What can the Dallas Cowboys teach a small business about marketing?
I've been a Dallas Cowboys fan ever since Tony Dorsett ran in a touchdown for a record breaking 99 yards against arch-rivals the Philadelphia Eagles. However, being a UK based fan of American football hasn't always been an easy proposition. The sport secured a foothold in Britain during the 1980s. The American Bowl series started in 1986, which saw various NFL (National Football League) teams play pre-season exhibition matches mainly at Wembley Stadium. In 1989 the World League of American Football (WLAF later NFL Europe) was founded giving European cities their own teams such as the London Monarchs, Barcelona Dragons and Berlin Thunder. Sadly, attendance figures and TV viewing declined steadily until the project folded in 2007. Until the introduction of broadband internet (let’s not even think about narrowband dial-up) it was pretty difficult to keep tabs on your favourite team during the off-season. The NFL draft, OTAs (organised team activities), training camp and pre-season matches were all shrouded in mystery and a virtual media blackout this side of the pond.
Bring the fans closer
Today life as a Dallas Cowboys fan is very different. Credit goes to Sky Sports coverage of regular season games, which seems to have been a major driver in reviving interest in the league. Nevertheless the real game-changer in the life of most fans has come from the proliferation of mobile devices, apps and social networking sites. The NFL and teams like the Cowboys have been quick to embrace the possibilities of new digital media and technologies to bring fans closer to the sport and have them feel more involved.
For me, personally, the NFL Mobile app, official Dallas Cowboys Mobile app, Facebook and Twitter have transformed my experience as a dedicated Cowboys fan. Now I’m connected 24/7 to the team, coaching staff, pundits and players. Recently I've agonised over the loss of star running back DeMarco Murray to the Eagles and rejoiced to see Dez Bryant, Wide Receiver, sign a long term contract making him a “Cowboy for life”. Now, rather than living in an NFL media blackout during the off-season, I'm served a continual stream of news, video, comment, gossip and stats. Come the start of the season I can pay a subscription to watch every Cowboys game on my mobile. What’s more I can find the NFL on terrestrial TV, cable and satellite. I can also attend live, regular season games in London, and constantly interact with Cowboys fans worldwide on Twitter and Facebook. In marketing we call all this activity engagement.
Social, mobile, local and second screen
Most businesses would happily kill to have such passionate, committed and loyal customers as NFL fans. Of course, the league and individual teams have invested heavily in their various marketing efforts. They've been quick to recognise and leverage the second screen phenomena, for example. Something like 80% of the viewing public now watch TV while also using their smartphone or tablet. NFL fans are voracious Twitter users during live games. We comment on every play, penalty, tackle and coaching decision. The league has been quick to work with various platform providers like Viggle to enhance the second screen experience with games, rewards and incentives. Naturally these platforms also offer revenue opportunities such as premium paid services, ticket sales and merchandising.
You might be thinking that’s all fine and dandy for organisations like the NFL and Dallas Cowboys. After all, they are worth billions of dollars and have deep pockets to finance mobile, social, local and second screen initiatives. What can I do as a small or medium sized enterprise with limited marketing budget and resources? Well, there are lessons to be learned. Recently some members of the IT marketing community on Spiceworks have been discussing the pros and cons of using social media within a business-to-business context. Many of the contributors to the discussion have reported poor results when trying to engage IT professionals through social channels. It seems there is a clear demarcation between work and personal life in the minds of the target audience. Albeit anecdotal, it appears many IT professionals don’t want to talk shop on Facebook. Instead they want to indulge their other passions and connect with friends and family. They don’t want what they see as personal space invaded. But what’s any of this got to do with the NFL?
Know your audiences
The league really knows and understands its audiences, and you need to do the same. You need to understand where your audience will and won't engage with you. Get it wrong and you might undermine all your other marketing efforts and activities. Next, understand what sort of content they want to consume, when they want it, how it should be packaged and delivered.
A tale to tell
The NFL is lucky. Its product engenders passion, commitment and loyalty in its customers. Your products and services might be more prosaic. They may offer utility but don't get your customer’s heart thumping or produce much brand loyalty. Creating any sort of engaging content about your product might seem like an uphill struggle, but perhaps you don't have to. Instead, look at the industries you serve, the places and people to whom you sell your products and services. There are always stories to tell and surely your customers will love being the focus of your attention.
You don't need big budgets and an army of employees to get started using mobile, social, local and second screen. Incredibly, around half of the UK’s small businesses don't have a website. Only 6% of the small businesses that do own a website have one optimised for mobile use. At the same time, one in six UK adults who own a smartphone, that’s about six million people, check it more than 50 times a day according to the Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey. That’s a huge potential opportunity for your business to reach out and grab some new customers. What’s more, since April 2015 Google has started to take a very dim view of websites that fail its mobile friendly test.
Put yourself on the local map
Google reports a doubling of “near me” search interest in the last year. 82% of smartphone users use a search engine when looking for a local business. So, it makes sense to claim your Google My Business real estate and put yourself on the local map. You can use Google+ to engage with other local businesses, prospective customers and the wider community. You can also claim local listings with Bing and Yahoo.
Your business, products and services might lend themselves to a mobile app. You can target local customers with offers, discounts and rewards, for example. What’s more, push notifications (messages sent to your customers via your app) can achieve click thru rates of up to 40%. However, you should think carefully about your mobile strategy before rushing off to get a mobile app developed. Your app must offer genuine value to your customers to drive regular use. Usage data can also provide valuable marketing insights for you.
You can use third party apps and platforms like the NFL to increase levels of customer engagement. The Viggle app on a smartphone or tablet uses the mic to detect what someone is watching on TV. It then launches show specific content from interactive games and advertising to rewards. Just like the Dallas Cowboys you can harness the power of a platform like LivingSocial to offer local daily deals, promote unique events and exclusive experiences.
Google AdWords, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn all offer some form of location based and mobile advertising. You can serve up anything from discount codes to video content.
Second screen initiatives might seem out of reach for most small businesses, but not necessarily. Say you schedule email blasts to coincide with the commercial breaks of your target audience’s favourite TV shows. Using social media is one of the most popular second screen activities. It’s an opportunity to post content when and where your audience is engaged. But remember, you must ensure your content is relevant and welcome or risk alienation.
TV and radio
Many small businesses discount TV advertising because of the perceived high cost. In fact, many local TV stations offer low-budget advertising packages just for small businesses. Even companies like ITV offer affordable, off-peak regional advertising across their channels. They will even help with production. Radio is another medium often overlooked. According to the Mail Online around 21% of UK adults say they have listened to radio using a mobile phone or tablet at least once a month during 2014. Figures from RAJAR suggest 37% of people listen to radio on laptops and PCs. This online listening is the perfect opportunity to connect your audience with your website and mobile app. Radio is a good medium for driving response to promotions and deals. Radio listeners tend to be loyal to their preferred station, and don’t change channel when commercials are aired. Radio production costs are quite low and stations will usually help with campaign development. Alternatively, you might harness a platform like TuneIn to reach your audience, create a custom channel and deliver your own audio content such as podcasts.
It’s good to be social
The NFL embraces and encourages social media use. The league harnesses the potential of its people, its partners and its fans to create an endless stream of rich content. The league gives individual teams the power to create their own social media policies and impose punishments for misuse such as fines for players who bad-mouth teammates. Overall, the league, its teams and the fans benefit greatly from this collaboration. Many businesses seem to think that social media is the preserve of the marketing department’s most junior recruit. In fact, many businesses prefer to outlaw social media use by employees rather than encourage it. They fear the consequences of the unguarded word. Far better to get your people some social media training, draw up a few simple guidelines and have them produce a wealth of new content to grow your audience, engage your customers and quite possibly land some sales.
Over to you
How are you using social, mobile, local and second screen in your marketing efforts? Please leave comments and share your experiences.
Attribution: Many thanks to Billy Bob Bain for his photo of the Eagles vs Cowboys reproduced here under Creative Commons 2.0 – link http://ow.ly/QI6dS