The 2010 NCAA basketball tournament has barely started, but already there are some lessons marketers can learn from the tournament and the teams in it. Here's 10 tournament-related winning strategies to keep the marketing for your business on track:
1. Reputation will only get you so far. Yes, reputation is very important for your business. But, you need to deliver on your brand promise consistently. The Big East came into the tournament with the reputation as the country's toughest league, but (at least on the first day) didn't live up to the promise of bringing the toughest teams in. Top teams like Georgetown lost to mid-conference teams like Ohio. Make sure in every interaction with your customers, the public and your peers that your products and services meet or exceed the good reputation you've built.
2. Never underestimate your competition. Everyone comes into the tournament hungry. And as some teams have learned, you can't take these lower seeds lightly or they can hurt you. Same is true in business. Everyone wants their business to succeed. A small competitor who is determined and marketing savvy can cut into your business. They may not have the budget you do, but outstanding creative could get them noticed. Or an innovative media strategy, like dominating a local radio station or tapping into the local community through social media. So, make sure you monitor even the little guys. Or better yet, think like one and don't just plan on winning by sheer media weight, but develop your own out of the box thinking for your marketing.
3. Engage your consumers. The huge popularity of the tournament is due to more than school loyalty and great basketball games. Over the years, a whole industry has sprung up around office pools and filling out your brackets. It's a way to engage the casual viewer. Now every game has meaning and people will watch even if they don't know a thing about the teams. Same thing happened with fantasy football helping make the NFL so popular. So, how can you put that kind of thinking to work for your brand? What can you do to deeply engage even casual users of your product or service? Find the answer and profits will increase as engagement increases.
4. Everybody love a good story. If you want to capture imagination and hearts of the people, make sure you have a good story to tell. In the tournament, that can mean a small team making an extended run, like George Mason did a few years ago. Or it can be a story about one player being a great person trying to win the big one in his last chance as a senior. Or a team or player overcoming adversity. A good story gets people talking and paying attention. What story is your brand telling? Make sure it's a compelling one and you too will get people talking and paying attention to your brand.
5. For some just being there is enough, for others it's all or nothing. When one of these small schools get into the tourney for the first time, they're just happy to be there – even though the chances of moving beyond the first game are close to nil. For a team like number one seed Kansas, anything short of a final four berth would be disappointment. How you look at your business depends on where you're at. We have a client who tells the story of when his business first got on TV. He was on camera and they had a cheesy jingle. It wasn't good, but they were just happy to be on TV and business improved for being there. Now, 20 years later, they're the leaders in their market. Anything short of beating the competition is no longer acceptable. So, wherever you're company is at, be glad to be there and have a strategy that works for where you are at the time.
6. Stay focused. We see it all the time, a team gets up big and loses focus, letting their opponent get back in the game. Just because the marketing plan you put together a few years ago has been doing well, don't let it coast without updating it. Stay focused on what you're trying to accomplish and update your plan as needed. Don't let a competitor sneak up on you. Make sure you're doing everything you can to keep your company moving towards it's goals.
7. Everyone needs to pull towards the same goal. Some teams play over their talent level to win games simply because everyone on the team has bought into the same plan and are all working perfectly together to achieve their goal. The best marketing plans can fall apart if you don't get everyone in your organization on board, marching in the same direction. First, you have to make sure everyone understands what it is you're trying to do. Then, you need to inspire them that it will be for everyone's good if the goals are achieved. No matter how good your marketing is, if the people on the front lines of interaction with your customers don't understand and buy into your plan, it's more likely to fail.
8. It makes a difference what region you're in. In the tournament, it can greatly affect how you play whether you're playing near the home crowd or are shipped to the other side of the country. Also, some regions provide easier paths than others. In business, it makes a different what region you're in, too. The competition is going to be different from area to area. Also, how you go to market will vary regionally. We've worked with furniture retailers all across the country. You need to be aware of the subtle market differences in how you advertise in Detroit or Chicago and how you go to market in Virginia or Houston. Knowing those differences and playing to them has created success for each regional client.
9. What you've done in the past does matter. How you're preformed over the course of the year and past tournament experience makes a difference in what seeding you get as a basketball team. Your past marketing efforts make a difference in how your current efforts will be received, too. If you've always been a company that does quirky marketing with a personality and you suddenly start an aggressive campaign to move products, it's probably going to lose you some customers if you don't take into account what you've done before. The reverse is true too. If you've been an aggressive marketer and want to put a kinder, gentler face on your brand, it will take more work to convince people that the new face reflects who you are.
10. Give it all you've got, because you could be out of the picture tomorrow. The NCAA tournament is a one and done proposition. If you don't put everything you can into your effort, you could lose and be gone. In today's economic climate, the same could be true for your company. Put your heart and soul into your marketing efforts. Make sure you have the smartest advisers you can and that you spend what is needed on your marketing without overspending. If not, you may lose relevancy or share of mind or simply go off in the wrong direction. Today that could lead to something worse than loss of share. Make sure you keep your eye on the ball. Good advice for both basketball and business.