Sport has also become digitized and so have its marketing and communication strategies. But what are the elements that make up digital marketing for the sport industry? They are based on experience and arrives at the use of “wearable” devices to collect data. Without ever forgetting one thing: at the center now more than ever must be the user.
Digital marketing for sports is now a reality, in the sense that the digital transformation, among the many sectors it has touched, has also reached this business sector, revolutionizing its dynamics
To the point that it is now unthinkable to imagine a complete and effective marketing strategy without also developing a part that presides over the digital area, exploiting the available tools and technologies.
This is all the more so if we refer to a business like sports, which by its very nature lends itself particularly well to using digital languages, also because it is adjacent to the entertainment sector, with which it shares many of the same language and mechanisms.
What do we mean by “digital marketing for sports”?
Before delving into this topic and analyzing its most interesting aspects, it’s worth taking a step back and clarifying what we’re talking about when we use the term “digital marketing” so that we can clearly see how it fits into the sports sector.
According to Gartner, digital marketing is: “a set of integrated techniques, technologies and information that enables marketing to create new products and services; enter new markets; improve the processes needed to engage in a dynamic conversation with people who are influencers and buyers; and ultimately target, acquire and retain customers.”
The synergy between the techniques, technologies, and information highlights the hybrid nature of digital marketing that remains faithful to the typical logic of traditional marketing but reinterprets it in the light of the new possibilities provided by digitalization.
Moreover, experts in the sector have pointed out this transformation, stressing how this new way of marketing has led to integration of the famous 4Ps – product, price, place, and promotion – with the so-called 4Es, i.e. experience, exchange, everywhere, and evangelism.
At the center, there is no longer simply the product, but the experience, which in turn stimulates and helps create a strong relationship of closeness and loyalty between brand and customer, which is the engine that drives the search for new experiences.
Among other things, digital technologies are formidable tools for maintaining this bond and this constant hunger for experiences and emotions that sport, like few other things, manages to provide.
But at this point the question to ask is one: how can this be achieved through digital marketing?
A passion that follows you
Let’s start with a not insignificant fact: many people love to play sports.
Suffice it to say that, according to FIFA, more than 260 million people play soccer, or 4% of the world’s population (realbuzz.com).
Basketball, for its part, also has a large number of fans: there are an estimated 400 million players around the world, both professional and amateur.
Not to mention those who play individual sports such as running or cycling.
This means that there are millions and millions of people who engage in sports every day, who could become customers or users and who therefore constitute the target audience of many companies operating in the sports sector.
But while there were previously few touchpoints that could be activated to intercept these individuals, digital transformation has provided some particularly effective solutions to track this cohort of non-professional athletes and reach them with truly relevant content.
In this case, we’re referring to the large number of smartphone applications designed for those who engage in physical activity.
There are so many types, from those for simply working out at home, to those for running, counting steps, cycling, and so on.
One of the most interesting and particularly successful example of how digital marketing can be applied to the sports sector is that of Nike. By downloading this app, the user finds himself in a perfectly immersive universe where he can choose his own workouts and set goals and results.
But that’s not all.
Thanks to the tracking that these apps provide, every day the user gets workout proposals specifically designed for him to be purchased by associating with a premium package.
In addition, the application is also equipped with an editorial offer that provides the user with more inspirational and educational content to give him the right advice on how to train, what to eat, and ultimately to keep him on the platform as much as possible.
Also because the platform includes a part dedicated to purchases, which is not simply limited to workout packages, but includes various items, to which the user is naturally taken once he reads an article or follows a specific workout.
This perfectly sums up the approach and engagement method that can be carried out through digital marketing tools.
As seen above, in fact, the object on which we focus is no longer the product but the user, who is at the center of an experience that is as personalized as possible and adapted to his or her characteristics.
This experience, among other things, combines functional elements (specific training), editorial elements (blogs, diets, etc.) and those more related to a conversion phase (purchase of products, subscriptions, etc.), so as to be as complete and immersive as possible, thus building a stable and lasting relationship of attendance and loyalty with the user.
And all this is done through digital technologies in a “mobile” format – which satisfies one of the four E’s seen above, “everywhere” – inaugurating a new way of engaging people, literally “on top” of them.
The growth of new touchpoints
One of the great advantages of digital marketing is that it has all the tools to create and exploit new touchpoints.
In the case of sports, a valuable and strategically important touchpoint is wearable accessories, which are now an essential component of any athlete’s equipment.
Among fitness bracelets, shoes with tracking devices, smartwatches to download sports and wellness applications, wearables are becoming more and more widespread, becoming an increasingly important product category of great interest for the main players in the sector (corrierecomunicazioni.it).
Suffice it to say that although the recent health emergency has imposed a definite slowdown on the sector, this market segment has not stopped growing, albeit at a slower pace than before (ilfattoquotidiano.it).
Apple alone, for example, in the first part of 2020 – thus in the early phase of the pandemic – sold more than 7 million of its Apple Watch, a 23% increase compared to the same period in 2019. And even though the increase in sales of fitness bracelets was lower than in previous years, the value of this segment remains around 17%, while still maintaining a stable annual growth rate of around 2.4% (hwupgrade.it).
This means that not even the health crisis has been able to put a strain on sports wearables and, on the contrary, the forced lockdown has pushed many more people to rediscover sports and these accessories, to the benefit of players who can exploit them within their marketing strategies.
Digital marketing is worn on the wrist
The question, as always, is: how?
In reality, the ways to do so are different depending on the results being pursued; despite this, many interesting ways can coexist effectively.
Wearables, first of all, are a valuable source of data.
Not only do they record individuals’ workouts and performance data, but they also track their habits and behaviors, reporting, for example, the most followed route, training times, favorite circuits, etc.
All of this is fundamental because it opens up the possibility for companies to profile users in a very precise way, hyper-personalizing any advertising communications subject to subsequent retargeting.
Among other things, the use of wearables within digital marketing strategies makes it easier for industry players to create a fluid and efficient integrated omnichannel retailing structure.
Based on the indications provided by wearables and taking advantage of new digital geolocation solutions, it is possible to reach the user with relevant and perfectly calibrated messages both in terms of timing and content, which integrate perfectly with the needs and expectations of individuals.
For example, by exploiting geolocation, you can think about creating precise offers aimed at users in certain areas frequented by athletes or who do engage in physical activity near the company’s stores.
Among other things, wearables make it possible to rethink the way you reach users, for example by sending a notification during the use of a certain application so as not to be perceived as an annoying interruption.
Digital marketing speaks social
Another way that digital marketing can exploit these devices is to use them as “bait” for users on social networks.
It’s no coincidence that most of the apps dedicated to sports and fitness require access to a social network. In this way, users are increasingly inclined to share their results on their profiles and this is essential for collecting more data and keeping the conversation active regarding the company and its products, without necessarily putting them at the center of communication.
After all, social is a fundamental component of any digital marketing strategy, especially when it comes to sports.
Social networks must be managed since they are the place where people share their hobbies and passions.
Just look at how many pages and profiles are dedicated to certain sports or teams: These are all areas of interest to monitor and analyze in order to profile passionate users and build a lasting digital relationship with them.
It’s never just a post
To be able to do this, you need to build a clear and precise digital identity and create relevant content for your users, dosing the emotional and marketing components correctly.
Also because on social networks, more than ever, ” content is king.”
But of course, it’s never that simple, since it’s once again the timing and personalization of messages that count.
On the one hand, it is important to manage the editorial plan of your social profile in order to build a coherent and uninterrupted narrative that can be followed by everyone.
On the other hand, it is necessary to create posts that allow you to create highly targeted advertising campaigns where different users, with their own unique characteristics and browsing habits, can be reached by personalized and, therefore, more relevant messages.
In this sense, digital marketing modifies the approach to sports communication, once again balancing functional editorial content with more emotional or empowerment content, which aims to keep the user’s passion alive by tying it as closely as possible to a brand or a company, which takes on the task of expressing it in the best possible way and providing all the necessary tools to increase it.
Among other things, this demonstrates that in the perspective of a good digital marketing strategy, every action carried out serves both to pursue certain marketing objectives and to consolidate its image.
The digital marketing of sport is also that of influencers
Another way for digital marketing to grow and consolidate a given sports business is to exploit the digital dynamics of influencer marketing.
After all, it is now known that athletes at certain levels can become real influencers who are capable of modifying the behavior and choices of a large number of passionate users.
Also in this case, digital tools are fundamental for boosting this relevance, going beyond classic sponsorships and image sales contracts.
In this sense, the sports influencer has a strategic role within the sector, since, regardless of which sport is practiced, he or she can become an effective medium for generating online engagement, both for themselves and for their team (insidemarketing.it).
On their side, these figures clearly have the notoriety and admiration of fans, but even in this case, strategic management of this “fame” is needed in order to properly exploit it while avoiding the risks associated with overexposure.
On the other hand, these figures can be used to develop creative and engaging campaigns that are capable of surprising users, producing various benefits: from the introduction of new trends to the acquisition of data, up to defining a new positioning for the team or the entire league.
No longer just sport
Perhaps the most important – and conclusive – consideration to be made when talking about digital marketing applied to sports is that, as never before, sports is no longer just about a sport.
In addition to representing an increasingly important business, it is also a sought-after territory to conquer for all new technologies and digital solutions, since it has specific characteristics that are fundamental for digital marketing: the importance of the experience, the centrality of the human element, the strong identity relationship.
This is in addition to a strong ability to build emotionally involving stories, which is the basis of modern, effective, and essential digital communication.