Developing a model of brand personality in Sport Industry
Organised competitions such as sporting events have been meaningful and important cultural components of essentially every civilization that has existed throughout history. In an effort to capitalize on this ubiquity, sports media and marketing have been used to connect with customers for nearly as long as sport itself has existed, in one form or another.
People have been engaged in different activities that may be associated with and classified as organized sports competitions for hundreds of years. One of the first examples of modern sports marketing involved tobacco cards featuring popular baseball players of the 1870s .
The success of those previous generation marketing strategies carried on to the current generation of marketing strategies and ideas. Marketing strategists developed the tendency to associate the product or service that they are advertising with the qualities of a winner. In theory, this is what led to the concept of anthropomorphizing brands and organisations so that marketers can make use of the psychological triggers needed to take advantage of these natural impulses.
These historical trends in marketing later on paved the way for the establishment of sports marketing. What makes sports marketing interesting is the fact that it has grown to become a multi-billion dollar international industry. This can be evidenced by the numerous multi-million dollar sports sponsorship programs being promoted across the ground, which in terms of total value exceeded $37.7 billion in 2007. Since then, the sports marketing industry has only continued to expand. According to Cho and Lee (2009), “approximately 66% of all total corporate sponsorship expenditures were allocated to sporting events”. This means that the sports industry has allocated a large portion of its total available funds for marketing (i.e. sponsorship) programs alone. This only shows how committed the companies operating and continuously generating revenue in the sports industry in expanding their marketing-based operations. This may be due to the fact that the marketing aspect of their business has so far generated good returns compared to their other non-marketing-related operations.
While it is true that the sports marketing industry has grown significantly in the past decades, it would be important to note that its membership growth rates in the same timeframe have been static. This, in general, shows a disparity between the amount of financial resources circulating in the industry and the actual size of the industry. This can be evidenced by the fact that new sports and teams are not regularly developing and achieving appeal in the mass market; some sports teams are even reporting displacements of current members. Furthermore, it is also fairly well saturated in terms of media coverage and promotion when compared to virtually any other single topic, including popular culture, news, politics, and entertainment . Despite the laggard growth (in terms of membership) and the high level of saturation of the market segments in the sports industry, companies still continue to report positive earnings report. This supports the still net positive growth outlook in the industry.
This confluence of factors has led to the development of a conservative sports marketing industry in terms of infrastructure, funding, and strategic development. It is massively skewed towards representation on traditional media channel. In a journal article published by Sage Publications (2015), it has been pointed out that in the second half of 2012, 31 of the top 32 highest-rated telecasts in the United States were sports programs . While some may argue that little creativity in the marketing process is needed due to the universal recognition and appeal of the sports product itself organisations are rapidly coming to realize that by becoming early adapters of new, information-based metrics and tools they can dramatically impact the performance of their marketing departments. It appears that this strategy (becoming early adapters of new information-based metrics and tools), is what sports media firms and specialists use to offset the negative impacts of the slower than expected growth in membership rates among sports teams and still come up with positive outcomes both financially and operationally. It is important to note that the slow growth in the membership rates among sport teams as reported earlier does not essentially equate to a lagging industry, although it can be used as an indicator.
Another strategy that sports media firms and strategists have come up with in order to hedge against the possibly negative effects of an industry that is increasingly becoming saturated is the introduction of cost-effective marketing campaigns. By funnelling their funds to only the most effective marketing campaigns and programs, the sports industry-related marketing firms can significantly cut their expenses. As a result, they would be able to finish an entire fiscal year with improved earnings despite having a flat income relative to that of last year. In particular, the rise of big data analysis applied to social media and mobile technology usage patterns has made it possible to dramatically increase and improve the amount of marketing data available to users and organisations looking to create cost effective marketing campaigns that produce real results, and segment it at the same time in order to take advantage of personalization and geo-targeting techniques .
Organisations which are able to leverage these emerging skillsets and knowledge and most quickly and effectively develop them into modern marketing campaigns would most likely reap bigger financial returns compared to those that have decided to stick with the traditional methods and strategies as those firms become more effective in identifying and connecting with customers interested in supporting their brands either by buying sports tickets and other related products and services.
As Sun Tzu famously wrote in The Art of War, to know your opponent as well as yourself is the way to find victory in every battle . The use of big data has given the sports marketing industry dozens of different new ways to potentially collect and analyse information on consumer behaviour, all of which could potentially have an impact on the market.
Research Gap and Proposed Solution
Despite the use of big data and other cost-effective marketing strategies to offset the costs of a an industry showing signs of a slowdown, as evidenced by the lower than expected membership growth rates, sports media and marketing firms are still wary about the outlook of their earnings in the future. The use of big data and other cost-effective strategies would eventually prove to be unsustainable in keeping a positive balance sheet at the end of every fiscal year.
If, and only if, the broader sports industry is to continue to shrink over the next years or decades, there will come a time when the sports media and other marketing firms would become affected; that even the most cost effective and high return marketing strategies would not be able to compensate for the negative effects of a downsizing industry.
The only solution to prevent that outcome would be to think of a revolutionary way how the people can become more interested in watching and participating in sports events again so that the broader sports industry can once again grow, benefiting the sports media and other related firms in the process. One proposed way to do that is to introduce a new approach to brand personality for the digital age.
A New Approach to Brand Personality for the Digital Age (Thesis)
Ultimately, companies looking to take advantage of big data and other cost effective strategies to impact their brand performance in the market need to deal with three major challenges; improving their knowledge of how people perceive their brand, more accurately targeting environments filled with customers likely to support their brand, and developing new technical expertise enabling them to take advantage of big data and social media to create more effective marketing campaigns. It is important to note that contrary to the previous strategies that have been employed, this new approach to brand personality for the digital age addresses the root cause of the problems identified which is the slowing growth of the sports industry that would inevitably harm the sports media and marketing industry and other affiliated businesses.
Investigating Public Brand Perception (First Thesis Point)
For most organisations, the logical place to begin this approach to brand personality for the digital age is by analysing their own brand, with a focus on how it is perceived both by fans of the organisation as well as the general public, or any other segmented groups they might be particularly interested in . By having a clear picture of the process that the firm is going to introduce in the future, the strengths and weaknesses of this new process or approach can be identified and studied. Additionally, the potential risks and other opportunities would also have to be identified and studied, especially in more in depth analysis. Theoretically, the deeper the firm’s perception of its own approach or process, the easier it would for it to present it to its target population.
This initial brand analysis can be carried out using different unique ways. It all depends on the creativity of the company that will implement it. Generally, it can be executed or introduced in macro and micro levels.
One brand personality theory suggests that populations in a target market can be categorized based on the brand personality characteristics that they have or exhibit. One example of a real-life application of this theory would be the fact that sports media firms can determine and accordingly categorize the brand personality characteristics of many participants in the sports market.
In a study published by Carlson, Cumiskey and Donavan (2009), the categories introduced were: national leagues, conferences or regions, individual teams, and individual athletes. Each category appears to have a unique set of characteristics which sports media and marketing firms can take advantage of, depending on their goals. This can have a direct impact on their marketing plans and the outcomes of those marketing plans .
Since people attribute human characteristics to brands, and then prefer brands which align most closely with their own psychological makeups, the core information for sports marketers to focus on in this regard are the unique selling propositions (USPs) of a given organisation, particularly any aspects in which they differ from competing market participants, whether you are interested in individual athletes, alternate teams, or even different sports entirely .
It is also important to keep in mind that an organisation’s desired brand personality characteristics may not be the same as what members of different target demographics actually perceive them to be. Organisations also may be uncomfortable with aspects of their brand personality that carry negative connotations; this attitude must be confronted and adjusted, and organisations have to be aware of the accurate state of their brand personality in order to best move forward.
In order to establish the effectiveness of this proposed new approach or process in sports media marketing (i.e. development of a model of brand personality), it would be important to compare it with the traditional or older approaches used in the same industry. Traditionally, sports marketing had to rely on data gathered in focus groups and general market research to make determinations as to where they chose to spend their marketing budget. Today, they can rely on a significantly larger and more sophisticated stream of data on the subject, much of which was gathered by third-party organisations in more neutral contexts than they may be used to dealing with. This means that the data gathered is both more targeted and segmented as well as more reliable than much of the data they may be used to dealing with gathered from alternate channels . What makes these information relevant is that it proves that the current solution being proposed is one of the best, if not the best, way to address the current problem in the sports industry.
While the mediums used for gathering this data will be much more reliant on social media and mobile devices than sports organisations are currently used to, many of the tools will, however, remain the same. The humble survey will continue to be a mainstay of gathering information on brand performance and perception, along with most of the other methods currently used for gathering data – just administered in new contexts.
Once the sports marketing industry is able to fully integrate the new information provided by big data analytics and consumer behaviour into their brand personality analyses, they will likely be able to form a clearer picture than ever before of their own true brand personality. Once this has been accomplished, the organisation can review the results of their research to identify areas in which the organisation may wish to begin working to change or reinforce public perception as desired. This crucial first step of information based brand personality analysis helps lay the groundwork for the next two parts of the new marketing model as well.
Locating and Attracting Receptive Customers (2nd Thesis Point)
After accurately assessing their own position in the brand personality space of their local or national market, the next thing an organisation needs to focus on is identifying their ideal target demographics. The average organisation will have at least some idea of where they are starting from in terms of who their brand appeals to, but much like with their own brand personality, their information is likely incomplete.
The best and most loyal supporters of a brand are going to come from groups of individuals who closely identify with and relate to the brand . Therefore, investigating the many different online groups and communities which exist, and finding out which ones tend to attract members who exhibit desirable personable characteristics from the brand’s point of view is the next logical step in the new modern marketing model.
Thankfully, social media and mobile devices have provided potential consumers with hundreds of different choices when it comes to building and creating interest-based communities. Forums, applications, discussion groups, fantasy sports leagues, and countless chat rooms exist, all in addition to traditional media formats such as print and radio along with their spinoffs and online presences.
These can all be researched and investigated in terms of member demography and behaviour through big data analysis and mobile device usage pattern research, permitting an organisation to develop a relatively clear picture of what kind of people frequent each of the many different online spaces patronized by sporting fans.
Creative, tightly-focused marketing campaigns can then be created, each of which is custom tailored to the different environments the campaign is designed to reach. Each of these environments should be populated by relatively high demographic densities of people who are more likely to be psychologically predisposed to identify with and support the brand behind the campaigns.
Ultimately, this second major component of investigating modern brand personality involves using big data in order to increase the efficiency of every marketing dollar spent. Organisations can dramatically improve the performance of their sports marketing campaigns by identifying and marketing directly to communities full of people much more likely to support their brand than the average member of the general public .
Updating the Information Infrastructure of the Sports Marketing Industry (3rd Thesis Point)
The third component of the information based model of brand personality and marketing involves developing the technical expertise in the analysis of big data and market trends necessary to successfully locate, identify, and research the ideal spaces discovered in the previous step, and build successful marketing campaigns.
Establishing a modern new media presence across a divergent series of platforms is a complex and multifaceted task, encompassing everything from web and app development to artistic/graphic design and content strategy. In many ways this is the most difficult step in the new model, as it may require organisations to develop and maintain expertise in skillsets that would normally lie outside their core competencies .
As a result of the level of complexity involved, many organisations may choose to outsource these functions, particularly early in their development cycle, in order to give themselves time to either train or acquire the right personnel to execute those functions in-house in the future. Regardless of whether a given organisation chooses to handle development of these skills themselves or to partner with another entity, their ultimate goals are the same.
First, they need to focus on modernizing the way their marketing department looks at, acquires, and interprets the data it gathers in order to make its strategic decisions. Knowledge of big data analytics is absolutely fundamental to this process, as it will allow organisations to properly identify and target environments likely to be more favourable to their message and product.
While many organisations are already using social media as a component of their marketing strategy with varying degrees of success, the next step involves really segmenting their user base into ever-smaller subgroups, enabling them to offer a much higher level of personalization in their marketing offers. This is made possible by the massive increase in data granularity gathered using these new technologies and methods.
Lastly, the organisation needs to work hard at developing a consistent series of messages and offers that reinforces and improves public perception of its brand. This includes everything from working hard to ensure consistently excellent customer service even over new media platforms, to comments made on the organisations Twitter account and other communication channels, to keeping their new marketing non-invasive in terms of frequency and outreach.
A sports marketing organisation that deals with these hurdles successfully will find it extraordinarily well-positioned to develop low cost, extremely well-targeted marketing campaigns that have the potential to yield incredible ROI, especially when compared to the cost of marketing using traditional media channels .
Adapting for the Future (Conclusion)
Regardless of the individual strategic choices that organisations may make, the sports marketing industry as a whole will have to deal with some revolutionary changes over the coming years, particularly in the way they gather information about potential customers and the way they perform their own market research. Failure to do so may see them shut out of evolving markets, in much the same way that the printing industry has had difficulty adapting to the presence of the internet. If marketing and branding organisations hope to maintain market share against new entrants who will be utilizing big data techniques to segment, attract, and retain interest in their clients’ brands, they will have to make these same sorts of changes themselves.
Another major benefit of adapting the brand personality strategy of sports marketing organisations to an information and social based approach is the increasing trend of mobile data usage by consumers in general. In short, mobile technology is providing a larger and larger chunk of the market when it actually comes to delivering eyeballs and attention from consumers, making it an increasingly vital component of any ROI-focused marketing strategy. Last year in 2014, the total amount of bandwidth delivered to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets actually exceeded that delivered to traditional desktop computers worldwide (Mobile apps overtake PC internet, 2014). Whether individual organisations and industries are ready for these shifts or not, they are happening.
Thankfully, the industry is in an excellent position to deal with these challenges. Their product is incredibly popular and shows lasting appeal across virtually all demographic groups, there is plenty of financing to go around to take care of training and personnel concerns, and most of the required changes are more matters of adaptation than evolution; this makes them significantly easier to implement and deploy than creating new systems from scratch or dramatically altering the way organisations conduct themselves.
The sooner an organisation can prepare for and implement these changes, the more of an early-adapter advantage they will reap in the marketplace. They will also find themselves better positioned than competitors in terms of developing the in-house experience necessary to execute these new strategies themselves, or the contacts to assist them with execution if they go the route of outsourcing. Combined with the observation that the information-based approach typically provides a significantly superior baseline return compared to old media, organisations could potentially miss out on fantastic opportunities to cost-effectively reach current and new customers and enhance their overall market share.
For organisations that choose to embrace the challenge of updating their vision of brand personality in the sports marketing industry, the path is clear. They need to lay the necessary technical foundations needed in order to embrace big data technology and social marketing techniques by training current personnel, making new hires, or deciding to outsource. They need to then re-evaluate their current and desired status in their markets according to these new precepts, and use their new skills to reach out for pockets of potential customers scattered throughout dozens of different communities online that are statistically more likely to support the brand than the general public. This simple and powerful new information-based approach to using brand personality in the sports marketing history provides a way for sports marketing organisations to modernize and dramatically improve their marketing campaigns across a huge variety of media formats for years to come.
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