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The Critical Flaw in Your Content Marketing Strategy, Part 1: Creating for Your Best Customers

...there’s no better way to get people emotionally invested in your athletes and entertainers than by sharing their voices and telling their stories.

Hop on your favorite social media feed and scroll through the posts of a competitor. Does the content emotionally connect with you? Probably not.

I argue that most creatives in sports and entertainment focus their time on crafting content to engage their most familiar customers. And that’s a problem.

Reaching an audience is so effortless that digital content creators often find assurance in comparing longitudinal metrics instead of considering how content can make a greater impact to the bottom line.

We fall victim to examining past peak impressions, engagements, video views—whatever analytic styles a fashionable argument to continue duplicating subject matter we think will replicate those swells. We target lookalikes of our customer profile without consideration for how scarce that population may be in our market. We, instead, should cater to the audience that will provide the highest return on investment.

The most important key performance indicator (KPI) for any organization is brand loyalty. Not social media impressions or lead conversions. Not abandoned shopping carts or email open rates. Not unique mobile app users or even [gasp!] revenue.

Brand loyalty. Full stop.

Why Brand Loyalty?

Brand loyalty is high when a consumer has the opportunity to choose a competing brand, and yet they choose yours. It's a motive that takes shape as early as a childhood and, unlike any other measurable factor, it drives a potential customer's lifetime value.

Sales teams gauge brand loyalty through various metrics including net promoter scores and repeat purchases. Customer satisfaction surveys provide useful data about purchasers. But those figures are snippets of a vast population that you can reach through owned and earned media.

Most organizations have developed rewards and redemption programs to incentivize loyalty. What your organization likely hasn’t done is taken a critical look at its content strategy and asked: Are we maximizing our return on investment?

Revenue is a measure of current value. Brand loyalty is a measure of lifetime value.

Maximizing Content Creation ROI

Understanding which audience can make the biggest jump in brand loyalty while using the least amount of energy, time and resources is the key to maximizing content ROI.

Most organizations develop content to engage with their most active audiences (those who supply the most data) when they should be tailoring for the cluster that has the greatest potential for increasing its brand loyalty.

jared's bell curve theory - labels + arrows

If you divide your potential audience within a normal distribution, you can categorize approximations of a loyalty variable. In this instance, I’m labeling sports fan populations. Going left to right, statistically:

  • Less than 2 percent will never engage with you;
  • Approximately 14 percent aren’t aware of you or aren’t interested;
  • 34 percent are “fairweather” customers—those who jump on board when the product is superb, but consider alternatives during normal times;
  • the next 34 percent are “satisfied” fans—those who have better than average loyalty, but external factors sway engagement;
  • 14 percent are “connected” fans who have defined a personal relationship with the brand;
  • and the remaining 2 percent are your “diehards” who become brand advocates rain or shine, win or loss. (Their opinions may not be so nice after a loss, but they don’t jump ship to a competitor.)

So why do organizations spend so much energy trying to make their most loyal customers infinitely more loyal? [Frustrated fist pounding.] Consider this question: Is a season-ticket holder who has renewed the exact same seats for 25 consecutive years going to be upsold to a “better” location or a suite? Hell-to-the-no.

Why are we implementing content strategies that do exactly this!?

Shifting your content strategy to target “satisfied” customers allows you to associate with a population 17 times greater than that of the “diehards." It increases the probability of moving more of your market share from the “satisfied” to “connected” segment (and residually improves the neighboring segments.) Thus, improving overall brand loyalty and the bottom line.

jared's bell curve theory

Related: Why We Have to Stop Screaming “Buy Tickets!” by Jess Smith, New York Yankees Senior Manager of Digital & Social Strategy, from Social-N-Sport

Creating a “Connected” Customer

Most “sports fans” aren’t necessarily fans of sports. If they were, we’d have no problem selling out America’s cricket stadiums. Fans want to be identified with brands that provide a first-class or predictable experience. They gravitate toward sport because the reward they seek is euphoria, which the industry provides comfortably. A “diehard” might need nothing more than a to watch their local team's highlight video to apply for a second mortgage to finance their memorabilia-laden man cave. The other 99 percent of us need more incentives to decide how we spend our time and money.

The “connected” consumer is one who has a perceived or real connection to the brand. In the case of a college sports team, “connected” fans are often viewed as alumni, employees, students and their relatives, and others who give to and benefit from the institution. But the staple of the “connected” fan is someone who gets their dopamine rush not just from touchdowns and slam dunks, but from having an intimate awareness and knowledge of the product. In other words, they are emotionally connected to the participants of the game.

And there’s no better way to get people emotionally invested in your athletes and entertainers than by sharing their voices and telling their stories.

The art of storytelling has been buried by a relentless cacophony of information and opinions. In the world of 280 characters, 6-second YouTube bumpers and Instagram Famous, we’ve prioritized style over substance in order to gain “followers” and keep increasing the metrics we show our bosses as examples of “success.”

"Familiarity breeds liking." - Daniel Kahneman

Relating one human being to the reader, viewer or listener is the objective in storytelling. That connection can come from something as simple and relatable as “hey, we both have the same kind of dog!” or the relationship can be sculpted from something as comprehensive and breathtaking as the story of Brionna Thomas, who was transient, often homeless and food insecure until her first night as a college freshman introduced the first bed she could call her own.

I hope you would have a tough time finding a person who would read Brionna’s story and then want to root against her and her teammates.

To put it succinctly, build content that bonds emotional investment. Engage your “satisfied” fans by making them want to root for your athletes, coaches and entertainers, regardless of how they perform. Use their voices and values. Promote their interests and lifestyles, too.

Related: The Psychology Behind Developing Brand Loyalty, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Rebuke Your Company’s Loss Aversion

Again, why do organizations spend so much energy trying to make their most loyal customers infinitely more loyal?

The answer is straightforward: loss aversion.

Loss aversion is our innate tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. “We are more upset about losing $10 than we are happy finding $10. Roughly speaking, losses hurt about twice as much as gains make you feel good (Kahneman, 2011).”

You may have had this thought roll through your mind while reading: What about our diehards? We don’t want to lose them!

Would you rather have half or your "diehards" (1 percent of the market) become “connected” or have half the “satisfied” group (17 percent) upgrade? I think the choice is obvious.

Remember, too, “diehards” are your greatest advocates. Instead of appealing to them to buy more products, arm them with the ability to tell your brand’s story.

The trick in refining a content strategy that maximizes your return on investment is being consistent and frequent. It's not a sometimes thing. You must be "the" brand that portrays to its a customers a congruous, persuasive argument that your products (and people) represent them, and that you provide the value they so desire.

So now that you're reconsidered your primary audience, you have to serve where they eat. Next time, I'll detail how to reach an audience that isn't regularly paying attention. Stay tuned for The Critical Flaw with Your Content Marketing Strategy, Part 2: Your First Step Isn’t a Distribution Plan.


Jared Thompson is the customer success and business development lead at Blinder and formerly an SID at the University of Oklahoma, and digital media director at the NCAA and Purdue University. Connect with Jared to learn how Blinder can help you improve the ROI on your content strategy.

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