestling as a lost cause, a sport whose fate of slow decline has been sealed?

While wrestling may not deliver the same numbers in TV ratings and overall interest as track and field and gymnastics, it is part of the tradition of the Olympic brand. Is it possible that a groundswell of support could be built globally via social media to influence the IOC that it should not eliminate wrestling? That question assumes that there is enough discontent with the proposed elimination of wrestling for people to take up the cause.

American Public Media - "Down for the Count: Olympics Drop Wrestling"

Monday, February 11, 2013

NBA Jersey Sponsorships: The $100 Million Question

The NBA prepares to descend on Houston later this week for the 2013 All-Star Game. It will be a three-day celebration of the NBA and its players. A packed schedule includes a celebrity game, rising stars game, skills competition, slam dunk contest, music entertainment, and interactive fan experiences. Oh, and don't forget about the all-star game on Sunday to round out the weekend!

While the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend offers a full plate of activities to entertain fans, the marketing story getting the most attention these days is the growing possibility of jersey sponsors for NBA teams. Corporate names and patches on jerseys of professional sports teams are commonplace in other parts of the world, but the major U.S.-based pro sport properties have resisted jersey sponsorships to this point. The opinions of many sports marketing experts is that jersey sponsorships in the NBA are no longer a matter of if, but when, the practice will be adopted. Any urgency to allow corporate sponsors for jerseys could be attributed to the revenue stream anticipated, with estimates of $100 million per season to be taken in collectively by the league's 30 teams.

So, you might say that the issue of whether to allow jersey sponsorships is a $100 million question. Here some pros and cons:

  • Alternative to raising ticket prices
  • Shared among all teams; benefits large market and small market teams equally
  • Valuable exclusivity for a sponsor
  • Breaks from tradition of uniforms being "commercial-free zone"
  • Fan backlash to commercialization; Will it negatively impact jersey sales?
  • Sponsor turnover could cause confusion among fans
What are your thoughts about jersey sponsorships in the NBA - Is it a practice whose time has come? Or, do you believe the NBA should look to monetize other assets via selling sponsorships besides jerseys?

Indianapolis Business Journal - "NBA Owners Must Convince Fans Jersey Ads not Cash Grab"

Friday, February 8, 2013

To Understand Sports Consumption, Ask the Why Question

Understanding consumer behavior can be a daunting challenge. After all, we are complex beings with different motives and needs that we seek to meet through consumption. One of the five Ps of sports marketing is Positioning, which entails understanding customers. Market segmentation, marketing environment analysis, and examining consumption behavior are tasks associated with this starting point in crafting marketing strategy. Without a solid understanding of customers and markets, it is risky at best to go down the road of making product, price, place, and promotion decisions.

One way to demystify consumer behavior is to ask a simple question: "Why?" This approach gets to the heart of the matter - uncovering what buyers seek to gain or needs to be met through use of a product, service, or experience. Asking the Why question reveals that all customers lumped into a target market because of their similarities are not so similar after all. In the case of evaluating sports consumers, the temptation to view fans of a sport or team as a single group is a mistake.

People have different motives for wanting to consume. In the case of sports, consumption motives can be:
  • Social - Desire interact with friends or be a part of a community of people with a shared passion
  • Psychological - Identifying with a sports brand is important to self-concept; consumption may be a form of escape or fantasy fulfillment
  • Personal - Sport consumption influenced by attraction to characteristics of a sport or athlete; Individual desires such as sensory stimulation and need for entertainment are other personal motives
In order to get to consumers' motives for their decision to consume sports, marketers must shift their focus from their offerings to the impact desired. In other words, we must not obsess with marketing product attributes or features. Instead, the emphasis should be on what a person will receive or realize as a result of product usage. For example, if you recall Super Bowl commercials for Audi and VW, the consumer motives targeted in their ads were bravery and happiness, respectively. Notice what was not communicated - engine specs, gas mileage, or price. There is an adage in marketing that "people don't buy drills, they buy holes." We do not buy for the sake of owning products; we buy because we value the benefit the product delivers.

Think of consumption as a means to an end. The means is purchase of your product, service, or experience. The attributes of your offering result in certain consequences, or benefits. A sports marketing example might be a family section at a baseball stadium (attribute). This attribute offers the benefit of a safe, appropriate environment for a family to enjoy a ball game. The terminal value is greater family unity and memorable experiences. What do parents want to buy - tickets to your family section or family unity and lifelong experiences? I think you know the answer!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

National Signing Day: The Consumption of What Might Be

Today is pivotal for college football programs across the country. There are no games scheduled, nor will there be any practices. But, the future performance of teams and the path to adulthood for hundreds of high school seniors are influenced by decisions announced today, national signing day. Players have been recruited for months by coaches extolling the virtues of their programs and institutions. Competition is fierce as highly rated recruits are viewed as a foundation for future success. The frenzy of college football recruiting that has taken place via letters, text messages, videos, tweets, and campus visits culminates today... or does it?

College football fans' infatuation with recruiting has grown as availability of information via talk radio, recruiting-related websites, and social media enables 24/7 engagement. For some fans, following the trails of the schools that recruits are considering is a sport in its own right. The recruiting season serves as a bridge between the recently ended season and spring practice. We have witnessed college football being stretched from a five-month season (August to New Year's Day) to a twelve-month product. The immense interest in recruiting is undeniable, the question is "why?"

The consumption of college football recruiting is influenced by the following motives:
  • Team identification - Fans who have high identification with a college football team look to recruiting season to fill the void left when football season ends. Becoming familiar with future players as they sign with a team is a way for fans to remain connected with their favorite team, even in the off-season.
  • Competition - Recruiting is more than a quest to sign the best football players; it is also a competition among programs. Sports media outlets that follow college football recruiting publish rankings of recruiting classes. It is a badge of honor for your favorite team to have a highly rated recruiting class... never mind that some signees may never meet expectations fans have of them on signing day.
  • Social currency - Staying up-to-date with recruiting news on one's favorite team is a form of social currency, allowing fans to be able to converse with others about recruiting happenings. The ability to converse about recruiting happenings on discussion boards and social networking sites is a way demonstrate to others one's identification with a team.
 National signing day holds great promise of what might be - will players signing today go on to lead their teams to wins, bowl games, and championships? Will my favorite team gain an advantage over rivals because of an outstanding recruiting class? Which players will be inserted into the starting lineup right away and make an immediate impact? These questions and others are intriguing, and thoughts of what might be attract many college football fans to consume recruiting news, including purchasing premium online content or print publications.

What is your take on the consumption of college football recruiting? Why do many football fans invest time and money to follow recruiting?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Look for the Dark Spots

One of the most heralded adages in marketing is "timing is everything." Opportunities come and go, often unplanned and with a very small window in which to act upon them. Sure, strategic planning is important, but the chance to benefit from the spontaneous must be part of a marketer's mindset. This idea came into play during last night's Super Bowl. Early in the third quarter, play was disrupted by a power outage that lasted 34 minutes. Not only did the unexpected darkness sideline the two teams, the highly scripted TV broadcast was derailed as CBS had to scramble to fill time.

Too bad for CBS that it did not have quick thinkers like some of the brands that immediately took to Twitter to post blackout-themed messages. Four Super Bowl advertisers - Audi, Oreo, Tide, and VW - posted humorous brand messages on Twitter during the blackout. These brands enjoyed additional exposure beyond their televised spots; Audi's message had nearly 10,000 retweets, and Oreo's blackout-themed tweet had more than 14,000 retweets. Not only was the ingenuity of these brands impressive, but their quick response was even more noteworthy given the speed with which these impromptu brand messages were approved internally.

What can we learn from the blackout of Super Bowl XLVII? The takeaway is to look for the dark spots. We have been conditioned to look on the bright side, run to where there is daylight. But, there are times that darkness sets in, creating a gap that can be filled. Audi, Oreo, Tide, and VW walked the line of tastefulness very adeptly - using humor to alleviate the awkwardness of an extended delay in the game. Some brands have not been so tactful at responding to dark spots. For example, J Crew was criticized heavily last fall for running a free shipping promotion with a theme related to Super Storm Sandy. The tactic came off as insensitive to severe weather conditions that millions of people were facing.

In addition to being in good taste, looking for dark spots requires good timing. In a world in which today's headlines are soon old news, good timing of marketing efforts in response to unplanned events is critical. When the recent woes of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o captured national attention, the Florence (KY) Freedom of the independent Frontier League soon announced a Manti Te'o Girlfriend Bobblehead promotion on May 23. Not only will fans get a bobblehead doll resembling Te'o's girlfriend (actually it will be an empty box), but a section of the stadium will be reserved for fans to sit with their imaginary girlfriends or boyfriends. The team gained exposure for the promotion by announcing it at the peak of the story's media coverage. Impact of the announcement about the promotion would have been diminished had the team waited until closer to the season to announce it.

Timing is everything - for strategically pursuing bright spots and quickly acting upon dark spots.

Ad Age - Marketers Jump on Super Bowl Blackout with Real-Time Twitter Campaigns

Friday, February 1, 2013

The 4 Cornerstones of an Effective Super Bowl Ad

In the last post, a case was made for why Super Bowl commercials can be a good investment, even at $4 million a pop. While the conditions exist for Super Bowl  to be an effective advertising vehicle, there are no guarantees that merely having a presence during the big game will pay off for brands.

Sports Marketing's Mike Fetchko says that an effective Super Bowl ad is built on four cornerstones. Does a commercial possess these characteristics:

  1. Connects - Does the message resonate with the advertiser's target market?
  2. Compels - In style and visual content; Does the ad break through the clutter of competing messages?
  3. Clear- Is the message (and for that matter, the brand) distinctive?
  4. Concise - Is there a focus on one main point so as to be remembered?
 The ads that perform well in terms of likeability among Super Bowl viewers are those that are anchored by these four cornerstones. Entertaining commercials may be fun to watch and have short-term benefit, but if the purpose of an ad is to advance the brand in some way the "4Cs" must be present.