I grew up in a family of Spartan fanatics and attended Indiana University during the Bob Knight years, so to say college basketball is in my blood would be a massive understatement. IMHO, March is the best month of the year: SXSW, St. Patrick’s Day, and the NCAA Tournament all packed into four weeks of sheer glory. Aside from the sport itself, innovative branding and social marketing opportunities have cropped up in and around the tournament. Much the way the “Moneyball” concept revolutionized baseball, KenPom analysis (based on Dean Oliver’s Four Factors) and Adam Silver’s data science at FiveThirtyEight have modernized college basketball into a data-driven enterprise. It certainly calls into question the meaning and value of education for “student athletes”, but that’s an entirely different can of worms…
Access to sophisticated real-time data, the inherent social nature of game-time experiences, and the prevalence free online tournament pools make even the average hoops fan a relative expert come March. On the other side of the proverbial ball, college coaches have become incredibly effective through modern scouting technology and are even employing data scientists in-house. Sounds pretty similar to corporate America, doesn’t it? After all, you can barely go a single day without hearing a sports analogy: “what’s our game plan?”, “what plays do our competitors running?”, or “check the scoreboard”. Brands need competitive insights and there’s no shortage of big data, it’s just a matter of compiling and translating into business strategy. To continue with the sports analogy, I’ll roughly follow KenPom’s model which examines team and player efficiency scores to ultimately predict outcomes.
Team = Brand
Do you know how to effectively encourage shared and earned media to land College GameDay on your home court (word of mouth marketing)? Do you know which markets are rich with fans who could fill an arena and sway a game in your favor (participatory marketing)? Do you have a solid point guard (SEO), shooting guard (paid media), lockdown defender (content), and coach (analytics)? What’s in your playbook and do you know what is in your competitor’s (social/digital channels)? All of these questions lead to objective self-discovery and can significantly enhance your ability to anticipate competitive moves, identify risks, recruit new advocates, and inform your success.
Player = Influencer
In a world of on-demand consumption, influence and advocacy play a primary role in how effectively you market your brand. Do you know which media outlets and influential voices drive a given topic (PR)? Who are your “superfans” and how you might reach them (advocates)? What are their areas of passion and where do they source their content? What are their tendencies and how can they become your “6th man” to help you outsmart your opponent? Who is in your “starting lineup”, and how can you build strong relationships via exclusive access to your content and team (evangelists)? The referrals and backlinks produced by this “second team” can have significant impact on your (search) rank, seed in the “big dance” (share of conversation), and overall brand equity (Net Promoter Score).
Game = Campaign
With deep insights on your team’s past performance as well as those of your competitors, you can now define an optimal game plan (integrated campaign). You should know your optimal lineup (partners and sales channels), your play selection for when and where to focus your media, and which players (influencers) to send to the line to ice the game. Perhaps most import is to leave room for iteration and optimization with the assistance of statistics and “game-film” (dashboard analytics).
They say the best offense is a good defense, but in my opinion you shouldn’t even take the floor until you understand the game dynamics, your best starting lineup, and which play selection which will give you the best chance of victory. Sick of the sports analogies yet? Me too, so I better find a TV and focus on my brackets!
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