Tips for achieving cut-through: be real, be personal, be adaptive
How many ads have you seen today? How many of the brands that invested in connecting with you have succeeded?
Research says on average we’re exposed to over 4,000 marketing messages every day and, with trust in advertising at an all-time low (69% of people in the UK distrust online ads), brands face an ever more challenging task in achieving cut-through. Not only have we learned to ignore most ads, but people are increasingly trying to shield themselves from advertising. 30% of all internet users globally now use adblockers and when asked why they cite “too many ads”, “ads are annoying or irrelevant”, and “ads are too intrusive” as their top three motivations.
If users apparently dislike advertising so much, should you still be investing? The answer is yes, but ad creative, like organic content has to be - as we say at Seven League - creatively valuable before it’s commercially viable.
If you’re spending money to reach audiences you can adopt an ad approach which is interruptive (this is becoming more costly, less efficient and ultimately offers a poor user experience) or you can adopt an approach which is more additive. The campaigns that we’ve run that have been most successful in recent times add to fans’ experience in three ways:
Organisations need to shift from marketing at audiences, to marketing with them and for them. Sports organisations too often take fans’ loyalty for granted, when this is something that needs to be cultivated over time. Building a community can be an incredibly powerful way of establishing authenticity but doing it is not for the faint-hearted, it takes a great deal of time and effort.
We’ve experienced it first hand with the Fan Movement by FIFA, which has quickly become a key asset for FIFA to deliver on their mission to Create, Connect and Champion global football communities.
The process to build this community started back in 2017 and it took a great deal of time and energy to research and recruit members of the community as well as full-time, multi-lingual community managers to keep fans active and engaged 24/7.
The result so far is a community of 700+ members in 50+ countries that has fundamentally changed the relationship between FIFA as an organisation and the billions of football fans across the globe, empowering them to have their voices heard in manners and contexts unheard of in the past.
Once you’ve laid the foundations and maintain an engaged community, what you need to stand out in the attention economy is content and messages that are relevant and feel personal to the audience receiving them. Personalisation is not a new concept in marketing, however the much-vaunted “audience of one” still hasn’t been achieved even by the largest media companies, so it will take sport some time yet.
You have a decision to make on what personalisation looks like for your marketing campaigns. The key is choosing a number of personas for segmentation that matches the ability of your organisation to customise and execute marketing campaigns.
Start with insights on how fans engage with your organisation across all touchpoints and understand what drives different audiences. At this point, consider the level of sophistication that you can apply based on resources available. Building personalisation into your marketing campaign means that effectively you’re no longer running a single campaign but rather multiple campaigns for as many audiences you’ve identified.
This is how The FA and Seven League approached the launch of the FA’s Matchday app, developed to automate everything around grassroots football life. We ran four campaigns, based on an insights-driven decision that these were the key audiences and the core use cases for the product.
Choosing four segments instead of fragmenting the audience further meant we were able to provide a personal and relevant experience for each core profile (through tailored messaging, assets and distribution), while delivering a campaign that matched the ability of The FA team to manage it on their channels.
Traditionally organisations have planned campaigns, created assets, bought media and then sat back to see the results coming through. This approach no longer works. To keep pace with how fans consume content in the attention economy, a shift is required from planning everything upfront towards creating something that can be refined throughout the campaign.
You still need a plan, however being adaptive and evolving the campaign becomes part of the process rather than being an unexpected hurdle.
At Seven League we frequently mention the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act), originally created for military strategy, as being applicable to marketing. Observing your campaign and monitoring its impact is the starting point to be able to Orient its course based on new information. Then you Decide to experiment with variations to maximise campaign performance before Acting upon feedback from testing and stating the loop again.
If we apply this process to marketing, A/B testing (and multi-variant testing on a more complex scale) becomes critical to generate the best possible return for your campaign.
In sports, organisations need to own the moment and be on top of what happens on and off the field of play. Not only this means testing and changing live campaigns based on their performance, but also adapting them to game-related events.
We’ve recently run a campaign on behalf of a top football client and the approach we’ve taken was to publish 30% of the output as “evergreen” content (more generic and always relevant), while the remainder was constantly adapted throughout the campaign based on several factors including team results, player performance and key match action.
Being adaptive is as essential to maximise paid marketing activity as it is to improve the chances your organic content will be surfaced on your fans’ channels. The principles described above can be applied to the day-to-day planning and management of marketing and promotional activity within sports organisations to ensure you succeed in the attention economy.
If you’re looking at ways in which your content, both paid and organic, can achieve greater cut-through we’d love to talk.