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Volume 20 No. 42
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How new media marketing can freshen an established brand

The Harlem Globetrotters’ formula for success is no secret. For 86 years, we have put smiles on faces worldwide. To compete now in a marketplace of escalating change, we look to deliver those smiles in multiple channels on multiple platforms. By producing unforgettable experiences — TV shows, social videos, skills clinics, merchandise … and a World Tour — we strive to grab onto our fans’ emotional lapels and not let go. This is how we stay true to that formula.

Allow fans to own their relationship with you — then don’t let them out of your sight.

In the pre-Web 2.0 era of brand management, our goal as IP owners was to ensure consistency: controlling brand touch points to keep the brand hermetically sealed so fans could “see but don’t touch.” The rise of digital platforms has enabled us to switch from brand veneration to fan participation. Ironically, giving fans the opportunity to share and personalize our content however it suits them has strengthened their personal relationship with us. Research shows that content shared by friends is more compelling than advertising distributed by brands, so creating shareable content is one of our key brand-energizing tactics.

We have one-click social sharing across digital platforms. We produce more non-game video (social, instructional, even improv) than ever. And we run multiple easy-to-enter social contests, from captioning to user-generated art.

Results: More than 900 percent Facebook community growth in 18 months and more than 150 percent growth for our tour presale.

Understand what your fans expect and want from you, over-deliver, and they’ll help you amplify.

Today, a brand’s job is to foster an ongoing and consistent relationship with the consumer in a mutually beneficial way. We work hard to understand what content our fans expect in terms of touch points and interactions, and they decide when and how to pull our content. Our fans told us they love the comedy and tricks that we add

on to great basketball play, and they gave us permission to go way over the top in our delivery.

Our videos show off the most over-the-top basketball action: Bull Bullard hanging upside down from the hoop with the ball between his legs, or Tiny Sturgess, our 7-foot-8 rookie, dunking without his feet leaving the ground to the roars of the crowd, etc.

The Harlem Globetrotters have expanded their fan base through social media, the team’s website and viral video efforts on YouTube.
Results: YouTube channel views just topped 14 million. We have earned more views in the last four months than the previous four years. Sturgess’ “no jump dunk” video has earned 3.5 million views in four weeks, with growth coming from fan sharing.

Innovate with your fans and act on their feedback, in-market and in real time.

Brand relationships are personal. Fans want to be heard and treated with honesty. Monitoring feedback and sentiment is a good start. Changing brand activity based on the insights fans give, when asked, is the big win.

In creating both the ’12 World Tour and our new Summer Skills Clinics, we solicited fan advice on content, pricing, and targeting, and implemented their feedback. Focus groups, online and on-site surveys, and thousands of tour reviews on Ticketmaster all illuminate what fans enjoy most about our show, enabling us to make continuous improvements throughout all our activities.

Results: The ’12 tour has sold a record number of tickets, with 91 percent of Ticketmaster fans saying they “would recommend to a friend,” and strong early sales for the clinics, as well.

Take concepts familiar to your audience and own them for your brand, with a modern twist.

There is a barrage of pundits saying “innovate or die” at every juncture. Yet while innovation is the key to a brand’s long-term success, innovation can mean simply placing a new spin on a familiar idea. The old adage “There are no new ideas” has some merit, so take a proven idea that resonates with your fans and own it.


Are you:

• Enabling easy social sharing of all your content?

• Creating enough diversity and volume of content for your fans to share and create ongoing conversations?

• Understanding your fans’ needs and then exceeding your fans’ expectations?

• Making on-the-fly improvements to your brand experiences based on fan feedback?

• Building momentum through branding familiar concepts as your own?

• Staying true to what your fans really love?

To meet our objective of gaining traction among male tweens, we took the classic driveway game H-O-R-S-E and reinvented it as a Facebook video rebuttal contest, thereby turning it into the world’s biggest game of H-O-R-S-E. We gave them an easy and comfortable way to interact anew with our brand.

Results: The numbers of our Facebook community, Globetrotter Nation, doubled during H-O-R-S-E, and engagement levels have remained elevated ever since. They came — and stayed.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

As IP owners, we are frequently bored with our ideas, tag lines, promotions, etc. way before our fans are, so remember, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Our brand has succeeded over time because of intrinsic value it gives our fans, so we highlight and embrace well-loved elements.

Our current fan research revealed that our perennial activities remain highly loved: the confetti bucket, spinning a ball on a kid’s finger, etc. We listened and showcase them on our current tour.

Results: 240 box office sales records in the last four domestic Globetrotters tours.

By staying true to our original formula of success and embracing today’s changing marketplace, the Harlem Globetrotters will continue to deliver smile after smile for another 86 years.

Kurt Schneider is CEO of the Harlem Globetrotters.