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What can football teach you about content strategy?

What can football teach you about content strategy?

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Football fans witnessed the death of a dynasty this season. Whether you were cheering or sobbing as the Patriots sang their swan song, history was made—and now, days away from Super Bowl LIV, fans are in for a wild, unpredictable ride. Gridiron Digest describes this year’s match-up between the 49ers and the Chiefs as “the NFL’s most explosive offense versus its most devastating defense“.

Because our strategy brains never shut off, this season has gotten us thinking. Our revelation this year? That pro football tactics and content marketing strategies really aren’t so different. In fact, they share some of the same core questions and considerations:

  • What delivers/converts better, offensive prowess (taking first-mover advantage) or defensive expertise (learning from failures)?
  • Are tried-and-true offensive plays more effective than choreographed trick plays that open up the field?
  • What converts the fans?
  • Where should we invest, and when is it time to retire a strategy or sit a player?
  • What, ultimately, will win the game—and the season?

The 49ers have literally run through all challengers, while the Chiefs have already defied the odds this postseason—albeit to dig themselves out of self-inflicted holes. As strategists, we don’t view a strong defense or offense as a reliable indicator of future success. Rather, it’s the team better able to anticipate and adapt to their opponent’s game strategy that is most likely to triumph.

Although we can’t predict the outcome of the big game (we’d be writing this from our private island in the Maldives if we could…), we can adapt a few football best practices to the world of content. Want to hone your content strategy like an NFL franchise preparing for the big game? Let’s kick off!

  1. Train for all weather

    No one hopes to play in the snow. But, since NFL stadiums across the country have varying levels of protection against the elements, there are no guarantees for the condition of the field on game day. The only way to beat the weather is to be adaptable. Similarly, a content strategy that only plans for ideal conditions is susceptible to uncontrollable factors like market changes, new brand entrants, and other inclement weather.

    American football field end zone under winter snow, cold and empty post season sports stadium in sunlight under blue skies, Pennsylvania, PA, USA.

    The most successful brands prepare for the worst and stay resilient, building strategies intended to thrive in less-than-ideal conditions. The advantage here is that while your opposition is waiting for the snowplow, you’ve got your team running the ball like the Packers at Lambeau Field.

  2. Don’t rely on Hail Mary passes

    There are few things as exciting as long, low-percentage passes that snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with just seconds on the clock. Unfortunately, plays made in choreographed desperation rarely pay off. In fact, there have been 193 Hail Mary attempts since the start of the 2009 season—only 16 of which resulted in a touchdown. Considering that’s roughly one in every 12 attempts, the odds aren’t in the desperate team’s favor.

    So, how do brands avoid relying on the Hail Mary pass? Consistency. Now, we’re not saying that more football games would be won this way, but we do believe that consistent, incremental improvements and learning are the best foundation for a strategy with longevity.

    Consider Tom Brady’s TB12 method. In his book, Brady describes his approach to building pliable muscle that disperses impact when he takes a hit. This concept can be applied to strong strategies that are built to be agile and responsive instead of dense and inflexible. While Brady’s diet and health regime may not be for everyone (or encouraged by doctors), there’s no denying it has worked for this six-time Super Bowl winner.

  3. Build a team, not a star

    Football wouldn’t be football without the “teamwork makes the dream work” platitudes we’ve all heard in locker rooms and small-town sports dramas. But what can we learn from these old chestnuts about combining skills to build a high-performance team?

    American football players in a team huddle

    When it comes to football, the adages about focusing on a common goal instead of individual glory sets great teams aside from average ones. While franchise quarterbacks like Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger have been instrumental to their teams’ successes, they fit into a larger objective and work within it.

    Similarly, a strong content strategy doesn’t base the success of the campaign on one singular element. Instead, it will draw strength from each channel and tactic—from proper audience definition and targeting to strong SEO practices and content mapping—instead of relying on just one to succeed.

  4. Know your fan base

    Team loyalties have become legacy commitments, passed down from parents to children and revered as family lore. College ball or big league, fan bases are central to team culture and morale—and some teams get more love than others. Take the green Bay Packers, for example. According to Forbes, Green Bay is the NFL’s smallest market but boasts the highest fan percentage by metro population. Of those 300,000 people, only 16% of people in the area *aren’t* cheeseheads. Wow. (It certainly helps that the Packers have won 13 divisional championships and swooped four Super Bowl successes…)

    A group of friends cheering while watching a sports game at a bar

    Yet fans of less successful teams, like the Jets and the Browns, seem undeterred. Despite Ws being few and far between, these fans keep the faith, sure that every September marks the beginning of their year. These are not fair-weather fans, but instead contribute to the spirit and determination of their team as they forge ahead.

    Just like NFL teams, every brand has its own fan base. Once a brand accepts that they can’t be everything to everyone, that’s when the true opportunity begins. As Thackeray put it, “whatever you are, be a good one”. Which is to say that no brand will ever please every person—and trying to do so only dilutes brand identity and makes it harder for true loyalists to connect. The key is to identify and engage your most loyal advocates, finding ways to reward their loyalty and encourage them to share their experience with others.

Trying to make tangible progress towards the end zone? Our data-driven content strategies are designed to do exactly that, aligning seamlessly with media and creative to create a relentless ROI driver. Arrange a team talk with us if you want to know more.


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