Does Your Marketing Have Game?

UNC Tar Heel Woman's Basketbal vs Francis Marion - 11/5/09

March. Madness.

Around these parts, it’s a pretty darn exciting time, especially if you happen to glimpse a ‘Cinderella’ team that comes from nowhere and goes either all the way or far enough to make you remember who they are and why March Madness is flat out awesome.

Even if you’re not an avid fan, you’ve probably completed a bracket at least once, ahem…won or lost a few bucks on it, and caught the Final Four at a bar with your friends.  It’s fun.

And, it’s EVERYWHERE. It’s a meme that small and large businesses alike jump on and take advantage of.

It’s March Mattress Madness! All new low prices, take advantage now of your slam dunk of savings!!

As I tune in and out of the madness (yes, I do enjoy it!), I’m struck by the sheer number of marketing messages reworked into a March Madness premium ad spot. It’s all basketball, NCAA, or sports related, regardless of the product.  What makes me smile even more is that not only do these spots have game; they have context.

Does Your Marketing Have Context?

Obviously, there are few small business owners, or the marketing firms that work with them, with the NCAA March Madness budgets peppering the line-up. However, that shouldn’t stop any of us from not only recognizing the context within which we’re marketing, but the strategy that goes with it.

That means going well beyond your big idea and your target market. It means digging into the context around you both.  What’s happening in their world? Is it March Madness? Is it daylight saving time? (Somebody throw me an extra hour, would ya?)  Is it SxSW?

Homeless Hotspots Fouled Out

If you missed the tweets, updates and hullabaloo last week, over 20,000 techno savvy and marketing types descended on Austin, TX for SxSW: Interactive (I’ve always pined to go to the music festival myself).  Aside from the rain and long lines, one of the PR misses at SxSW was Homeless Hotspots.

Based on what I have found online, BBH (a New York interactive agency) contacted Front Steps, a homeless shelter in Austin, TX to contract with their residents in order to provide human hotspots throughout the Sx conference.  BBH didn’t just pluck random folks off the street, they went through an organization.  They also went along with the Front Steps recommendations on what to pay these individuals who volunteered for the job.

Whatever your thoughts about the validity or moral issues associated with using the Austin homeless to serve as 4G Hotspots, the bigger hole in that doughnut is the fact that a certain context was lacking when executing the strategy.

The context, admittedly based on what I’ve read about SxSW participants and not from actual participation, is full of lofty ambitions and ideals, high on networking and connections, and entrepreneur mindsets and for the most part, a big PARTY.  For many related to SxSW, whether they attend or not, times are tough. The money isn’t flowing as it once was. Folks are working hard to make dreams come to life.

Sounds like a perfect bunch to interact with the homeless population in a meaningful way, right? Why not set up the context for Sx attendees prior to arrival?

A friend of mine gave me the Homeless Hotspot card that was handed to her as she walked down the street (among the MANY items shoved at you).  It had no context other than another card being pushed at you by a guy or girl in a branded t-shirt.

Why not provide some advance context to set the reception for the message?  I’m betting that would have won fans early on and rather than making this campaign about BBH, or had bad it was for the homeless people participating, made it about HOMELESSNESS!

Tell the Story

Woven throughout the March Madness spots are short vignettes on NCAA athletes, dispelling the myth that all they care about is going Pro, or that they’re just dumb jocks. Their personal stories are woven in.  BBH would have done well to do the same here, in advance of the conference.  Play to the ideals of attendees and their insatiable thirst for a good story.

The Homeless Hotspot participants have lives and stories. Tell them. Give a face to homelessness.  Videos anyone?  There are some great videos on YouTube, but not by BBH.  Sadly, these videos materialized after the roll out.

Interview the participants; highlight their locations and their stories and why they want to be your hotspot. Better yet, give the participants their own cameras and shoot a day in the life of a Hotspot video prior to the event. Use blogger and media relations to connect the dots and tell additional aspects of the larger story.

Set the context before people bump into it. Rather than focusing almost exclusively on the big event or big day with your marketing campaign, lay some groundwork in advance so that folks are ready when the big message hits.

Basketball Image via Flickr

Hotspot Card Image via Erica Allison (given to her by a friend).

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