We speak wth Julian Goode, former Head of Digital Marketing for the England Cricket Board, about Twitter, branding strategies and what to do about bad press.
You kickstarted the England Cricket Board’s move into digital marketing. Was it difficult to convince stakeholders to invest in ‘non-traditional’ marketing at the time? How did you present your case?
To be honest, it wasn’t perceived as a marketing function at first. ECB’s presence on the Web goes back to 1997 – it was one of the first sports bodies in the UK to embrace the medium – and producing good content about cricket and the Board’s functions was seen as a natural communications progression.
Like so many sports, cricket had always been reliant on traditional offline media coverage – with newspapers, television and radio deciding which bits they chose to cover and in what way.
Internet adoption and growth from the mid-90s onwards suddenly opened the door for the game to be a media channel/owner in its own right and grow its own audience, eventually into the millions – and then communicate and market cricket to those users in a way that best suited ECB and the constituent parts of the game.
It wasn’t a straightforward journey, and it did take some convincing to take control of the product and invest in it in the right way.
And by the very nature of the internet’s development over the past 15 years, there was a continual need to update the products and update the case to be made to secure that investment.
There was an element of keeping up with the minimum standard, illustrating what other governing bodies were doing in this country and elsewhere.
That led to a continually expanding product suite – a decent standard website that needs to have quality news content, then live scores and data content, then video content; then a growing array of social channels; then a mobile presence; then an app for the growing iPhone audience, Android users, iPad users etc.
And along the road, as the ability to extend reach and retain users with more and more sophisticated products and compelling content grew and grew, the pay-off in terms of revenue grew too: collecting user data and returning media value to sponsors and partners through email communications; driving users to ticketing points of sale across the game and tracking purchase returns.
Before you notice it, you’ve created a whole digital eco-system that underpins or reinforces all your marketing activity across the various components of the game – from the England team playing in an Ashes series down to grassroots cricket.
As digital marketing slowly moves from technical, SEO-dominated practices to an approach focused on content and customer service, what can small companies do to turn this change to their advantage?
Focus on their point of difference. Sell their unique advantage.
It’s no different to what glossy high-profile brands in sport are doing. If you’re the ECB you’re focussing on the England cricket team, star players, and exclusive content around key matches, behind the scenes…getting the must-watch videos, interviews, photos and blogs.
And your social channels, manned properly, allow you a degree of communication with your fans that wouldn’t have been perceived as possible a decade ago.
That’s no different to being a small business that can perfectly illustrate what it does and how it does it better than the competition on its beautifully designed responsive website; and hammers that home with insightful content that tells the customer why they should buy from you.
And then via email, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the social canvas you can respond to your customer’s needs 24/7. Or direct them to your phone number or even your store if you have one of those!
What are the top three things companies should think about when planning a digital marketing strategy
What is it you are trying to achieve?
What does success look like?
How are you going to track and analyse your efforts against those targets?
And sanity-check that against the overall short-term / long-term objectives of the business to make sure you’re not going off on a tangent.
‘Brand marketing’ and ‘content marketing’ are phrases thrown around a lot. What’s the difference? Why are they useful for a business, no matter its size?
Is there a difference? They’re part of the same marketing mix for your organisation. And I don’t like using any of those phrases in truth!
You could say that content marketing is a sub-set of the overall brand marketing that carries the identity and raison d’être of your business to the marketplace.
Whatever the size of your business you need to decide who you are and what you are selling to your customers and what makes you a compelling proposition.
Using digital content thereafter allows you to support that proposition in the most effective way – both overall and with specific focus on particular strands of business activity.
Sell to your customers without them even noticing it because they’re enjoying the content that carries the message so much.
It can be difficult to keep a marketing strategy on track despite failures or bad press. What’s your advice to companies struggling with a brand problem?
Have faith in your brand and your identity.
If you have profile, it is never always going to be sat in a positive glow. The downside to the growth of digital media is it now allows everybody to pass opinion, and there’s a tendency for those with negative opinions to be more vociferous in publishing them than the quietly satisfied majority.
But just because you get some bad press doesn’t mean your strategy is flawed overall.
Be responsive, be prepared to tweak your plans, but retain self-belief through the difficult moments.
Having said that, if a minor downturn becomes an ongoing trough of negativity, then you obviously need to look at your overall strategy and re-evaluate.
Cricket is often seen by outsiders as an old-fashioned sport. Yet the format of over-by-over reporting is actually suited to bite-size media like Twitter.
In fact, the Guardian’s 2005 Ashes reporting was like Twitter before Twitter. You can’t report football in the same way.
Do you think that this is a marketing advantage for cricket – that the matches themselves are easily adapted to the digital world, so the next generation can ‘meet’ cricket in their native digital sphere (whether that’s on social media or content marketing)?
There’s definitely an opportunity for cricket to build an audience through clever content publishing.
And social media, with both the sophistication of the ‘free’ channels available to publishers and the ability to grow sizeable audiences on them, presents an amazing opportunity that has fallen in the laps of federations and clubs in any sport.
Whether cricket has a bigger opportunity than football, rugby or other sports in the UK I’d question.
Whether you’re more likely to convert someone to a greater degree of fandom for your sport over another sport because of the nature of your sport is a difficult one to answer.
There’s certainly more opportunity for someone to interact with you while attentively or passively following a Test match or a county championship game simply because of the longevity of the contest as opposed to a football match or a basketball game.
And there is probably a greater chance of fans doing so within a wifi-enabled stadium at a cricket match because of the natural pauses that you don’t get so much within 90 minutes of football.
But ultimately, to grow and retain your audience, whatever your sport, you need to be using those social channels in the right way.
If people want blow-by-blow live blogging of a Test match, then they are more likely to do that by following a live aggregating blog within a responsive website on their mobile or in an app than by expecting that coverage 140 characters a time on Twitter.
Use the latter to give them what they can’t get elsewhere – key moments, infographics, Vine inserts of action or atmosphere – rather than ball-by-ball coverage.
You also have to judge what the competition is doing.
If you’re a small football club with a loyal remote following on Twitter and no-one else is providing any coverage at all on match days, then there’s scope to provide more detailed coverage as the minutes progress because you’ll be satisfying a demand and retaining your audience.
If you’re a major governing body, days, then there’s scope to provide more detailed coverage as the minutes progress because you’ll be satisfying a demand and retaining your audience.
If you’re a major governing body of a sport that has saturation coverage on match days across all forms of media, then focus your overworked resource on the things you can do better than anyone else.
Finally, there’s been a lot of debate about Sky and the effect of restricted viewing on grassroots cricket.
Technically, the ECB’s deal with Sky should bring in money for grassroots development, yet restricted viewing implies fewer people will have access to (and learn to love) the game.
But is the pay TV debate even relevant in the digital era, when YouTube and (one day soonish) Facebook are where the new generation watch sports action?
ECB’s deals have brought in a massive amount of money that has been invested in grassroots sport. I’m no apologist for the ECB, but those are the facts.
There are hundreds of clubs around the country with vastly improved facilities as a result. There have been all kinds of programmes put together from volunteering to coaching to umpiring and scoring that would simply not have happened without the huge leap in broadcast revenue. There would be no digital services of any great degree that’s for sure.
But there has undoubtedly been a huge drop off in visibility for the game since the days of Channel Four and BBC coverage on free-to-air television, and it’s a trade-off for any sport.
All the above won’t, and doesn’t, satisfy previous TV viewers who no longer see a ball being bowled from their sofa.
The pay TV debate does remain relevant, because if rights holders sell live or highlights rights to broadcasters or media owners, and those rights are securely policed, then no-one will see the content.
Of course, most rights holders do retain some ability to post limited highlights on their own channels or to syndicate them. But the visibility is naturally reduced by the degree of hold-back and the time limitation of clips.
It varies by market, but in the UK we have two pay TV broadcasters in Sky and BT that are going to lead the battle for rights on an upward pay curve over the rest of this decade.
Are the likes of Facebook, Apple, YouTube or Twitter going to be in a position to compete for those rights at the sums being paid and fund them through an advertising or subscription model? I can’t see that happening in the next few years.
But I now find I have free sports channels as an extra with my broadband package giving me more content than I could ever possibly find time to watch.
And add to that the massive amount of clips available on the BBC and other market-leading sports sites, and there’s plenty of everything for everyone even if you don’t have the live product anymore; far more than your average consumer could ever have dreamed of before we started taking everything the internet brings to us every waking moment for granted!