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How to Build Your Brand to Strengthen Your Marketing Efforts

Mary Pink's picture

By Mary Pink
Iowa State Athletics

Building your brand is about telling your story. You have to be able to tell your story in order to connect your brand to your fans. In sports, fans need to feel an emotional connection to your team in order to buy tickets, merchandise or donate. This month, I will share several ways to build your brand.

Consider Using a Slogan
Do you know what your brand stands for? What do you want your story to be or how do you want your brand to connect with the fans?

First, you need to assess your brand and what it means to your fan base. What are your fans saying about your brand? Survey your ticket buyers, monitor message boards or engage your fan base on your social media channels. Once you have your feedback in hand, this can help shape your brand. Using a slogan is one way to help shape your brand. Using a campaign slogan was one of the main strategies we used to build our brand at Iowa State.

In 2008, we hadn’t had a consistent winning tradition but we had a new football coach, Paul Rhoads. Many of our fans, while excited about a new coach, felt betrayed by our former coach leaving after only two years. The fans were concerned about the direction of the program. The fans needed to feel the football program and the fan base were moving forward in the same direction. In a meeting with our ad agency, The Meyocks Group, we discussed our brand and what it meant to our fans. Through this discussion the “CyclONEnation” and “ONE” campaign were developed. The slogan was used to convey we were together as one. Most importantly, the slogan was easy to understand and built an emotional connection between the fans and our football program. This is important because I have witnessed other slogans that needed to be explained or conveyed the wrong message and when this happens, it can convey a negative connection and tell the wrong story. The football poster and other marketing materials were used to kick off the campaign. The slogan was a tremendous success, and we have continued to utilize the “ONE” campaign the past several years in the following themes: Proud to Be ONE, We Are ONE (Be There. Become One) and this year’s slogan There’s Only ONE - CyclONEnation.

Utilize Other Resources
Winning helps, but you also need to build your brand in other ways. Following our launch of the “CyclONEnation” campaign, we utilized other components. Utilizing community relations, our various partnerships, digital and social media have been ways to help solidify our branding efforts.

Community Relations
In addition to your marketing materials, several other pieces should go into building your brand. Encourage your head coach to reach out to the community. Coach Rhoads was a big asset for our program because he grew up here in Iowa and was seen as one of “us”. I tried to play up this factor by featuring him more in our advertising. Initially, we did a voice drop to our fans from Coach Rhoads introducing himself. Another touch point was a thank-a-thon conducted by our football players. We gathered the team one night and had them call each of our season ticket holders and thank them for their support. We received tremendous positive feedback as our fans loved the personal touch and the fact that the Iowa State football program reached out to connect with them.

Develop Partnerships
One of our partnerships was with our licensing department on campus. Licensing supported the campaign by creating their own ONE campaign – with dramatic visual prints using the slogans -ONE STATE, ONE BIRD and ONE RIVALRY. These prints were given to retailers who carried Iowa State merchandise throughout central Iowa. For professional, minor league or other teams, other options could include enlisting retail sponsors and radio or TV affiliates.

Additionally, we created merchandise with our theme on it four months before the season opener so our fans could become walking billboards for our brand messaging.

Integrate Social and Digital Media into your Marketing Mix
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram have become a great way to market our brand and build our fan base. And the best part… it’s free. Engagement has been one of the best ways that has helped our social media growth. If you can get your fans to talk about your brand on social media then your fans can become brand advocates. Rather than just posting press releases or information on Facebook, we also ask our fans questions, encourage them to share content, conduct contests and actively ask them to like our posts. Almost each week during the school year, we conduct a new contest on our Facebook page which a different twist.

On Twitter, you can encourage your fans to retweet your message. Recognize new followers and engage them with trivia questions or fun facts.

Both Pinterest and Instagram can be used to brand yourself to your followers with pictures. Pinterest has a more viral sharing component and allows to you to link to videos, and as well as pictures. Pinterest has been another way our fans can be brand advocates by sharing your content on their message boards.

Instagram is effective in showcasing your game day atmosphere, players or just your own fans. Just like Pinterest, people love looking at visual content – a picture can tell a thousand words. You can have a lot of followers, pins or likes but if you don’t engage them with your brand you are missing the opportunity to build a deeper connection with your fans.

Our website and video has also helped us to brand our football and athletics programs with our behind the scenes video footage. After our football victory against Nebraska in 2009, we shared Coach Rhoads’ post-game locker room speech (‘I am SO PROUD to be your football coach’) with our fans on cyclones.com and our social media avenues. The video became an overnight sensation as fans saw firsthand how passionate Coach Rhoads was about his program and Iowa State Athletics. Find a way to let your fans see your brand in ways they don’t normally have access. Through this video and subsequent others, we were able to tell the story of a coach who loved his program and his players and was proud of it. This helped build a sense of pride in our fans and a deeper connection to our athletics brand.

Our success at branding has impact our season ticket sales for football. Our football team’s record the past two years has been a combined 11-14 and we have broken the season ticket sales record the past two years with 37,859 and 40,395 tickets sold respectively.

Whether your team has a less than stellar reputation or a phenomenal one, branding can help change or enhance your messaging. Branding can build an expectation about your team, and encourage your fans to support the program.
Branding is an important way to build your reputation. It’s just as important to create your brand as it is to build it.

Developed by Old Hat Creative