Forget the Super Bowl. College basketball is the real slam dunk sporting event for digital marketers.
March Madness, the three-week long NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, has become an institution. Zealous fans and bandwagon rookies alike fill out brackets, place bets and tune in every day (yes, even at the office) to follow their favorite teams.
The unpredictable nature of the tournament consistently leads to tons of Google searches, social media posts, and, of course, millions of viewers—17.8 million in 2016. March Madness provides an unparalleled opportunity for digital marketers to tap into this vast audience.
Here’s why companies, both large and small, should incorporate this thrilling season into their marketing strategies.
1) There’s a longer period of fan engagement
March Madness isn’t a one-night-only event. Not only does the tournament span weeks, but diehard fans start prepping their bracket weeks in advance.
To do their research, fans interact with all kinds of devices to best optimize their brackets. These weeks of preparation contribute to a longer period of fan engagement across media channels—which, in turn, creates a longer period for digital marketers to interact with consumers. This affords marketers the ability to create longer and more creative advertising strategies that wouldn’t work for other sporting events.
Take Excel Rainman, a small tech support company that focuses exclusively on solving spreadsheet dilemmas. Many companies block online bracket sites to maintain productivity during March Madness. Excel Rainman created a solution.
The company created a bracket feature in Excel that bypasses the internet, thus avoiding this problem. These spreadsheet brackets can be used for entire pools and automatically calculate the winner for the pool manager.
Excel Rainman recognized how intricate “bracketology” is and leveraged the opportunity. By taking advantage of the longer period of fan engagement and the March Madness culture itself, Excel Rainman was able to advertise their expertise and allow fans to manage their brackets no matter what.
2) March Madness is all about anticipation
As teams are eliminated one by one, shrinking the original field of 68 teams to the coveted Final Four, anticipation grows. This format provides a perfect trajectory for digital marketers to follow.
Imagine an advertising campaign where the ad creative progresses and evolves with the entire tournament and culminates at the final game. During the final game, the campaign could reveal new products or content that is seen by the largest audience the tournament can offer.
Capital One’s #RoadToOne social media campaign pulled off something like this. Their social media campaign followed Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee's eventful road trip to the tournament through an integrated social, TV, and digital experience.
As the tournament approached the Final Four, the trio got closer and closer to the final game. By crafting a campaign that mimicked the tournament’s trajectory, Capital One created a memorable, meaningful, and cross-platform digital marketing story.
This approach isn’t limited to only large businesses. Small companies can still get creative. The Winston-Salem Members’ Credit Union launched a March Madness microsite. The microsite featured a basketball video contest, where fans could submit videos of themselves showing off their skills on the court.
These videos were then put head to head in a bracket-style format and followed the same elimination schedule as March Madness. As the tournament reached the championship game, the video tournament also reached its final round. The microsite launch caused traffic to the credit union's homepage to increase almost 10 percent and led to a 30 percent increase in auto loans. Now that’s a win-win.
3) There are always opportunities for new marketing tactics
Because of the tournament’s unique format, March Madness is the perfect time for marketers to go out of their comfort zones and try something new.
Quaker Steak and Lube, a small East Coast restaurant chain, created a "fan zone" tab on its Facebook page. Customers uploaded photos of themselves in team apparel at the restaurant and received a discount.
While Quaker Steak and Lube is a small business and hadn’t done anything like that before, they went outside of the box. Their creative March Madness campaign turned March Madness team loyalty into brand loyalty for the restaurant.
How to win March Madness (even if you’re no good at basketball)
March Madness is a passionate, chaotic, and exciting time for sports fans. Its elongated time span and elimination style make it one-of-a-kind.
For a digital marketer, March Madness isn’t just the prime sporting event of the year. It’s also a prime opportunity to utilize creativity and technology.
Take a shot at the cross-platform, digital marketing mecca that is March Madness and you’ll be a marketing winner—without having to step onto the court.
Want to learn more about how digital marketing and basketball are not as different as you might think? Check out How the NBA Can Help You Fix Your Digital Advertising Accounts.