SBJ/August 20-26, 2012/Opinion

How being open, honest and professional can build a brand

When Tom Yawkey bought the Boston Red Sox in 1933, the team’s brand marketing took on his personal values. That meant putting a competitive team on the field but making Fenway Park the attraction, not necessarily individual players. Maybe most importantly, he made a point to understand and appreciate the fan base.

For almost a century, the team was unable to win a World Series championship, a level of failure that could kill many brands. But thanks to the equity that Yawkey built into the team’s brand over decades, the emotional relationship and a nearly religious devotion has remained much stronger than logic might suggest it should. The team has overcome losing seasons, controversy and placement at the top of baseball’s priciest ticket list. Most recently, despite a historic collapse last season and a floundering 2012, the team has continued to fill the park to near capacity.

It remains a rite of passage for New Englanders and baseball purists to pass the experience on, generation after generation. However, times have changed. People are more transient, attention spans are shorter, and expectations are higher and more immediate. These changes have made it necessary for teams to adapt, but that doesn’t mean the success that teams like the Red Sox have had isn’t within reach for even the newest of sports franchises.

Former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey made Fenway Park an attraction and built a relationship with fans.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The decision-making process for fans to engage with a team needs to receive constant attention. There are many factors that influence the choice to spend the money to attend a live event, take the time to watch a game on television or buy a jersey of a favorite player. Any company should start by recognizing the value of reputation. It is important how an organization interacts with people — its employees, community and fans. The same rule should apply to all: Be open, honest and professional.

Employees

An organization must begin with its staff by creating a culture in which its employees are treated well and encouraged to improve themselves. They are on the front lines, after all. We often talk about recruiting fans to be advocates of the brand but forget that the team employees, including executives, players, and third parties such as concessions workers and even police directing traffic, have the ability to reach an exponential number of connection points on a daily basis.

Walt Disney would often attribute success to the individual contributions of the entire team of “cast members,” providing the added incentive to be an active and familiar part of the legacy of providing excellence. On the flip side, a negative culture will result in high turnover, sending a clear message to staff, media, fans and partners.

Often, an organization’s employees work alongside prominent community members, especially if they are encouraged to volunteer. In fact, encouraging employees to be socially responsible allows them to benefit from better teamwork and greater work satisfaction, to feel good about themselves, and to communicate better with their co-workers.

Community

Every individual or organization has a duty to be socially responsible, to maintain a balance between financial success and the quality of life of the workforce and their families, as well as the welfare of the local community and society as a whole. A genuine interest in the betterment of the community, the way Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints helped lead the city of New Orleans’ rebirth after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, will also help a team’s bottom line.

But too often organizations run through the motions, treating it like any other business expense. They do the same fundraisers: golf and fishing tournaments, a luncheon, sending players and cheerleaders to a hospital for a photo op, or sending out a pennant autographed by the dime package defensive back. A truly successful effort will link prosperity between the team, its employees and the community to result in the long-term emotional bond with the team. This will eventually influence purchase decisions as the market develops a partnership with the team in supporting the cause.

Studies have even shown that a company that promotes a social conscience has a marketing advantage over those that don’t. All organizations should realize that the health of a community is interwoven with the health of a team.

Fans

More than ever, fans look at their investment in a team as a value proposition, expecting more for less and wanting more touch points that don’t end when the season ends. Escalating costs, time constraints and greater access to a variety of high quality, inexpensive media channels have created greater challenges. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a team has to spend more money in order to maintain its fan base, but it does mean a bigger investment in time, effort and thought.

A team can start by making sure it lives up to its promises. Find new ways to entertain. Promote the social aspects of the game. Make fan safety paramount. Embrace new technology that allows for more dynamic ways to interact with fans. Personalize the guest experience. A good CRM strategy will not only accumulate valuable information for a team’s database, but it also will reconcile with research to produce an actionable communications plan that is both personal and effective because it is integrated into fan lifestyles. Discover what is actually important to them and find a way to give it to them.

Teams don’t have the luxury of building on decades of tradition any longer, but, as Yawkey taught, stay true to the brand, and love and respect the customer. The team will be rewarded with a stellar reputation and a fan connection that is stronger and more enduring than the average business-consumer relationship and less influenced by the cycles of on-field performance and off-field competition.

Ryan Richeal (rricheal@playdeepmarketing.com), founder of Play Deep Marketing & Media and CMO of WSN247.com, develops marketing strategies for brands, teams, leagues and athletes. Follow him on Twitter at @PlayDeepMM and @WSN247.
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