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Inside Aston Villa’s plans to create a Red Bull-style 'media house'

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Aston Villa FC is looking to up its content game and take advantage of the commercial opportunities of establishing itself as a publisher in its own right.

To lead the charge club hired former producer for Discovery and the BBC, Will Radford, in April 2016 as head of media and content. Prior to joining, Radford spent nearly a decade at Red Bull Media House during its meteoric rise from drinks maker to a media powerhouse. His plans for Aston Villa’s output are just as ambitious.

“It’s about trying to upgrade everything,” he says. “Villa had become very stale and old school in its approach of just looking after owned channels and not talking to new audiences, where people were having conversations about football.”

Villa’s path to becoming a respected publisher is following much the same route as clubs that have gone before it. Though it runs news, features and short videos on its website, it’s been flexing its content-creating abilities on social media, aiming for an output that will “expand reach to go viral more often,” Radford says, especially around key moments in the sporting calendar like transfer deadlines but more frequently on wider issues in the news cycle.

“We've tried to pick up more of what's going on in culture and media to become more of an entertainment brand rather than just a sports brand," he adds.

Facebook, where 2.5 million fans follow it, had been at the heart of this strategy. But Radford explains that in the last six months that's tailed off as a direct result of the platform’s algorithm changes. Facebook has devalued live content – which Aston Villa was heavily investing in – unless ad spend was put behind it. “We've rejigged that and gone heavily on to YouTube and Instagram [instead],” he continues.

Instagram is where it’s seeing the most substantial growth and is also proving to be the most effective, with posts generally getting the highest levels of engagement compared to other channels. It’s now fully “embraced” IGTV, the YouTube-rivalling video tool, and is putting more exclusive content there, such as pre and post-match interviews with players as well as fan ‘vlogs’.

“The numbers are smaller, but the engagement is really strong. We’re trying to serve that with native content now. It's working really well on match days – so things that we might have previously used on Facebook Live we've switched to IGTV and are getting a good response.”

Villa’s growing in-house team are responsible for the vast majority of its content output but it does work with a third-party on more challenging projects. Until recently that was a production firm called Sunset+Vine. It then switched the contract to Unilad, which Radford said would offer “something original and unique”. It was starting to see the first edits of some filming it had done with the viral publisher before it was announced that it had gone into administration.

What the future of that partnership might hold is unclear. But Radford, who was speaking to The Drum before news that Unilad had gone into administration was revealed, was looking for a partner capable of kicking its content production up a notch.

“The logic is clearly to find content that works with both audiences, has a high level of production and a very authentic tone of voice that we need for the audience and ultimately find work that will resonate on both our Villa 'media' channel as well as theirs,” he said.

“It's really exciting for us to be having those conversations with one of the biggest social platforms, rather than all the pressure being on us to come up with new formats in-house.”

With content quality and quantity on the up, Radford has also come to the conclusion – like many traditional publishers – that it's unsustainable to have social platforms sit at the heart of a content strategy. Instead, it wants the long-overlooked Villa website to be what everything else pivots around. As such, it's tapped tech agency Great State to manage a complete overhaul over the coming months.

“The website is still one of our biggest channels in terms of monthly traffic. We see around half a million unique visitors every month. It's a significant, engaged and different audience to that of the fans on social channels,” he continues. “I want that website to become much more of a media hub, so that it showcases more of what we're doing elsewhere, with more integrations.”

The first objective for Great State is to develop a ‘single sign on’, a project that will integrate all of Villa's different channels, including social media, its live-streaming platform, the Aston Villa app and rewards programme, through one log-in function. It will make it easier for fans to move between channels, but it's also a major data play for Villa.

“AVTV used to be a paywall service. But we dropped the paywall to bring more people in and show more people what we're doing as a club and put the content out to a wider audience," Radford says. "Obviously there has to be some kind of value exchange and for us and that's data. Single sign on becomes the way to gather data from every touchpoint and bring it in into the CRM”

Villa's not just after this data to better understand its own fanbase. Similar to the increasing number of metrics that a traditional publisher needs to hand to advertisers, Radford said club sponsors are demanding better insight on who is viewing what content and for how long.

“Our app has grown substantially – we're up to 50,000 monthly active users now which is fairly heavy for a football club – and here's a core fan base in there that are on it for a couple of hours a day. We want to be able to hand off that engaged audience to our partners. The better, more seamless that becomes, and the better the audience and engagement is the more value we have to hand off to partners,” he said.

“More partners are coming to us with that expectation – it’s a serious part of the [sponsorship] deal and offering. It's not just about a bit of branding on the pitch. It's very much about engagement. They want to know open rates to emails and how many eyeballs we can drive to their content.”

It’s recently started to work with Nielsen to accurately measure and “prove the commercial value of content” across all its channels. It remains early days though, and the first time that Aston Villa has had its social media output measured in this way.

“Previously social media hasn't been part of Nielsen’s reporting suite [for us], we would only consider TV minutes and what sort of placement got the best brand and media value," he explains.

"But now, for the first time, we can see where [social] benchmarks against other channels and whether acting like a publisher and putting more on our owned media can balance out against some of those other opportunities. Is a press conference still bets served with a media partner like Sky or do we put it on YouTube? What created the most media value and how do the channels stack up? That's what we're looking at just now.”

These experiments are coming at a crucial time. Under new ownership (Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens tool a controlling stake in the Club six months ago) and with the recruitment of a new team manager nearing its conclusion, Radford says there's a optimism within its halls that change is on the horizon.

"Coming from the chairman, CEO and now the new ownership we've got the opportunity to do things a little differently. And, being outside of the big Premiership spotlight, we need to do things a little differently."

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Getting into home truths: Why is the experience of eCommerce still so poor?

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There’s no denying that the digital world has changed the outside face of marketing. While many of the inner-face principles of marketing have (and always will) remain the same in terms of audience segmentation, targeting and positioning, the way brands now engage with their customers has changed faster in the past 10 years than throughout the rest of history put together.

Now, having a digital presence for large corporations has become the norm. It’s part and parcel of modern marketing. The experience itself has to be great as well, whether it’s on social media, digital advertising, mobile and more, otherwise customers will just go elsewhere. But as brands’ investment in digital properties increases, so too does the challenge of integrating eCommerce, the experience of which is rapidly diminishing for many brands.

Global eCommerce sales are predicted to almost double between 2017 and 2021. But, so many organisations still fail to provide a positive eCommerce experience. This problem is particularly acute at the end of the payment stage where the buyer makes the transaction, which has the highest drop-off rate in the entire online shopping process.

But why is the experience so poor? The reason so many large brands have struggled with the eCommerce experience is because of the rapid speed of change with regards to digital. Just as companies began to get to grips with desktop eCommerce, mobile quickly emerged as another major trend. Then big data. Then personalisation. There has been a lot to keep up with.

This has created different challenges for marketers and eCommerce developers. Merchants and commerce professionals have spent lots of time developing commerce engines that take orders, manage inventories and accept payments – they need to be robust, reliable and trusted. Whereas, marketers have tried to ‘uplevel’ the brand experience to digital – they are under pressure to keep pace with the latest trends. Making these worlds work as one has its own challenges that many companies are just scratching the surface of solving. It's hard, but it’s one that needs work because it hits customers the most.

But what are these issues, exactly?

Unbranded, unpersonalised and clunky

First, on their own, most eCommerce engines don’t offer the flexibility to customise the front end, which creates a jarring templated, shopping experience for the customer with a grid of products to sift through. That’s understandable because branding has never really been eCommerce platform designers’ problem.

But imagine someone who interacts with a brand on social media, is exposed to advertising through multiple channels, and interacts with the brand’s website. Throughout that experience, they’re getting a “feel” for the brand, which suddenly disappears the moment they need to get their credit card out to pay online. Since consumer stress levels rise steadily peaking at the checkout stage, the last thing they need is a poor experience to put them off the purchase entirely.

The sudden change from a warm, personalised experience, ends abruptly as soon as money is on the agenda

Secondly, not only is the checkout stage often unbranded, it’s often not personalised. Many large organisations are investing heavily in personalisation to improve the customer experience, but the lack of content management capabilities with most eCommerce platforms means personalisation falls off a cliff when it comes to the checkout stage. Again, the sudden change from a warm personalised experience ends abruptly as soon as money is on the agenda. It’s as if you’ve suddenly gone cold on the customer for no reason at all.

Finally, because eCommerce platforms are often separate to the brand website, they’re often slower and clunkier than the slick pacey website they’re attached to. Often, shopping sites are separate from brand sites because there are two different technologies supporting both — the CMS for the brand and the eCommerce system for the shopping. For instance, www.brand.com may direct shoppers to www.shop.brand.com. Yet in those scenarios, the experience suddenly becomes inconsistent with what the customer has become used to. The best shopping experience, however, is a unified one, where the brand and shopping experience (or content and commerce) are intertwined.

What to do about it — get the most out of legacy tech and integrate the experience better

The problems above aren’t just small irritations; they’re fundamental issues that are undoing years of hard work from IT teams and marketers who are looking to improve the overall customer experience. Countless studies have shown that a better customer experience leads to more revenue, so what can you do to address this area that’s letting the side down?

The good news is that you don’t need to rip and replace your current eCommerce technology. Instead, consider a “headless” approach. With a headless commerce approach, you decouple the front end part of your shopping experience (the part the customer sees) from the back end (the part your IT team manages) — thereby separating the presentation layer from the eCommerce stack. Decoupling in this way gives you greater flexibility to customise and personalise the part the customer sees without worrying about disrupting the back-end infrastructure. And when you don’t need to worry about the back end, you can be more agile and test features more quickly and efficiently.

Moreover, whenever you as marketers want to integrate any new devices (like mobile), channels (like digital signage or Alexa voice), touchpoints, content or payment gateways you can easily do so through APIs. Then, you can simply focus on the presentation using the framework of your choice — and leave the IT to the IT team.

I really believe that headless commerce is the way to improving the eCommerce experience once and for all. After all, you’ve done all the hard work already getting customers to the checkout stage. Don’t let them fall at the last hurdle.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.

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The future of advertising is not just martech but a re-emphasis on branding

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I believe the next stage of advertising will see the re-emphasis on branding.

Marketing tech has become in vogue and it has its role but in a world dominated by Amazon and a ‘sort by price’, but you can only go so low in terms of price. Also, it’s difficult to differentiate yourself from all the others who have got a ‘4-star rating’ in a process which promises a checkout in mere seconds.

This re-emphasis on branding will not be about the logo or brand colours. Those will be there but businesses will realise that these are details in the larger scheme of things.

What will matter is the impact you have on the world because six things have happened for the first time in the history of business:

We are moving to a world where few brands will control the majority of the market and not just in one industry but across industries.

The five FAANG companies; Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google have a market value greater than India’s economy or more than the companies that comprise Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index, and more than Germany’s Dax and France’s Cac 40 put together.

Businesses are global in their impact, pushing beyond one market.

You can’t be a big retail player in any part of the world and believe you won't have to compete with Amazon or Alibaba, or both.

Businesses will align and may for the first time even compete with governments.

From now on governments may not win in this unlikely competition because, unlike governments, these businesses have become so intrinsic or ‘addictive’ to our lives that we can’t get rid of them and they also can’t be outvoted every four to five years.

Since most of these are tech businesses, the speed at which they scale is faster than ever imagined before.

Thus the impact, good or bad, is far less easy to comprehend now.

Many of them are fundamentally changing how we deal with things.

They are literally playing with our brain chemistry more effectively than ever before and, having their own intelligence (AI), they will self-evolve.

But most importantly… The negative impact of some businesses has moved from something further afield for most to comprehend, such as global warming or poor kids in some part of the world being exploited, to it having an impact on a deeply personal level, such as our own well being, our own society’s freedom thus happiness.

We have all chosen to be quite self-involved when the impact was on others but steadily it’s getting personal.

On the other hand, the positive impact will be movements of equality, self-expression, great ideas and knowledge being spread because of them. Think #metoo, which has spread globally courtesy of Twitter and Facebook. We are also, as in my case, now able to know about some culture through Netflix or buy cacao beans from a small business abroad thanks to e-commerce.

As these businesses have grown bigger, a brand strategy will step in and help others create an identity and a voice, and thus define not just how they market but how they conduct business.

Brand building will have to move beyond tactics and confront some big questions.

What is your purpose? Just financial or a social one too? Are you living your purpose constantly or just in the future? What is your take on culture , for employees and vendors? How do you deal with the community of consumers?

I don’t want to imply a moral code here. Some businesses will want to just make money, have a purely transactional relationship with their customers and employee, and that’s fine. The only difference being that this will define their brand, and in this always-on, information-heavy culture they won’t be able to convince customers otherwise.

Your brand vision will step out from the paper to some action, or else you will just be the benefactor of ‘sort by cheapest’ on Amazon; which is still a perfectly legitimate way to make money but perhaps not the aim a lot of people have.

The difference will be the ability to create and evolve these new age brands and this is something the agencies of the future will also need to do.

Saurabh Parmar is a consultant and trainer for brand, digital and start-up growth.

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What is Guerrilla Marketing? + 5 of Our Favourite Examples to Inspire You

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Guerrilla marketing is an advertising tactic in which a company uses imaginative yet unconventional marketing tactics to promote a product, service or brand without the hefty budget. It is usually completed in public places such as city streets, shopping centres, parks or beaches to maximise its effects and attract a lot of attention from the public.

Guerrilla marketing is different to traditional marketing as it often relies on public interaction and is usually designed to create a memorable experience for the consumer. By creating this experience it will leave an impact on the consumer, hopefully urging the consumer to relay their experience to others or sharing their experience on social media.

Types of Guerrilla Marketing

There are several kinds of guerrilla marketing. Here are some examples of the most common types:

  • Viral – Viral marketing is a type of guerrilla marketing that consists of strategies that encourage individuals to pass on a marketing message to others.
  • Stealth – It refers to a deliberate act of entering, operating in, or exiting a market in a secretive manner. In stealth marketing, people get involved with the product without actually knowing that they are the part of an advertising campaign.
  • Presence – This is about making the business name recognizable and familiar by being visible daily.
  • Ambient – This tactic allows a business to create brand recognition without necessarily pushing their products.
  • Experiential – Experiential marketing aims to give you an experience and lets you interact with the product and associate your immediate emotional responses with that brand.

Some of the lower-cost, high impact guerrilla marketing tools you can use, include:

  • Stickers – Stickers are an inexpensive way to get your brand out there. You can give stickers away at events or even in the street or you can canvas specific locations with branded stickers to advertise a message or attract peoples attention.
  • Flash mobs – Flash mobs are a fun, upbeat way to generate excitement and usually take people by surprise. Having your brand featured on the t-shirts of the dancers will allow the audience to connect the event with your business,
  • Branded pens – Get pens with your brand and get a bunch of employees to spend a day in the city ‘accidentally’ leaving pens everywhere they go or give them out to the public in the street. People keep them and will remember your brand from seeing the pens everywhere they go.
  • Treasure hunts – Consider hosting a treasure hunt that takes people through your city or town and ends up at your business, or cover the treasures with your branding.

Our top 5 favourite examples of Guerrilla marketing:

  1. King Kong 3D Footprints Campaign

To build buzz for the new release of King Kong 3D, giant footprints were carved into the sand at popular beaches causing people to take to social media to share the images. The story made headlines and ended up all over social media.

  1. UNICEF Dirty Water Campaign

A vending machine was set up on the streets advertising dirty water. Instead of different varieties of flavoured water, it was in fact different varieties of diseases found in dirty water such as Malaria, Cholera, and Typhoid.

  1. McDonalds Urban Instalments

McDonald’s took advantage of common elements on the streets to showcase giant versions of their most popular products such as; french fries, chicken nuggets and coffee.

  1. Frontline

Frontline utilised a full floor space in a multi-level shopping centre. From the second level, customers could lean over the floor and look down on a giant dog which looked like he was scratching his ear. Ttaglineine was, “Get them off your dog”, and from the second floor, the people walking across the floor look like fleas irritating the dog.

  1. Coca-Cola Grip Campaign

To advertise its new “grip” bottle, Coca-Cola placed a static-charged ad at a bus stop, which would grip people’s clothing if they stood too near.

Need a little help to ensure your marketing efforts capture the attention of your audience? You’re in the right place, get in touch with our team today to discuss your requirements.

Square Media is Northamptonshire’s premiere Web Design & Marketing Agency experienced in developing effective content and marketing strategies for forward-thinking companies in the local area. Our team of specialists consistently deliver outstanding results working in a variety of areas such as Search Engine Optimisation, Social Media Marketing Consultancy, Pay Per Click (PPC) and AdWords Management amongst a wide range of other services.

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