About 90 years ago, a new phenomenon called “radio” swept America.
In the early 1920s, radio broadcasters approached baseball owners about transmitting play-by-play accounts of games over the radio. It was a radical idea that in retrospect seems obvious – a way for baseball teams to create a stronger bond between their organizations and fans, and a way to create new fans.
But a lot of baseball owners were aghast at the idea. Their thinking went like this – if people can stay home and listen to the game in their own home, they won’t come to the ballpark and our ticket sales will plummet.
Can you imagine?
They were terrified that giving away the product – or at least a reasonable facsimile of the product – would cannibalize their business. But as we all know, it did the exact opposite. This early form of content marketing increased the size of the audience, and it drew those audience members closer. Now, only a Neanderthal would ever worry about giving away part of the experience; it’s been proven that the more people know, the more they care.
And yet, so many businesses are terrified of “giving away” their thinking. They have not learned the lesson provided by big league sports. And, yes, the business of sports is very different from most other businesses. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn lessons from sports teams and leagues, and follow their lead.
For most B2B businesses, providing intelligence and perspective is something that seems crazy and sure to be bad for business. If we give away our best thinking, what’s left for our clients to buy from us? But that is backward thinking, particularly in a world in which the customer has more power than ever before.
Sports teams and leagues are waaay out front on content marketing. Some teams have had “internal reporters” for more than a decade. All of the major sports leagues have their own 24/7 networks – the biggest and best example of content marketing anywhere. Here in Philadelphia, the NHL Flyers are the latest to hire a prominent journalist to “cover the team.”
While some people roll their eyes because an inside reporter can’t be a true journalist, the fact of the matter is that this tactic works. (We can debate just how unbiased sports journalists are some other time.) No, these reporters aren’t digging up scandals, but there is usually some gentle criticism when it’s warranted and fan forums are rarely “cleansed” of critical comments. Very basically, sports teams and leagues are giving their fans news they can use.
With that in mind, here are five lessons content marketers can learn from the world of sports:
Give me more. Really, this means that your organization needs to adapt a newsroom metabolism. In the news biz, the news watch never stops. It shouldn’t stop for you, either. When it comes to sports, some fans literally can never get enough. Your business probably doesn’t have that kind of fan rabidity, but if I come to your website I expect to find more there than I would somewhere else. By giving the audience more, you create a niche for your organization and a specific spot in their information consumption habits.
Go deeper. Give your fans and followers, or in this case, customers and prospects, more than anyone else. An NFL team website is more likely to do an in-depth story on the 6th round draft pick because the audience knows it’s going to get deeper coverage from the team. No, it won’t generate as many pageviews, but teams are living in the long tail – by definition, they’re focusing all their resources.
Give it away, Give it away now. Like those baseball owners 90 years ago, you need to be willing to provide some level of advice for free. Really, you do. Demonstrating your expertise is critical in today’s opt-in economy – SiriusDecisions has reported that today’s reality is that 70 percent of the buying process is complete before your sales department ever hears from a prospect. So you’d better start appealing to those potential customers now.
Surrender control (just a little). Invite debate into your content platforms and social media channels. Don’t shout down – or delete – the opinions of dissenters. A civil argument is just a spirited conversation, and that’s ultimately good. Don’t be afraid to link to something good from one of your competitors. Inviting opposing opinions helps to build trust with your audience, and that is a primary goal of your content marketing efforts.
Embrace video. Sports franchises obviously have access to great video, and your organization probably doesn’t have quite that treasure trove. But everything points to greater engagement with online video, and it’s high time you started incorporating it into what you’re doing. The key is to professionalize it. Webcam video and shaky home movie-looking videos shot with a phone aren’t quite good enough, at least not as a steady diet. But something that approaches a broadcast-quality video on a regular basis is just about guaranteed to set you apart from the competition.
Watch what sports teams and leagues are doing. There’s a lot of it that you should be copying, or modifying to suit your goals.
Maybe, if you do it well, they’ll even throw you a championship parade.