Carol Kruse, ESPN's SVP of marketing, gives insight into how the most well-known brand in sports succeeds with social. See how you can apply its tactics.
Ten years after bringing digital to one of the oldest marketing companies, Coca-Cola, Carol Kruse made the move into entertainment as ESPN's new SVP of marketing. At the Beverly Hills, Calif., iMedia Entertainment Summit, Kruse began her keynote explaining how her experience at the consumer product goods (CPG) giant informed her work in entertainment marketing.
"Coca-Cola had the benefit of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: Thirst. Everyone understands thirst," Kruse said, "But I would argue that ESPN can tap into the hierarchy as well: There are many people who would forgo clothing for sports."
One major difference between ESPN and Coca-Cola was that, at the latter, product changes occur very slowly. At an entertainment media company like ESPN, the number of brands grows very quickly. "At ESPN, we're asking how do you market that many properties and manage so many brands?" Kruse said, "Similarly, at Coke, the distribution channels stay pretty constant while at ESPN, the number of distribution channels is exploding. Sports fans have more options than ever to stay informed and connected -- and the rate of change is accelerating."
Right now, ESPN simply has too many properties and distribution channels to do a complete marketing plan for each one, so instead they are focusing on navigation -- and what type works the best to drive various platforms. The way to survive this world of proliferating brand and platforms, Kruse explained, is to make your brand the ultimate navigator. "It's about a consistent brand promise. For ESPN, it's 'Sports (what we do) with authority (how we do it) and personality (what sets us apart)'," Kruse said.
Since sports is inherently social -- fans like to talk about last night's game, players' track records, the rival team, etc. -- so taking TV content and live games into the social sphere was not difficult. When doing this, ESPN aimed to posit itself as the biggest sports fan. It talks with fans, not at them; it takes sports seriously, but don't take itself too seriously; it entertains, informs, surprises, and delights its fans; and it treats promo as content, rewarding fans for every interaction. In order to accomplish these goals, ESPN used the following metaphor: "We want to be less of a slick money man sports agent, and more of a face-painted sports fan," Kruse said.
Kruse and her team employed three tactics to combat the sports agent perception, the first of which was letting fans touch the brand. One example of this was what Kruse joked was one of their most inefficient media buys: During the 2010 World Cup, ESPN sent out food trucks with giant televisions mounted on top, broadcasting the games. "This was a great way to accomplish our goal to "touch" the fans," Kruse said.
The second tactic is to poke fun at itself, Kruse explained, citing the Lebron decision as an example of this in action. Finally, the third maneuver was to launch their brand campaign "It's not crazy, it's sports."
Kruse recognized that all social media platforms are not created equal, and thus assigned different strategies for ESPN on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Facebook, the quintessential social network, is about connecting people with their family, friends, and interests. "As a brand, we need to fit in and add distinct value to the community," Kruse said. "On Facebook, we want to remind fans that we love sports just as much as they do and provide a forum for fans to express their opinions and allegiances."
Twitter is different as it's less about interaction and more about getting information and accessing varying perspectives. "Our goal is to become the primary curator of sports tweets. In doing so, we seek to capitalize on our live programming and talent to engage fans," Kruse said
The hub of social video on the web, YouTube, is all about social highlights and original content. "Our content strategy is to tailor how fans use the platform," Kruse said.
Before finishing her keynote, Kruse gave some Facebook tips to the audience: "A key piece of social is making your management comfortable. There will be things that they don't like -- for example, negative comments -- and you have to have a system in place to deal with that. Also, it's okay to make mistakes -- that means you're learning."
Lucia Davis is associate editor at iMedia Connection.
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