What Marketers Can Learn from College Football

I love college football! It does not matter what teams are playing, the pageantry and competition of college football are irresistible. I do not watch much TV these days, but I could easily give 12 hours on a Saturday to watching games. And, as the 2010 season kicked off recently, I noticed that I was not alone. The anticipation that college football fans had for the season to begin was infectious.

As I took in all of the excitement about the new college football season, I inevitably did what I have been trained to do: ask what marketers can learn from this phenomenon. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the passion that people have for their favorite team was held for other brands? Get fired up for Tide! Paint yourself UPS brown. Unlikely to happen, I agree, but what does college football teach us about stoking the emotions of consumers? Three lessons are worth noting:

1. Experience – College football is far more than games. It entails pep rallies, tailgating, homecoming, meeting old friends, and making new memories. It is not a transaction, it is an experience. What can you do to create experiences that engage customers with your brand? To build and sustain relationships with customers, look beyond the transaction and consumption of the product or service and extend it with experiences. Birthday cards for customers, customer appreciation events, and employee recognition programs are examples of ways to create experiential contacts with stakeholders.

2. Tradition – The most successful college football programs in terms of attendance, licensed merchandise sales, and overall fan interest have a history of greatness when it comes to appealing to fans. Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, and Notre Dame are examples of programs with winning traditions and legendary players and coaches that span generations. The lore of these programs adds to their appeal today. How can tradition be cultivated in your organization, externally with customers and internally with employees? Do you have a legendary product? Ad campaign? Logo? Other marketing asset that can be leveraged to build a bridge to the past?

3. Stories – The on-field product in college football is supplemented with intrigue and drama in the form of stories involving personalities on the field. Whether it be the walk-on player who goes on to earn a scholarship and be a star, or the coach who returns to his alma mater to lead the program back to glory, college football is replete with stories that create warm, fuzzy feelings. The feel good story at the beginning of the 2010 season is Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, who missed more than a year battling cancer to return to the starting lineup. In the same vein, what stories can be told to draw customers closer to your brand? Testimonials from customers who have been positively impacted by your product or service are one way to make this happen. Similarly, employee testimonials about their commitment to customers and the organization can have an impact on the internal market as well as resonate with customers.

Let’s face it, not many products match the glamour and intensity of college football. But, we can glean inspiration from the best of what the sport offers and energize our brands and employees. May you (and your favorite team) score many touchdowns on whatever field you play.

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Author: Don Roy

Marketing educator, blogger, & consultant- Having fun with all of the above!

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