Originally published 02-03-2020. Updated as of 01-14-2021.
Don't be distracted by the bright lights, the seventh inning stretch, or the superb athleticism. There may not be anything quite like the top teams in the MLB, but that doesn't mean they're not a bustling, successful business you can learn a lot from. Your actual business may not have a lot in common with a professional sports team, like the St. Louis Cardinals, but you shouldn't be surprised to learn that your marketing strategy and needs reflects theirs. (Or at least, it should.)
In today's post, we'll discuss what the Cardinals have in common with your marketing and what you can learn from them.
This is the core of the discussion in this post. The reason the Cardinals win in marketing is because they go out of their way to build a connection with their fans. The social and emotional investment leads to the kind of brand loyalty that can't be built any other way.
The key lies in reaching their audience (the fans) where they are, in this case, on a number of different social platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, TikTok and Snapchat. You'll notice the staples are present, but they've expanded into platforms where their users are active but many businesses typically ignore or undervalue. That's because each platform offers something different, not only to the team, but to their audience. For instance, you'll notice that their Pinterest page offers a virtual storefront with Pins of various products that can be bought just by clicking through to the official store. They also utilize the platform for promotions. Across all platforms, they utilize the tools at hand, be it hashtags, images, or video.
As we mentioned, successful marketing is all about building relationships with your audience. Community involvement is a strong way to manage that. Of course, by this we aren't referring to meet-and-greets full of glad-handing and photo ops that make fans joyful (although that certainly doesn't hurt). We're referring to offering a positive role in the community by direct action.
One great example of this is the High School Video Challenge, which is intended to not only connect young fans with the team, but to promote STEM oriented education and engage students in proactive educational efforts that actually involve STEM fields but need creative access to those processes. In this way, the Cardinals are actively investing in the future, and that inherently builds a positive brand image.
Communities love cause-driven businesses (which can be thought of as cause-driven marketing). Here's a few other examples of how the Cardinals are proactive in the community:
4th Annual #Join4Joe Bone Marrow Donor Drive (Facebook)
Cancer awareness and fundraising (Pinterest)
Winter Warm-Up to support Cardinals Care, the teams charitable fund (Facebook)
Homers for Health in support of Cardinal Glennon Hospital (Website)
2019 Ted Savage RBI Golf Classic (designed to restore baseball to the inner city for youth) (Website)
As you can see, this type of outreach is done, not only by the team brand as a whole, but by the individuals on the team as well. The actions of the individual not only increases their career brand recognition as a professional player, but also transfers the good will to the team brand at the same time. This may or may not work for your business, but if your brand has a public face — an owner well known within the industry, perhaps — community involvement can also be transferred to your brand.
Constantly sharing the same kind of content is a fast track to boring your audience. If the only thing you post is promotions or links to new products — especially if you're only ever pushing for sales — your audience will start to tune out. Well-managed social media marketing utilizes, not only a number of platforms, but a variety of formats within each platform. Some are better suited to certain platforms than others, of course.
For Facebook and Twitter, it's easy to link to, retweet, or share content posted by other users, or even from other sources. In many cases, the Cardinals tend to re-share content from the MLB or from related news outlets. In this way, the brand sticks tightly to its brand focus. You will note that it aligns itself with PR, as well, thus preserving brand perception even in the face of bad news.
Still, that doesn't mean the marketing focus is just on scores and good PR. Here's a few examples:
User submitted content
Charitable fun for fans and staff
Miscellaneous promotional outings and photo ops with fans and the mascot
Inspiring, informative and just plain fun video with players.
You'll notice that all of this content has a visual element. Most of the Cardinals' content does, across all platforms, and it's only in rare situations that there's only text. You may be tempted to think that this is because at its heart, baseball is a very visual medium, while your business may not be. However, you must bear in mind that large chunks of text are visually dull, and thus diminish the amount of engagement offered for a social media marketing campaign.
Tune your content to your audience and to the platform you utilize. If you use Tumblr, for example, .gif images are a format of choice; it takes very little text and a single moving image to encapsulate the emotion that every Cardinals fan is looking for. What kind of content you need is going to depend on your business, but there should always be a good mix of blog content/news, images, promotions, and success stories.
Baseball isn't just about batting averages and which team takes home the final win. That concept is flat, and the Cardinals reject that take on things for a story, one that involves its players as individuals, its team as a character in a narrative of success (or close calls), and its fans as key supporters. This strikes a very personal chord with your audience, and any kind of business can find a way to target emotions and key into current social or industry events.
One of the biggest differences between the Cardinals and your business is going to be the amount of investment your audience has in your brand and its offerings. Sports are a family-oriented, generational, and community passion, one that can be loved even through apparent failure (loyalty is only 20% governed by win/loss ratios). Your brand doesn't come with that kind of loyalty built in — it must be earned, and that means that your content is current, industry related, and on message.
Baseball is inevitably defined by three "seasons" — spring training, the active season, and the post season. One great example of the Cardinals taking advantage of their industry-season marketing is promotion for Winter Warm-Up Autograph Tickets, Spring Training Travel Packages, and another is the Postseason 2014 pin board. The year's schedule is also a main feature on the homepage of their website.
However, that doesn't mean that it ignores the holiday seasons. The Cardinals produced a Happy Holidays video that fans could send out as an e-card, and they made use of team history and a clever pun to say Happy Thanksgiving. Plus, celebrating Halloween means holding fan attention even in the postseason. Despite the fact that the sport is in no way truly defined by the holidays, the Cardinals don't fail to take advantage of them.
Your business shouldn't, either, even if the holidays don't usually seem associated to your business. There's a number of benefits for utilizing them, including perceived urgency, promotional deadlines, consumer interest and spending rises, and it can act as a catalyst for capturing new subscribers or leads.
Video is important now more than ever, especially due to the rise in mobile. Like social media platforms themselves, video is increasingly accessible and desired on-the-go. It's one of the easiest formats to consume, and engages the brain on a number of levels. It should be no surprise, then, that whether it's on their homepage or other platforms, videos play a key role in how the Cardinals engage their audience.
Done correctly, even extremely dry material that may be typically ignored can receive increased attention by integrating it into a video. Complicated concepts can be clarified with the combined audio-visual content. Whether you're trying to describe your services or show B2B customers how your business has successfully cornered the market, videos are an easy way to manage it.
Because the consumer journey has become so fragmented, an integrated marketing strategy is extremely important. While variation according to platform is also important, brand consistency through a unified message is even more important. Sending out too many messages can become confusing, especially since many people use multiple platforms all day long. The perfect example for this is looking at the Cardinals promotions, which are similar across platforms, but not identical across platforms, as with the Winter Warm Up:
Now that you understand what the Cardinals have in common with your marketing, you also understand what you don't. It's time to audit your strategy to see if what doesn't align ought to and ensure your marketing strategy knocks it out of the park.