The Summer of fandom
This summer has been a winner for sports fans. Our streets have been packed with symptoms of ‘fandom’ — from cheers ringing out at local pubs to flags draped across windows and cars. Whether it’s the Euros, Wimbledon or upcoming Olympics, fans watch in awe as teams and countries battle for glory. Throughout any game or match, the audience focus is tangible and seemingly indestructible — a level of engagement that many marketing professionals can often only dream of. How do sports manage to maintain this unwavering devotion to their game? And might there be potential for brands to similarly harness the power of passion?
Sports appear to benefit from a recipe that is perfectly designed to achieve consumer engagement, and much of this is down to how being a fan makes us feel. This ‘feel-good’ effect combined with the ability to share an experience with other like-minded fans, both in the real and digital worlds, is powerfully rewarding. Whether it’s an online or a real life event, sports bring people together and unite them in a common cause. This sense of community is appealing, addictive and rooted in the inherent human desire to belong to a ‘pack’. If you think back to the 2012 Olympics, the atmosphere in London was electric as people united to support athletes and cheer their teams on.
In branding, a feeling of community is a powerful tool and can be employed effectively through social media — the success of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are proof of this. But for true impact, marketers could perhaps borrow from the sports world and explore even more experiential ideas and live events to enable consumers to unite for a shared cause. Tropicana’s ‘Arctic Sun’ advert was a brilliant example of experiential marketing that made an impact in the real world, which could then be shared across multiple platforms. Read more about Tropicana's approach to feel-good marketing.
Alongside a sense of community, ‘fandom’ can also form part of identity. Sharing thoughts and opinions online is now one of the key ways that we choose to define personality and connect with like-minded people. Each football team, for instance, has active networks of people who connect because they have one thing in common: they want their team to win.
This feeling of ‘identity’ can be applied to branding where marketers are able to offer consumers a key value or personality trait as a way to connect with others. Perhaps it’s a mission statement, like Airbnb’s ‘belong anywhere’ or way of living, like Mindful Chef’s focus on easy healthy food — either way, this personality should lead and define brand appearance and behaviour. If consumers want to be associated with a company and its values, they are much more likely to act in tandem with the brand, to ‘check-in’ with them on Facebook or mention them on Twitter, for example. In so doing, they are building individual online identity while also inadvertently endorsing the brand and expanding its digital footprint. Sports fans are driving the digital revolution.
An emotional rollercoaster
Sport has the ability to move thousands of spectators at a time. Whether you’re a fan or not, it’s easy to be drawn into the passionate emotional volatility displayed. Watch any sports broadcast on TV, like the build up to Andy Murray’s recent win at Wimbledon, and you’ll see the highs and lows of the crowd hanging on to each and every move. The despair and delight of fans is relished by television broadcasters and content makers who capture the emotional journey as it unfolds: the heads in hands, the tears and the celebrations of the live crowd are all part of the story, and a powerful way to engage audiences who are watching right across the world. A good story and genuine emotion will broaden audience reach, and this is where sport can often trump other industries with its power to engage.
There’s no time like right now
Sports also have the advantage of immediacy. They are rooted in the live action of a game or competition, giving people the ability to share the experience with each other in real time, thereby heightening the emotional gratification. Technology now gives fans the opportunity to be active, rather than passive, spectators of games giving them a feeling of purpose, followed by an immense sense of satisfaction if their team wins.
Take the example of the ‘Madden Giferator’ — an online app developed by EA to promote the Madden NFL series. Fans were able to create their own animated GIFS featuring CGI animations of various football players and share these online. It even included a live element during games. This enabled fans to create and share content long after the final whistle and sustain high levels of social media momentum around the sport.
Keeping the pace
As we all crave stories, sports really benefit from having a clear end goal: to win. This gives each game or competition a direction and drives the emotional journey for everyone involved; every fan can unite in their shared desire to achieve their goal.
Similarly, brands can benefit when they can champion a good cause or initiate a campaign that makes a difference, one that has a story behind it. Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign is a great example. It was as a result of this campaign that women began sharing their own stories online, which were then shared by Sport England across social platforms. This Girl Can captured imaginations and engaged audiences on a deeper level. The story element enabled audiences to feel part of something real and meaningful, and the end goal — in this case encouraging women to feel confident while exercising — gives the campaign a structure and a way to assess progress.
Perhaps sports are able to connect with fans in such a powerful way because they benefit from organised engagement in a way that many brands find difficult. Fans know that if they go online when a game is taking place, they will find people to interact with. They know that if they post content in the right time and place, it will form part of the sport’s digital story. This brings fans ever closer to their sport, and the development of technology will only enhance this experience in years to come.
A new generation of intelligent apps have come into their own and offer remarkable new opportunities for brand engagement. Take the mobile app developed for Premier League: simple-to-use technology designed to make the experience of attending a football match as easy and efficient as possible. It was only by analysing the user experience of match attendance, devising a solution, and then applying that solution to intelligent technology, that Premier League were able to find the most suitable answer to their audience’s needs.
Be your fans’ no.1 fan
Of course, the sports world may appear to have the upper hand because of the ability to better understand target markets and design appropriate solutions to match. Sports fans are guaranteed to be passionate about their sport and interested in the team that they support. What fans therefore want is an opportunity to enhance their experience of attending a sporting event or using an online platform. The user journey can therefore be carefully mapped out with this in mind. Brands across wider industries, on the other hand, may need to do a little more legwork when it comes to getting to know the exact needs and desires of their audience, but it will be well worth the additional thought.
What can we learn from the world of sport and the culture of fandom?
- Firstly, real life is meaningful — people love the drama of competition and the personal journeys behind both success and failure.
- Storytelling is key, as is having a clear campaign structure and purpose, so that there is a feeling momentum and achievement.
- Emotion drives engagement: if it’s something that provokes a reaction from others, people will want to be part of the action (and likely have their say too).
The bottom line remains the same: to compete with other brands and win the battle of consumer engagement, marketers need to always think of their audience first. It is with these things in mind that companies can create relevant and engaging brand experiences and work in harmony with consumers.
To find out more about how we can bring your brand and your fans together, call us today on +44 (0)20 7036 0603 or contact us here.