You don’t need to scoop your competition to earn loyalty, you just need to understand your consumers better than they do.    

 

I love sports. Being a sports fan is a huge part of my life, with threads that connect to my childhood, my relationships, and even my personal aspirations. Advertisers love sports too. They appeal to broad audiences. They evoke deep emotions. They deliver strong, predictable engagement. They also generate huge amounts of fresh, timely content—stats, scores, standings, trades, injuries, analysis, highlights, interviews, merchandise—that people like me consume with ravenous, occasionally obsessive, zeal.

It’s no surprise that we’ve seen an explosion of online sports media outlets. Quality content is abundant, and there is a lot of valuable foot traffic to compete for. The challenge is creating and maintaining loyalty in a competitive market, where everyone has access to the same raw intel in real-time. If you want to cut through the clutter, you need to deliver more relevant content to each individual consumer, and you need to deliver it faster than the competition. Here are a few strategies: Use ALL of your data to build a complete picture of each user and each piece of content

Demographics are interesting, preferences are important, but behavior truly reveals who your users are. You can (and should) be tracking all these data points for your users, even your anonymous ones. You should also be building profiles on each piece of your content because relevance is a 2-way street.

Your goal is to develop some Predictive Intelligence: the ability to accurately guess what will delight and engage any given user at any given moment. Just like a quarterback knows how a receiver will run a route, once you start to understand patterns in your users’ behavior, you can throw the ball to where they’re going to be before they even get there. Obligatory sports metaphor aside, we’re talking about exponential increases in engagement.

Use hyper-relevant alerts and notifications to turn fans into fanatics

Fans are loyal to their teams and want to stay in the know, but they are interested in a narrow slice of your content. Their attention is, by nature, fleeting. Fanatics want to dive deep and consume content beyond just their favorite teams. They build loyalty to trusted sources and return to them over and over again. Getting users to opt-in to notifications (email, SMS, in-app) is imperative, because it is your best opportunity to convert an occasional reader into a loyal subscriber.

Use what you know about your fans to target them with hyper-relevant notifications. If you can push the goods to them, they are less likely to seek them out elsewhere. And, you can leverage what you know about a user’s behavior (and what you know about each piece of your content) to promote discovery of relevant stories outside their specific fandom.

Create smart triggers to deliver breaking content automatically

You may not have the human bandwidth to instantly parse every new piece of content that enters your ecosystem and immediately deliver it to the users who are hungriest for it, but that’s what machines excel at. Again, this requires a deep, semantic understanding of your content and your users, but once you have that, any robust marketing automation platform will enable you to set triggers around new content or specific user behaviors so you can be the first to deliver the news about that trade rumor or overtime upset.

Leverage social channels to drive active engagement

In addition to being powerful acquisition and awareness channels, social media, Facebook in particular, is the primary place where consumers engage with (as opposed to passively consume) sports media content. Because of Facebook’s reach, you can count on engaging your existing subscribers as well as new audiences (and bringing them back to your site, where you can convert them to subscribers). Of course, you’ll have to pay for that reach, but it’s vital that you make your content part of the conversations already happening in that space.

Sustain loyalty through hyper-personalized user experiences

Personalization doesn’t have to end with email marketing. You can use your data to personalize your on-site user experiences, surfacing the content an individual user is most likely to engage with. Even for anonymous users, you can use dynamic elements on your pages to surface more relevant content based on their real-time, in-session behavior.

Sounds hard right?

A lot of sports sites seem resigned to uniformity, content to carve out a dwindling slice of the bigger pie, but they don’t have to be. You can capture new market share and retain your audience, and you don’t need to hire marquee sportswriters to do it, you just need to know your audience. Creating relevancy is all about using the data you already have. Thankfully, this no longer requires an army of data analysts. Machine learning technology and marketing automation tools can do most of the work for you. And as in sports, practice makes perfect… the more you use your data, the better it gets!

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