Why do we continue to buy tickets to games for teams with consistent losing records?
Why do we participate in traditions for our alma mater, even if we know they will lose this weekend?
Why do we travel across the country for a bowl game our team is projected to lose?
It’s possible to argue that the reason we love our favorite sports team is not because they always win, but because of the feeling they give us by attending games, participating in traditions, and making us feel part of the family. These examples are all contributions provided to us by a team’s brand personality.
What is brand personality?
Brand personality refers to a set of human characteristics that are attributed to a brand name. In order to be effective, a brand will stick to one set of personality characteristics that fans or consumers can identify over time. A great brand personality will help to build brand equity, or a social value that helps to generate revenue.
Why does brand personality matter in sports?
Giving sports organizations an identifiable personality and story helps fans relate to the team. It is fair to argue that the community and feelings that a team conveys in their marketing is more impactful for fans than actually winning. The most dedicated fans will still buy season tickets, even if their team was 0-10 last season. While winning is a huge driving force in revenue generation, the excitement, culture, and community of sports is what keeps fans involved and dedicated to their favorite team. Each of these are examples of strategies used by athletic organizations to build their brand personality.
How do we create brand personality in sports?
- Define the target audience
- Establish a brand voice
- Determine the best platforms
- Deliver the message
- Interact with your fan base
- Build consistency over time
Case Study: West Virginia University Athletics
West Virginia University is an example of an athletic organization that has a strong brand personality that has been built over the course of many generations. WVU has built their personality through traditions, slogans, state representation, and social media to convey a brand personality that resonates with not only students, but the residents of the state as a whole. WVU has a unique stance as the flagship institution of West Virginia, and uses it to their advantage through their marketing.
Step One: Define the target audience
Defining the target audience is essential for a brand to understand who they are marketing to and what type of personality will resonate most with them. Some examples of questions that a brand can ask themselves about their target audience include: Who are they specifically? Where do they find their information? What do they value? Where are they located physically? Each of these questions helps to identify and understand the target audience, which allows a brand to determine what type of messages will speak to them. In the example of WVU Athletics, the target audience can range from students, alums, and residents of the state. This audience can be broken down into smaller segments such as their involvement at WVU, how often they physically attend events, and what types of products or experiences they choose to spend money on.
Step Two: Establish the brand voice
Choosing adjectives that reflect who the brand wants to be will better enforce their personality to a fan base or consumer. These words can include character or personality, the tone of voice, and the language that will be used throughout the marketing. Some words that come to mind when thinking of WVU’s brand voice include tough, gritty, hard-working, strong. These words can be seen through a number of different tactics by WVU, such as traditions, slogans, and hometown representation. Some traditions at WVU include singing Country Roads by John Denver, the Mountaineer Man Trip, the selection of the Mountaineer mascot, and the ‘let’s go!’ chant. The ‘let’s go!’ chant is also a slogan that is widely used by Mountaineer fans across the country when they see someone else wearing the flying WV. It is also part of the physical brand design across all areas of the university. Finally, hometown representation helps to tie in the homegrown, hard-working adjectives in the brand voice. WVU represents the state through their images of coal mining themes on social media and through their uniforms.
Step Three: Determine the best platforms
Now that the target audiences have been identified, a brand has to identify where they spend most of their time. Delivering messages to the platform that our target audience uses the most will help to enforce the brand personality ideas over time. Most college students are active on social media, making this the best platform for sharing messages. According to Hootsuite, nearly 30% of Instagram’s advertising audience are college-aged, or 18-24 years of age. This makes Instagram the perfect platform for WVU Athletics to market to their students. Using Instagram is an easy and effective way to keep a brand personality consistent over time. In the example of WVU, their football team’s profile keeps consistent filters, color schemes, icons, post schedules, and captions.
Alumni of WVU have the opportunity to stay up to date with university news via the WVU Alumni app. WVU has over 210,000 alumni across the world that stay connected to news, sports, and events on the WVU Alumni app. This makes it easy to link stories, images, and information for alumni to easily access.
Finally, the residents of West Virginia rely heavily on print media for news and sports updates from the flagship institution of their state. WVU Athletics has numbers of correspondence and coverage from all different areas of the state. Newspapers throughout West Virginia share stories, images, and recaps of WVU games for residents. This helps to further enforce statewide representation to the people of West Virginia.
Step Four: Deliver the message
After determining the best platform to market to a fan base or consumer, the actual delivery of the messages must take place. Sharing photos, videos, highlights, and more unique content on the appropriate platform will help to engage the target audience. This can be important for social media delivery, Alumni updates via the app, and consistent stories and updates in newspaper articles. Keeping a routine schedule helps to enforce the idea that the brand is here to stay, and so is their personality. Up-to-date information also contributes to the overall success of the brand personality, which drives brand equity from fans and consumers.
Step Five: Interact with the fan base
Sharing a brand personality is a start, but engaging fans to keep them involved is essential. Brands can invite their fans to tell their stories and share their experiences. Social media is a fantastic tool that allows brands to connect directly to their fan base. This can involve posting polls, creating hashtags, asking interactive questions, and sharing fan-created photos or content. Responding to comments, messages, and engagements helps to build trust between fans and brands. Inviting alumni to events on and off campus and encouraging them to connect with one another helps to create a sense of community. Contests or giveaways through newspaper articles helps to engage print media audiences and helps them to feel more engaged. Each example persuades the audience to become more involved with the brand and helps to hold their attention.
Step Six: Build consistency over time
Each of these strategies are a great start to building an impactful brand personality, but consistency is key when cultivating and maintaining relationships with a team. Developing social media schedules, building teams to proofread copy, and identifying achievable goals will help keep a brand, or team, on track to create loyal fans and boost brand equity. While the performance of a team cannot be determined by the marketers behind it, the experiences and feelings of the fans supporting the team can. Building a brand personality that is relatable and identifiable to fans is essential to creating connections and continuing a lifelong relationship with a team.