#35: From Courtside to Campaigns
6 slam dunk marketing strategies I've learned from sports docs
You know what my least favorite part of summer camp was? Sports. I could make friendship bracelets all day long but hand me a soccer ball or frisbee and I’d immediately start to panic.
Fast forward to today and my interest in sports is lukewarm, to say the least. Some things never change. So, imagine my surprise when I started dating a sports physiotherapist.
It’s basketball finals in our house this week (let’s all cheer for the Vancouver Bandits 🦊), so we’ll be taking a break from our usual programming to double click on a brand new interest of mine: sports documentaries.
Turns out, sports documentaries provide a goldmine of insights on how to build high performance teams, develop a network of superfans and compete in a crowded market.
In today’s edition I’ll be sharing 6 marketing lessons we can learn from sports (you can thank me later by paying for my Netflix bill).
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Winning Strategies from Sports
What happens when a sports physiotherapist and a product marketer share the TV remote? There's only one option: they watch sports documentaries 🏀
Bouncing balls and marketing strategies - an unlikely pair, right? At first glance, you may think basketball and product marketing have nothing in common (I certainly did). But, after watching half a dozen of these documentaries this past year, I’m a convert.
There’s competition! There’s underdog stories! There’s early adopters superfans! There’s lessons galore. Let’s dig in.
Untold: The Rise and Fall of AND1
Lesson: The power of community
“Untold: The Rise and Fall of AND1” is a documentary that explores the journey of the brand AND1, known for its mixtapes and unique basketball culture. The brand had an impossible task: go up against giants like Nike and Adidas who already owned the sneaker market. In order to win market share, they tapped into an existing niche community: street basketball. To do this, they didn’t just buy commercial time or ad space - they met their market where they were at (on the court). AND1 built a mixtape (yes, this was the 90s), and distributed it at basketball games and with every AND1 product sold. The mixtape went viral and the rest is history.
Identify your ICP and focus on them relentlessly. AND1 had an advantage over their bigger competitors: they could niche down. Adidas and Nike were both limited in their ability to be bold because they had existing broad markets to appeal to, and this left gaps in the market. AND1 took the opposite approach and spoke directly (and authentically) to a highly targeted and underserved market which helped them build their momentum.
Experiment with distribution channels. AND1 found traction via two unconventional channels: sponsoring street basketball teams and creating mixtapes. What can we learn from this? Think outside the box and consider what new mediums, formats or channels would appeal to your target customer. Pro tip: allocate a small percentage of your budget to experimental campaigns so you’re always testing!
The Last Dance
Lesson: The power of teamwork
"The Last Dance" is a miniseries that focuses on the legendary career of basketball star Michael Jordan (even I had heard of him before). And while I was familiar with Jordan, I was oblivious to the magical story behind his team - the Chicago Bulls - and their journey to winning their sixth NBA championship. Only four teams in the NBA have ever won 6 or more championships, so this is kind of a big deal. This documentary stood out to me in particular because of the focus on building high performance teams. When we think of “greatness” in sports and in business, we often think of specific individuals. But, what we don’t see as outsiders is the equally important team behind that superstar plays.
There’s no “I” in team. Even though the Chicago Bulls had a star player in Jordan, they knew their ultimate success was dependent on building a collaborative team that leveraged individual strengths (Pippen and Rodman were essential for Jordan’s play). As a PMM leader, ask yourself: am I designing a team that is stronger together than it is apart?
Grit gets you everywhere (or at least well ahead of the competition). Watching this doc, it was obvious that Jordan had an intense work ethic. He consistently pushed himself and his teammates to strive for excellence and kept them focused on the long-term outcome. This level of sheer determination helped them keep pushing when other teams would have given up.
Welcome to Wrexham
Lesson: The power of belief
"Welcome to Wrexham" follows the story of actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney as they become the unlikely owners of Wrexham Association Football Club, a soccer team in North Wales. The show documents their journey as they take over the club and attempt to get promoted out of the National League. Out of all three documentaries, this one highlights the business side of sports the most.
Want action? Deliver a compelling vision. At the start of the show, almost everybody had given up on Wrexham, including the fans and players. Ryan and Rob knew the team would never win unless they believed it was possible. They made their mission to revitalize the team clear and found opportunities to consistently unite the team around a shared vision of success. As a PMM, we have the opportunity to do this at work too. Struggling to get alignment on an initiative or launch? Bring it back to the company’s core mission and vision.
Build buy-in from the start. Stakeholder buy-in is essential to get anything done in business, but just like we saw with Rob and Ryan, it can be challenging, especially when you’re seen as an outsider. Their strategy? Involve the local community and fans in decision-making processes from the start. By valuing the opinions and contributions of others, they were able to create a sense of ownership and shared responsibility, enhancing the likelihood of achieving their vision.
Help me populate my fall playlist. What should I add to my must-watch list?
Here’s what’s on my packing list for camp this week (sports-themed, of course):
Off to the basketball stadium for finals! #foxfam