Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Arizona Wildcats Bring Fans into the Gameday Experience

Marketing has evolved from being about selling products to delivering services, and more recently, creating experiences. The shift toward experiential marketing is more about fulfilling customers desires and less about using gimmickry to "wow" them. Experiential marketing can be defined as the creation of a multi-sensory, interactive environment by a sports property or sponsor designed to add value to a consumer’s experience in the short-term and strengthen relationships in the long- term. This definition implies there is strategy behind experiential marketing... at least there should be.

Experiential Marketing Strategies
In Chapter 7 of Sports Marketing, four strategies are identified for connecting experiential marketing with desired business outcomes:
  1. Achieve brand differentiation - Immersion in an experience can change people's perceptions about a brand relative to competition.
  2. Provide benefits through exclusivity - One of the greatest assets a sports property has is access to its events, players, coaches, and facilities. How can access be used to create experiences that give  customers unique benefits?
  3. Offer rewards to key customers - Let's face it, not all customers are equal in terms of their financial value and loyalty. Offering unique experiences to your most important customers is a way to reward their commitment and strengthen relationship bonds with them.
  4. Motivate product evaluation and trial - The opportunity for people to participate in an experience can serve as a "nudge" to try or adopt a product.
Different strategies can be developed to market to customers or prospects at different relationship states with a brand.Offering rewards to key customers and motivate product trial are strategies aimed at two very different customer segments. The former is an audience that is already your customer... and a valuable one at that. The latter targets people who may have never bought from you or have less familiarity with your product. In other words, experiential marketing can be a platform that includes different experiences tailored to meet people at their present relationship state with your brand.

Experiential Marketing - University of Arizona Football
A current example of how experiential marketing can be used to meet a sport property's marketing challenges is being implemented by the University of Arizona. A combination of off dates and away games meant that Arizona had a span of 35 days between home football games. To build and maintain interest for the remainder of the season, Arizona athletics director Greg Byrne announced experiential initiatives that put a few chosen fans in the middle of the action:
  • Beginning with this week's game against Utah, a ticket holder will be selected to announce Arizona's uniform combination for the upcoming game on his or her own Twitter feed. Byrne and the Arizona athletics Twitter feed will "retweet" the fan's announcement.
  • On the morning of a home game, a fan in attendance will be chosen to accompany head football coach Rich Rodriguez and the team on the "Wildcat Walk" to the stadium.
  • A fan in attendance at least one hour before game time will be chosen to run out on the field with the Arizona team.
  • A fan at the game will be chosen by Byrne to accompany him to Coach Rodriguez's post-game press conference.
A cynical view of these experiential tactics might be that they are nothing more than gimmicks. A comment on a media story about the Arizona experiential initiatives suggested that a better way to engage fans would be to put a better product on the field (that is a topic we will let other bloggers handle).

Two characteristics stand out regarding Arizona's experiential marketing plans for its football program:
  1. The experiences are not "manufactured" but are occurring already - Announcing uniform combination, the Wildcat Walk, the team running onto the field, and coach's post-game press conference are actual product elements of the total product. Greg Byrne and Arizona athletics are transforming these elements by involving select fans in them.
  2. No additional costs required - When you think of creating memorable experiences for customers or fans it would be assumed that it can be done only with a significant financial investment. To be sure, many experiences created for fans require investment in creating physical spaces, interactive elements, or compensating talent. The Arizona football experiences can be offered with no additional investment.
Market Experiences, not Products
People do not want products, they want what products will do for them. Experiential marketing falls in line with that fundamental customer desire. Experiences can add to perceived quality and enjoyment of sport consumption. Look for opportunities to turn your products into consumption experiences, just as Arizona football has done on a small scale.