SBJ/March 4-10, 2013/Opinion

How sports marketers can hold attention of ‘Generation HD’

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Since 1970, when we first learned of the term “baby boomer” to define a generational cohort and identify the broad cultural similarities within a demographic group, we have hung labels on subsequent subsets of the population and attempted to define each one by inherent traits or movements that we observe. Generation X, Generation Y, even millennials and digital natives of late.
 
The latest of these market segments is what has been called Generation HD. This does not reference high definition, nor have anything to do with enhanced viewing or listening to video or audio. Generation HD is shorthand for Generation Heads Down: With eyes glued to their smartphone device wherever they go, this generation is hard to miss.

Generation HD has already developed a set of characteristics that we have observed in sports marketing. First, they are steadfastly keeping their eyes down, consumed in their own personal entertainment, while video screens as long as 60 yards are showing sponsored replays or other messaging. Second, while standing in any line to purchase anything in-stadium, again, heads are firmly in downward gaze looking to see who in their social graph has checked in and announced their entry to the event. Finally, while the venue video and audio is running a broad-reach message, targeted to no one in particular, Generation HD in the audience has tuned that out so that they can focus on the targeted message, delivered via their social network, on their personal mobile device.

With all of the lights, sound and video blasting around and at them during an event, you would not think that someone can effectively tune that out, but Generation HD has. And, the reason that they can is because they always have. For Generation HD, the second screen has become their first screen.

Teams must give the “Generation Heads Down” crowd a reason to look up.
Photo: STOCK PHOTO / GETTY IMAGES
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has gone on record, blogging about how he wants to eliminate what he calls the “look down” moments at games. His vision for a sporting event is to make it like a wedding, where people are up dancing and creating memories that can last a lifetime. Like Cuban, I agree: Who doesn’t like a good wedding as much as Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in “Wedding Crashers”?

In order to get eyes up from Generation HD, sports marketers are going to have to consider three important principles:

1.
Start earlier.

2. Work harder.

3. Give them more.
 
In classic brand marketing terms, we have been taught to meet the audience at their level of expectation, and if their expectation is more than the dull, broad-reach audience entertainment of their parents’ generation, then we have no choice but to get more social, more mobile, more personal, and more inclusive. Brands and experiences can attract Generation HD sports fans; they just have to have a well-thought-out strategy.

Start earlier

It’s no longer satisfactory to start connecting with this audience when they sit down. There are enough information nodes available now that brands can provide data and information relative to products and services in the area of the venue, in the city on the way to the event. This can be about sports (about football, basketball, etc.) or about the social and entertainment opportunities within a mile to 10 miles away. Brands and properties can meet Generation HD at their level of expectation, enhancing their lifestyle. And when these messages are optimized for their social graph and for their mobile devices, sports marketers will get more of their attention and get those eyes up when they need to.

Work harder

Marketers must work harder at defining their offerings and defining a product or event along the lines of the world that these consumers live in, not the one that the marketers work in. For example, Cuban may want to get more eyes up at Mavericks games, but in order to do that, he may have to connect that heads-up activity to something or someone in the heads-down world. Is there, perhaps, an incentive to pay attention to the big board because of what a fan just saw on his or her personal mobile device? If game activities are competing for the attention of Generation HD, brands and properties are likely to lose that battle. Marketers that connect them, or make them sync with a team’s programming, will force those eyes up and keep them up longer.

Fifteen years ago, automakers began to understand that unless they could sync in-car entertainment components to a consumer’s personal devices they would lose out to those that could integrate effectively. Sports marketers may be faced with a similar dilemma in terms of the big video screens at venues. Could those go the way of AM radio? Not likely, but unless they become more relevant to the fans’ own personal experience, there is a risk.

Give them more

For Generation HD, it’s not less is more, it’s more is more. Generation HD wants more of a relationship with a brand, more acknowledgement of their following of that brand and more transparency into the brand’s values, not just the product or the team roster. Crowdsourcing for their ideas is old news to Gen HD. They are going to be excited when marketers reach out to them with ideas for ways in which they can be included in the message, such as featuring them in media or product announcements.

Gen HD is also among the first of the “global kids,” raised with a wider world view, social consciousness and values for sustainability, diversity and equality, which are important to them. A brand’s engagement in topics such as the environment, social justice, or LGBT, for example, is meaningful to Generation HD. Where do those issues have an ascending presence in a sports brand’s mission? If they don’t, then the brand may continue to see those heads down, relative to its end goal of reaching Generation HD.

Marketers must listen, learn and understand how to connect and communicate to and with the Generation HD market segment. The long-term success of their sports property, product or brand may depend on it.

Marty Conway is an adjunct professor of sports management at Georgetown University and senior consultant for Way Forward Associates. Follow him on Twitter @MartyConway.

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