Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Transforming Fans into Influencers through Collaborative Marketing

The affinity advantage of sports gives marketers responsible for managing sports brands an upper hand compared to most of their non-sports counterparts. Why? The   emotions and passions people hold for sports leagues, teams, athletes, events, products, and experiences lead to people having high involvement, or interest. Marketing efforts that reach out to highly involved fans give them an avenue for acting on their feelings. In contrast, most brands do not enjoy having a throng of passionate customers for whom the brand has great importance or significance in their lives.

The Case for Collaborative Marketing
Yes, sports brands are fortunate to have an involved customer base, but having energized fans alone is not enough to ensure effective marketing. One viewpoint of how to connect with high involvement customers is collaborative marketing. Brandon Evans, founder and CEO of the marketing firm Crowdtap, uses the term collaborative marketing to describe a shift from marketing at customers to marketing with customers. Social media is an ideal platform for creating opportunities for conversations with customers. Evans goes so far as to say that a "penalty will be paid by those companies who simply view social as a mass communication channel for blasting out messages to a mass audience." In the article "Customers Don't Want Ads, They Want a Conversation", Evans identifies five trends he sees as signals of a shift toward collaborative marketing. Two trends in particular have implications for the sports industry:

  • Close, continuous customer relationships - Brands that strive to have meaningful dialogue with customers will likely stand out from competition
  • Peer-powered media - While sports is content-rich, fans want their voice to be heard... along with expressing themselves via photos, videos, tweets, and status updates. User-created content gives sports fans a vehicle for expressing their identification with a team or brand. 
Customer Collaboration: Fad or Future?
Not everyone agrees with Brandon Evans's vision of how collaborative marketing will shape the future of buyer-seller relationships. And, to some extent questions about our desire to collaborate with brands have merit. For example, I have no desire to create a relationship with my electric utility. Nothing against them, but as long as they keep the power flowing and I pay the bill, we're good. Similarly, I like my Black & Decker cordless screwdriver and would buy other products from the company, but my relationship is limited to using the company's products. But, that's me and because involvement is an individual-level construct it only represents my feelings. Other Black & Decker customers probably are open to entering into a relationship with the brand built on interactions beyond product usage.

I see collaborative marketing in some form being the future of marketing, particularly in the sports industry. People genuinely care about and like their favorite sports brands, thus opening them to the possibilities of how to act on their affinity by connecting with brands in social media or other type of community. And, as competition increases in terms of demands on our attention as well as competition from other sports and entertainment options, it will be crucial that sports marketers leverage the affinity held for their brands and engage customers and fans though collaboration.