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We ask the marketing experts: what can sports learn from other industries?

December 6, 2019 | 11 min read

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The best ideas often come from unexpected places, and some of sport’s most innovative companies have gained a competitive edge by looking outside the industry. The Drum asked some of the most forward-thinking business leaders for insights into market trends, how to leverage analytics, retain talent, and learn how other sectors are confronting challenges and seizing opportunities.

How can the sporting industry keep up with brands

How can the sporting industry marketers learn from brands?

Steve Axe, chief marketing officer, Nomad Foods

Professional sport has been transformed by data and analytics, and as an ex-amateur rugby player I am fascinated by how ‘live’ data is used to make major strategic decisions in high-pressure match situations. In our business we’re on a journey to do the same thing by using social listening and online communities to help guide our brand development and communications. We’re also using social listening to predict trends that could influence our business and create new growth opportunities, in the same way sport uses data and analytics to predict what the opposition may do in certain game situations. What we do – that I believe sport could benefit from – is de-averaging our data to focus it on the areas that matter and adapting our response accordingly.

For example, how different media can influence consumers at different touchpoints in their shopping consumption journey is hugely powerful, eg radio at meal preparation time. By doing so we can be more selective and targeted at both our media buying and our creative messaging.

Pete Markey, chief marketing officer, TSB​

I’ve always been a huge admirer of the sports industry, and when I last worked in insurance we spent a lot of time working through what sport could teach us about teamwork and high-performing team cultures.

But it’s equally true that business has learnings and insights that are relevant to the sports industry too.

Data is already used extensively in sports, particularly high-performance sports where the margins between first and second place are often tight. I wonder though whether more could or should be done for the sports industry to better use data to reach and connect with its audience.

In financial services, data is used for greater personalisation of product, service and price. AI is already unlocking huge potential in the insurance space with US companies such as Lemonade using machine learning to price and pay claims at rapid speed. Perhaps greater understanding by sports of the fans they seek to connect with, and an increased use of AI, could better connect fans with the sports they love and deepen the commercial opportunity for sports too.

I’ve seen first-hand through the TSB partnership with Pride of Britain and Pride of Sport the impact that sports can play in helping build strong and thriving communities, and brands can learn much from grassroots sports on how to really connect and make a real difference at a local level.

Claire Gillis,CEO International, WPP Health Practice

Technology is undoubtedly the dominant driving force of change in every industry today, including sports and health. Yet there’s always a risk of adopting tech for the sake of it – rather than because it’s the right solution that adds true value. However, the right tech can be the perfect way to engage and retain customers.

Just look at athletes themselves. They now have hundreds of options when it comes to monitoring, measuring and predicting overall health and performance. Then there’s artificial intelligence – such as IBM’s Watson – helping athletes, stadiums and broadcasters all make better decisions.

I work in health, a sector that’s now ripe for such disruption. From AI and blockchain to big data analytics, technology is steadily transforming healthcare. The fact that there’s still so much more to do only underlines why healthcare is likely to be tech’s next big wave. But as with any big innovation, many rush into action without considering some of the most serious questions about what comes next and what unintended consequences may arise. That’s especially true in health, which will always be an emotive issue.

It’s not just the sports and healthcare industries that are still trying to find the right answers when it comes to exploiting data and tech. Everyone is at it. The opportunities are huge, but making the most of them isn’t easy. For instance, data can tell you what’s wrong with someone’s health, but it can’t always tell you the root cause. And it doesn’t always recognise the human factors – the personal, intangible and sometimes irrational triggers – that influence decisions about our health and wellbeing. Healthcare is ultimately a human intervention, and getting it right depends largely on figuring out how to use data effectively. This requires a robust strategy and good communications.

The trick is to think customer-first not technology-first. In the industries where disruption has been most successful, innovators have not been afraid to ‘ask the audience’ – and to test and try things that take the friction out of the customer experience. Where sports falls behind a little is that, even though wearable tech is now widely used by many, the data to help athletes make important training decisions has arguably not yet been uncovered. Finding it means asking the right questions to identify needs and pain-points – and then working out how technology, data and communications can combine to create valuable, game-changing solutions.

Aida Bejgane, head of paid acquisition, Starling Bank

Sports teams are well known for their rigorous approach to data analysis on the field, but there’s a thing or two they could learn from applying this to the behaviour of their fans in the stands. What makes a fan go to a game, buy a season ticket or upgrade to a better seat, purchase team merchandise or get in a hot dog and coke at the stadium? What does the customer journey look like? How long do fans spend on the website on their mobiles or on a laptop? In the competitive personal finance market, we collect data and analyse to better predict customer behaviour.

Personal financial services, for instance, increasingly have to track and analyse customer behaviour from the first touchpoint with the brand right the way through to the use of the product or service. This not only helps us be more accurate in the way we target our advertising, but it also helps us make improvements to the products we offer. Take the Round Ups feature at Starling, which automatically rounds up the change from customers’ purchases and puts in a digital savings pot.

It was a big hit.

Tariq Khan, VP consumer experience of Beamly, Coty’s in-house tech accelerator

In retail, a lot of thought is being given to how we use technology and data to elevate the consumer experience in physical stores while connecting it to the customer’s online journey.

It’s a tough nut to crack and only a few have done it well so far, but looking at the leaders in this field they tend to be brands such as Nike or Apple with enviable followings – sometimes compared to the sort of relationships sports fans have with their teams.

With these sort of parallels there are learnings from retail that the sports industry can use to enhance its own stadium experiences.

Queues are always a major frustration when visiting stadiums, so empowering the fans using real-time data and machine learning to predict which entrances, restaurants, toilets, concession stands and exits offer the least amount of waiting time would be hugely beneficial – with the data eventually providing insight to stadium owners on how their spaces should evolve.

One of the tech partners we’re currently working closely with has had a great amount of success helping the Miami Heat basketball team with just such a task – the tech we’re using to build a new omnichannel product is the same platform they’re using to deliver a premium fan experience.

Taking a step back from the live experience and looking at the whole online/offline journey is also paying dividends for retailers. A lot of my role is about using technologies such as machine learning to deliver deeper customer engagement through personalisation. And so in the sports industry if you’re able to stitch together data from rich, first-party sources such as online ticket purchases, season ticket holders, fan loyalty programmes etc, and centralise these touchpoints into a single source of truth, that can drive personalisation and deeper fan engagement inside and outside the stadium.

Another learning we found is that interactive content leads to much higher engagement rates. It’s something we are already seeing with the way sports are being viewed today, with interactive TV options and second screening being the norm. You only have to look at eSports or Formula E to see how additional stats are enriching the viewing experience and boosting engagement.

Tanya Joseph, architect of ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, director of campaigns and public policy at Nationwide

Perhaps the best advice I can give to sports and to sport marketeers is around purpose.

More and more brands are now focusing on their purpose, thinking about how they can create warmth and love for their brands from how they behave as well as what they produce. They’re doing it not just because they wish to use their power and influence for good, but also because it makes sound commercial sense to demonstrate that you care about the things your customer cares about.

It is a new universe and the world of sport would do well to consider its place in it. It could really transform sports marketing, whatever the asset: tournament or tech, team or trainers. I would like to see more spending, more time and effort thinking more clearly about their wider social purpose, how they can contribute to the greater good of the community, whether it is on a local, national or global scale. I know lots of professional teams will claim that they do this already, working with local schools and clubs to get young people playing their sport. But in my experience, while these projects may do some really good work, they’re not part of the overall brand strategy, but rather delegated to a relatively poorly funded and inadequately staffed charitable arm.

There’s an opportunity to place purpose at the heart of the brand. Can you imagine the impact if a football club decided that it was going to do everything it could to tackle a social issue that was prevalent locally, and then used every means available to it to make a difference? Say it was domestic violence and the club started using its players to speak out, especially to male fans, then twinned with a local refuge, used its schools programme to engage kids, worked with local police and pubs, used its social and OOH channels to carry the message and supported it with PR. It would be amazing and it would make a difference. And if any club is interested in doing something like this, give me a call.

IBM Watson Sports Marketing IBM

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