Monday, March 25, 2013

No NHL was no Problem for CCM

CCM, a hockey equipment brand marketed by Reebok, recognized a potential threat last year. The possibility of a player lockout by the NHL would be a blow to a company whose products are used by hundreds of players. Interest in CCM products among youth and adult hockey players stood to take a hit if the exposure CCM enjoyed via the NHL was affected by a lockout. Reebok/CCM's worst fears were realized when the players were locked out on September 15th. The protracted work stoppage ran all the way to mid-January, and half of the 2012-2013 schedule was wiped out. Utilizing the NHL and its players as a communications channel was largely impossible during the lockout, but CCM was prepared to keep its brand relevant among key audiences.

The threat of a lockout led CCM to develop a campaign that focused on engaging youth hockey players. After all, this market would still exist and have needs regardless of whether the NHL lockout occurred. One tactic used to maintain CCM's relevance among youth hockey players was to sponsor a hockey camp for elite 11-and 12-year-old players. The program was carried out in eight North American cities in 2012 and will be expanded to 16 cities this year. Also, CCM switched its print advertising focus during the lockout from featuring player endorsers to targeting youth players through its "Start Your Legend" campaign. CCM has an impressive roster of young NHL stars as endorsers including John Tavares, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Carey Price. But, with those players out of action during the lockout CCM switched gears and focused on the youth player market.

The key to building a strong brand is being relevant among the audience you seek to serve. CCM has been a staple in the hockey equipment market for years because youth players value CCM's products. Player endorsements can be an effective means of building familiarity and liking for a brand. But, for a product like hockey equipment it is not enough to associate it with star pro players. Grassroots hockey players might take notice of a product endorsed by an NHL star, but ultimately their decision on which brand of stick or skates to buy will come down to answering the question "what's in it for me?" CCM understood the importance of building relevance among youth players by taking the message directly to them where they are right now.

CCM's Facebook page exemplifies marketing communications best practices on multiple fronts. The page itself is a great example of how social media can be used to complement traditional mass media advertising. CCM's 132,000-plus community on Facebook gives the brand far greater reach than it could achieve with print advertising alone. Also, CCM's Facebook page celebrates two relevant player segments for the brand, featuring videos of star NHL players using CCM products as well as amateur players who seem to be heeding CCM's call to "start your legend."

Marketing communications is the "voice" of the brand. Marketers have a variety of communication tools available to reach and engage target markets. Different tools such as advertising, public relations, social media, and sales promotions have their own strengths and limitations. CCM has long used advertising to associate its products with star NHL players, and it should continue to do so. At the same time, experiential marketing to youth players through hockey camps and engaging people interested with the brand through social media are important tools in their own right. Together, the different communication channels used by CCM work to create synergy in communicating the brand's relevance. Although CCM did a masterful job of managing its brand during the NHL lockout, it would be safe to say that CCM executives are relieved that the NHL and its players have made labor peace for the next 10 years.

Sports Business Journal - "CCM's Youth Focus Helps Allay Lockout Pain" (subscription required)