Monday, April 8, 2013

From Affinity Advantage to Engagement Advantage

Sports brands are the envy of marketers everywhere. Why? Because of what can be termed an "affinity advantage." In Chapter One of Sports Marketing, the affinity advantage is cited as one of the distinguishing characteristics of sports marketing. Sports brands have a head start over brands in other categories in terms of consumer liking and willingness to exhibit liking. Walk through any public space such as a mall or college campus and you will likely find people wearing jerseys, t-shirts, and caps bearing the logo of their favorite teams. What you are less likely to see are people wearing the same items sporting logos for their bank or dentist.

Measuring Community in Sports
The affinity advantage enjoyed by sports is evident in another form: the ability to create communities around sports brands. While some non-sports brands such as Harley Davidson and Starbucks have famously built customer communities,  most brands struggle to energize people to join communities built around a brand. In contrast, sports brands attract people across different demographic groups to rally around something with which they feel a connection and passion. And, if you need proof that sports brands are magnets when it comes to forming community, look at Coyle Media's Sports Fan Graph. This website reports community measured by the number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and Facebook mentions. The king of community according to Sports Fan Graph is FC Barcelona, with a social media community numbering more than 15 million on Twitter and 41 million on Facebook.

Community ≠ Engagement
Sports brands use their affinity advantage to attract people to their communities, and social media sites make it easier than ever for fans to join a community. However, it is important to remember that likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter do not necessarily equate to fan engagement. This sentiment is echoed by social media expert Rachel Happe of the Community Roundtable. The Sports Fan Graph could be best described as a measure of content engagement; this occurs when people join your community via a "like" or "follow," and they may sometimes interact with content by liking it, retweeting it, or commenting on it. But, that may be the extent of their engagement with the community on social media. Happe says the next level is Community Engagement, which leverages the affinity people have to draw them in to more extensive interactions. Unsolicited comments on products or experiences, resolving customer service issues, or getting input for new product ideas are examples of engagement driven by a person's trust in the brand and willingness to discuss or comment with other community members or with brand representatives.

Create an Engagement Advantage
Sports brands are ahead of their non-sports counterparts when it comes to building community online. The affinity advantage of sports coupled with sports being a treasure trove of content (photos, videos, interviews, commercials, and more) give sports marketers the luxury of focusing on community-based engagement. Keep in mind that great content is not enough to foster fan engagement. It requires committing resources to start and have conversations with community members. People will join your community because they like you; they will be loyal to your community when you show that you care. Engagement is the means of showing that you care.

CMS Wire - "The Holy Grail of Engagement and Why Communities Matter"