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Marketing Lessons from the Business of Football

Nov 1, 2007
People don't go to football games to watch football. Oh, a few people do, but not enough to come close to filling the stadium. To find out who the pure fans are, you'd have to do away with the video screens, the mascots, the cheerleaders, the halftime shows, any foods more exotic than hot dogs, soft drinks and peanuts, and then see who's left in the stands. Would you still buy a ticket?

Football is more than a game; it's also a business. The business of football has grown because the promise included with each ticket has grown to appeal to more than just the pure fans. Does your business cater solely to your pure fans? If so, you're sitting on a tremendous growth opportunity.

No One Wants Your Product

We forget that people don't really want our product; they want what they can do with our product. Take coffee as an example. If we focus on the coffee itself, it's easy to get caught up in the price per pound or per cup, and the qualities that make coffee taste good or bad. Yet when we think about what we can do with the coffee, those factors become almost insignificant.

The place where coffee is served (the coffee shop) becomes the backdrop for a social event with friends or business acquaintances; the price of the coffee becomes insignificant. Perhaps coffee is the warm, comforting friend that accompanies us on our journey into the new book we just picked up at a Barnes and Noble book store. Whenever we buy coffee or football tickets or your product or service, we are buying much more than what the label on the package indicates.

Get a Feel for the Game

Football organizations discovered long ago they can enjoy significant boosts in business by looking at all the ways to serve their customers during a football game. By expanding the core product -- the game on the field -- to appeal to a larger audience, their market grows beyond the pure fans to include their spouses, other family members and their friends. In the process, football organizations enjoy multiple up-sell opportunities while engendering customer loyalty that keeps fans coming back. You don't have to love football to love going to a football game.

While your product or service may not be as flashy and exciting as football, you can apply football's marketing lessons to improve your market share, revenues and profits. If you don't, you risk seeing your sales fall flat and watching business go to your competition. If companies can apply these marketing principles to a product as simple as coffee, you can win using these strategies, too.

Unfortunately, we may be too close to our product to successfully apply these principles. We likely know the features and benefits of our product inside and out, and understand all the things our customers can do with our product. What's more important is that we step back and work to understand how people feel while using our product. Find out the feelings your customers associate with using your product or service, and then think of ways to give them more of those feelings. Here are three ways you can do that.

1. Ain't I Social!

Many people use a product or service as an excuse to get together with other people. Football tickets, coffee shops, birthday cakes, bowling leagues - people may buy these products solely to enjoy the feelings they get when they're experiencing them with other people.

Think of ways to get people who share a common interest in your product or service to socialize around it. Consider:
*** Conferences
*** Online chat rooms
*** Reunions
*** Rallies
*** User groups
*** Advanced training sessions
*** Charitable work

Any event, really, can be the perfect excuse for your customers to gather and experience the great positive feelings that will generate customer loyalty and keep them coming back for more.

2. Make it Memorable

When customers have a good experience with your product, they'll want to repeat it so they can recreate those good feelings. Ideally our customers will talk about their experience with their friends and associates long after the experience is over. You can extend the power of this word of mouth effect. Help your customers remember their positive feelings long after the experience that created them is over.

Memories are heightened when emotions are involved. The stronger the emotions, the stronger the feelings, the longer and more powerfully we remember them. At football games we watch instant replays of key moments; the turning points and dazzling plays worth remembering. We buy programs that allow us to engage at a deeper level with the personal aspects of the players. Sometimes we're provided with heart-stopping opportunities to win prizes. Souvenirs allow us to take the football game home with us; we can relive the feelings we had at the game simply by looking at or holding our souvenir.

Get your customers emotionally involved so they'll long remember the positive experiences they have with your product or service.
*** Provide mementos.
*** Give them a chance to win something.
*** Deliver a nice surprise they don't expect.
*** Give them moments with industry celebrities.
*** Take pictures, especially of them, to give them vivid reminders of the great experience they had.

Do these things, and they'll do business with you over and over again.

3. Include the Fringe

Around your core customers -- the pure fans -- is a fringe of secondary customers you can easily access. These secondary customers may be spouses or friends of your core customers who are easily reached through viral marketing. Give thought as to how to provide for their social needs and create positive, memorable feelings that will encourage them to try you once and then come back again and again.

The football business has this figured out. The football lovers in a household have an easier time getting to games when their non-football-loving spouse is eager to go with them. That's why a football ticket provides so much more than the game these days. While marketing the game to pure fans is a simple endeavor, football becomes a much better business when the offer is expanded to include the social and emotional aspects that appeal to the secondary market. For example, the Super Bowl has become more of a party than a game. People plan for and look forward to the huge social event that engulfs this championship game. Millions watch the Super Bowl on TV, yet few watch it alone.

Get in touch with your market and work to understand who your secondary customers are. Coffee shops gladly sell tea and soft drinks so their "regulars" can easily bring along their non-coffee drinking friends. Expand your marketing to include these secondary customers and you can boost your sales revenues by 50% and more.

The Game of Change

Football as a game hasn't changed much over the decades. The proposal to permit challenge flags supported by video review was carefully debated by National Football League (NFL) officials before its adoption, all because the League knows this; never alienate your pure fans. They are the bedrock of your business. Keep delivering the solid, consistent product that keeps them coming back for more.

Don't focus on improving your product. Instead, focus on improving the product experience. Once you understand the positive feelings your customers experience by using your product or service, look for ways to extend that experience. Sure, cream and sugar go with coffee. But so does a soft chair and soothing music. So does a well-written book of fiction. So does a table surrounded by family or friends.

Football is a game and it is a business. Look at your business like a game. How does it feel to do business with you today? Make your business social. Make it memorable. Make your business the game your customers are eager to play.
About the Author
Paul Johnson the Trouble Breaker works with organizations to convert trouble into double and triple digit performance breakthroughs. Discover concepts for marketing breakthroughs at http://ShortcutsToResults.com.
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