Think like an athlete to compete on social

Following his recent keynote at the D&AD Creative Festival, on 13th June Group Creative Director of We Are Social Sport, Gareth Leeding hosted Think Like an Athlete’ – a masterclass on how to use agile and long-term brand thinking to create world-class campaigns on social. Here’s his key learnings.

Go back 30 years and sport gave fans everywhere a moment to pause. Matches being broadcast at set times brought everyone together to watch the game play out on the same channel at the same time.

Fast forward and today’s digital landscape means that fans can now watch sports live, on-the-go and on-demand, through a range of platforms and channels, wherever and whenever they want.

In addition to this, as more and more broadcast rights are being bought up by social networks, social media is also opening up a greater shared-viewing experience – where fans can comment, share and react in real-time. For brands looking to build brand awareness and connect with sports fans online, this increasingly social space offers a wealth of opportunities.

But how can brands get this right and think like an athlete to sharpen their content online?

Be both Usain and Mo
In the human body, there are fast-twitch (sprint) and slow-twitch (endurance) fibres and, depending on your individual DNA, you’ll have more of one than the other. This will impact the speed that you can react to something, or how you endure it long-term.

The same is true for brands on social. The key, however, is to be both fast and enduring if they want to truly create moments in sports culture which resonates with fans and builds affinity to a brand.

Be fast: speed is everything in social. But to be fast, you need to know which stories you’re going after. Brands need to have content planned out and be able to anticipate the key moments they want to react to. This can be club transfers, match wins or big retirements. Pogba x Stomzy is a prime example.

Be first or be different: while it’s important to be the first to react to a big moment in sports culture when it breaks, if your brand can’t react until the next day then adding your own brand message is key to standing out online and building a narrative that works for you.

Be innovative: in addition to people, news and products; platform updates and innovations are another area where brands can really stand out in social. adidas’ Xeno campaign, a world-first project that used Instagram’s then newly launched Poll feature to co-create a running trainer with its fans, showcases just how a brand can quickly react to a platform update and tie it into audience insights to create a winning campaign.

But, while these cultural moments burn bright and have the potential to put the brand at the heart of conversations around sports culture, they also burn fast (and burn out). So, endurance is also key.

Be insightful: to create long-term brand awareness and affinity among sporting fans, it’s key to understand their relationship with sport, their passion points, and the role it plays in their lives. Drawing on this audience insight will allow you to tell a much deeper, longer story.

Be iconic: while 17 of the 20 Premier League clubs looking to connect with the next generation of fans to find a new star for their e-Premier League teams went traditional, Chelsea FC pulled out all the stops.

The club worked with some of the biggest names from across its men’s, women’s and Academy teams to create a killer announcement video (generating the most sign-ups of any club within 24 hours). The ongoing hunt played out on social, keeping the narrative going for months after the initial launch.

Be focused on experiences that create fame: adidas’ Tango Squad FC campaign took a group of local football influencers and brought them into the limelight through a two-season documentary on YouTube.

Over the 23 episodes, what really connect the players with the adidas brand was their experiences – the players they got to meet, the stadiums they got to train at, and the products and news they got before anybody else. The response turned the campaign into a moment within sports culture. A moment that saw 20,000 fans sign up for Tango Squad FC trials around the world.

Being a longer-term campaign, Tango Squad was also able to evolve. To test what did and didn’t work over its four-year duration and feed these learnings back into a formula that kept fans engaged and returning again and again.

TL;DR: The speed of the feed is also a key factor for brands to consider. On average, people now scroll 90 meters per day. Coincidentally, the length of a football pitch! So, however brands approach this methodology, they need to be creative, fast and enduring.

If you’re fast, you need to identify your moment, hone your narrative and execute it with a unique creative angle. If you’re enduring, identify an original audience insight and deliver it with a memorable brand activation. If you’re both, you’ll unlock the power of sport and social to win both the marathon and the sprint.

For more from our ‘Think Like An Athlete’ Masterclass, check out the full live stream of the event on our Facebook page.