Using a Fan Base to Build Your Own – How Brands Can Become the New Nike

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Loyalty is one of the most important aspects to a brands’ success. You see it in well-established businesses such as fashion and consumer electronics, but how can new brands get a hold on a consumer base and keep them coming back? While it’s hard to compete with the likes of Nike or Nationwide, both of whom have tapped into the sports market, there is still room to appeal to some of the most passionate sports fans in the U.S. And right now the opportunity is unique to join the fray, as established players undergo major changes and new ones come on the scene. Who would have thought that the seemingly bulletproof NFL would be losing viewers and a hold on the American consciousness so quickly? But where there’s a shift, there’s an opportunity: in the growing popularity of global sports such as soccer and racing, two of the best examples of this shift in power.

So where’s your opportunity as an up-and-coming brand? The answer lies in engaging with these sports audiences where they are, and in the ways that make sense to them. Something that has real narrative scope, and recognizes the difference between patronizing fans and speaking to their passion. By stepping up in these early stages of success within a sports’ fan base, brands can connect with them and create long-term relationships, and create association with that sport from a young age, as parents introduce their children to their own passions and they grow up watching and following them every week. There are a few key ways to do this, such as developing consistent and sponsored content and working with platforms other than television or steaming like sports magazines. By doing this, brands can creatively collaborate on content that will attract viewers, dollars, and loyalty, creating something that people will want to share. This can result in a brand establishing itself as a partner within the rising sports industry.

  1. Correctly identify the opportunity that matches your consumer – By pinpointing the growing interests of your consumers, brands can identify one of the many growing leagues that are drawing viewers. These fan bases don’t have the consistent content that others have, such as the NFL or the NBA. They’re looking for a brand they can use to voice their passion just by being a consumer. Soccer is an interesting example: first the brand has to decide which is more important — a domestic message, through the MLS (Major League Soccer) or hyper-local organizations. Or, choosing a broader footprint, encompassing the Champions League, the World Cup, and bigger leagues such as the Premiership, La Liga, and The Bundesliga.  Beyond that, once the right targets are identified, matching the content to the consumer’s expectations – with depth and thought, not just knocking out some 30 second spots – is key.
  2. Get in early – If you believe you have your target, hitting it early (as is still possible with both soccer and racing, though both are quickly moving towards a more mature place in the market) and often is imperative. There are already brands that have established relationships, so it’s not about First Mover status, it’s about Best Connector status. You can pass those who came in early by being on message to the super fans, on point for the casual fans, all at a price point that could well be lower than your planned marketing spend.
  3. Be consistent – Not only should you stay consistent in the marketplace you’re trying to make an impact on, but the content you create should also be consistent, as well. Establishing a daily, weekly or even monthly output of advertising for your brand will improve the consumer’s recall and recognition.  You have opportunities to find people where they are — on their phones, on tablets, and experientially, with soccer and racing both presenting major opportunities to get all of this done without having to “wait in line” behind the major players.

If you are going to make this leap, it is vital to work with agencies or production companies that themselves have a deep knowledge of the sport and the user base. Passionate fans have an acute nose for bullshit and are quick to feel condescended to by the wrong messaging. But this pitfall in no way detracts from the key message: with the change in consumption of sports by consumers, the opportunity is here for your brand to get into the game.

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