Rules of Consumer Engagement
What Sports Marketing Has Taught Me About Making Connections
By: John Brody Bio Published: February 14, 2011
One of the hottest marketing buzzwords these days is "engagement." It's easy to see why: In a world of
DVRs and digital downloads, where consumers are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages a
day, "traditional" advertising has lost much of its punch. Engaging people -- that is, enticing them to invest
their time and attention in interactive and shared experiences -- is a powerful way to create an emotional
connection with a brand. But as many marketers have learned the hard way, just building an iPhone app,
sending out an email newsletter or starting a blog doesn't guarantee a real connection.
As someone who has spent the last 15 years in the sports-marketing arena, I've spent countless hours
thinking of methods to engage consumers. After beginning my career on Madison Avenue at a major ad
agency, I served as chief marketing officer of the Boston Celtics and spent 12 years as a senior sales and
marketing executive at Major League Baseball. Recently, I joined global sports marketing agency Wasserman
Media Group as a principal and its head of global sales and business development. It's been an exciting and
memorable journey that has given me a window into many different types of sports businesses. It's also
taught me a great deal about how media and content must work together to connect consumers with
We all know that the key to marketing anything is identifying the needs or desires of the potential customer.
If you're marketing an insurance product, a pharmaceutical drug or a sports drink, your customers' needs,
respectively, might be financial security, a healthier life or a thirst quencher. But the need sports satisfies is
different; it is less tangible and reactive. It is differentiating because it is emotional, it is passionate and it is
built into our persona as we grow and learn who we are. When I first got into this business, I thought fans
were simply looking for entertainment, a diversion from the challenges of daily life. But as I learned more, I
discovered that sports fills a deeper emotional need for communal experiences -- of delivering hope,
anticipation, excitement and shared memories.
Let me give you an example. When I first started to dig in at the Celtics, I asked to see the materials and data
that led to the team's branding message, as well as what the team's brand message actually was. I was
impressed to learn it had been written by none other than my boss, the legendary Red Auerbach, the team's
former coach, general manager and, at the time, president and vice chairman. The message was simple and
brief: "To win championships." It was an understandable approach for Auerbach, who had won a record-
breaking nine titles during his tenure as coach. But it had been years since the team claimed its 16th NBA
title in the mid-1980s, which meant we were failing at our marketing message each year we didn't bring
home the Larry O'Brien trophy. We were actually under-delivering to our fans, and we were disappointing
Continued-AdAge CMO Strategy - Rules of Consumer Engagement
What Sports Marketing Has Taught Me About Making Connections
So I suggested a different strategy. It occurred to me that we were in the business of providing our fans
not an unbroken string of wins and limitless success, but rather the aspirational possibility -- the hope --
of another win. So we transformed our message to "Green 17," branding the team's quest for its 17th
title, while emphasizing the connection to our signature color. The message to our loyal fans was simple:
Show your support for the team's mission by wearing something green. We tied our quest to their hope
and rallied behind something they could act on: Celtic Green!
That's engagement in its simplest form.
Today, there's so much choice (aka clutter) in the marketplace, not just in sports but in all media, that it's
essential to be relevant and know what your consumer wants. Sometimes the easiest way to figure out
how to engage your audience is to put yourself in their shoes -- or on their couch.
Shortly after I joined MLB, in 1999, we were looking for a platform that would truly resonate with
baseball fans and be a viable marketing program for our corporate partner, MasterCard. We knew that
baseball fans are obsessed with the statistics and records that allow them, however imperfectly, to
compare players from different eras. So we came up with the concept of an All-Century Team. We
thought, what baseball fan hasn't gotten into the water-cooler argument about who was the best second
baseman ever? So we asked fans to choose the 100 best players of the century. As fans with a passion for
baseball ourselves, we knew it was a dialogue we would want to be a part of. It turned out to be the most
successful promotion for MLB or MasterCard. Note: The success of All-Century Team led to the 2002 MLB
Memorable Moments platform, also executed with MasterCard, where we asked our fans to choose their
"most memorable moment" in MLB history.
Today I'm focused on growing the agency's domestic and international businesses. In this role overseeing
our evolution and expansion, I am constantly reminding myself and my team that we must connect with
the consumers and deliver them hope. We must also never lose sight of what programs would matter to
us, as fans, because the moment we lose our fandom we have lost our connection.
One of the things I love about my new job is the challenge of putting myself in the mindset of sports fans
around the world -- cricket fans in Mumbai, football fans in New York and basketball fans in Spain. I learn
something new every day. (I guess you could say I'm engaged.)
But whatever the sport and whatever the country, the goal is always the same: Find the need, know your
audience and create a program that resonates with them emotionally.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Brody joined Wasserman Media Group in August where he is a principal and member of the executive
management team based in New York. A 15-year sports industry veteran, Brody spent 12 years at Major League
Baseball, the last seven as a senior VP, leading the corporate sales and marketing division. Brody also spent two
years as exec VP-CMO of the Boston Celtics. He also spent four years at Y&R. Brody is a three-time winner of the
Sports Business Journal "Forty Under 40 Award" and is a member of its Hall of Fame.