Content marketing is one of those things that is easy to talk about yet extremely hard to get right. It’s not enough to have a clear strategy although that is essential. It’s not enough to tell compelling stories across a wide range of platforms. Even with paid media driving views and influencers adding their audiences, there is no guarantee that your content program will take off right from the start.
These realities were front and center at Incite’s Content Marketing Summit in Chicago a couple of weeks ago. While there, I had the pleasure of kicking the first day off with some historical perspective on the use of content as a marketing tool (i.e. 1900: Michelin Guide; 1955 Guinness Book of World Records) and moderating three panels, including the opening keynote with Charlie Breit (SurePayroll), Steven Handmaker (Assurance), Jeff Pundyk (The Economist) and Amy Weisenbach (Wilson). I’ve already posted my interview with Charlie and the others are forthcoming, including my refreshingly honest conversation with Amy that follows.
As VP of Marketing at Wilson Sporting Goods, Amy is the force behind Wilson’s first ever cross-brand campaign that includes lots of branded and user generated content. And though the campaign has exceeded expectations, generating strong engagement rates and significant brand lift, Amy is the first to admit that they are on a steep learning curve. For example, it turned out that it was much harder to get consumers to submit videos than photos. They also learned that when working with influential video creators, it’s probably better to let them go off and create their own content rather than offering them a particular story line. All I know as a tennis fan is that it sure doesn’t hurt when you can get the likes of Serena Williams and Roger Federer to help tell your brand’s story. Read on.
Drew: How important is content marketing in your overall marketing mix?
Content is critical to how we build passion for the Wilson brand among our core consumers: avid youth athletes. Young people are consuming an extraordinary amount of digital content each day, and if we want to be relevant and top of mind with them we have to be in the mix of what they’re consuming. We have a ton of great stories to tell and interesting assets we can leverage — from our pro athletes and league affiliations to intriguing product development stories from our Wilson Labs, the innovation hub at Wilson. We’re luckily in a category that’s important to our consumers’ identities and are among the kind of content they want to consume. In terms of our marketing mix, most of it is what I’d call “content” – some is more heavily branded and from the Wilson brand voice, but we’re increasingly developing content that feels more organic and soliciting content from our athletes and consumers themselves.
Drew: What role or roles does it play and are there types of content that you are you finding particularly effective?
We’re continually learning the best ways to package our stories and engage our audience. We’re experimenting with everything from Wilson Advisory Staff Member takeovers on Snapchat to documentary storytelling to blog-like content to soliciting UGC. We’re definitely in test and learn mode, but early findings suggest the obvious which is that more visual stories get higher engagement.
Drew: Tell me about #MyWilson. What was the strategy behind this program?
We created the My Wilson campaign to create a conversation amongst youth athletes – across a wide range of sports — about the role their equipment plays in their lives and in the pursuit of their personal ambitions in the sport they love to play. It’s a 360-degree marketing effort, with a heavy emphasis on social and digital media. At the heart of the campaign is a video, called Nothing Without It, that features amateur athletes alongside some of the world’s best professional athletes recounting the ups and downs of their journeys. The video features pros like Serena Williams and Dustin Pedroia as well as amateur youth athletes side-by-side. We also invited youth athletes to add themselves to the video by sharing a clip tagged #MyWilson. To incentivize participation, we pledged to donate sports equipment for every clip shared up to $250,000.
Drew: How did you bring this program to life? How did people find out about it?
We launched the My Wilson campaign amidst one of the biggest weeks of the year across all of our sports: during the US Open, the kickoff of the NFL season, the AVP Championshipsweekend and the MLB pennant were just underway. We kicked it off by engaging all 10,000 members of our Wilson Advisory Staff made up of pro athletes and coaches from around the world. They posted personal stories about what their Wilson equipment means to them and encouraged youth athletes to add their own stories to the conversation. We also supported the campaign with paid media, including TV and digital video as well as some home page takeovers on key youth sports sites like MaxPreps.com and Stack.com.
Drew: How has it worked out?
The campaign has performed really well to date. We’re seeing very high video completion rates and many of our social posts related to the campaign have garnered some of the highest engagement rates of anything we’ve ever posted. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see and hear the stories our youth athletes have to tell and how Wilson plays a part in their journeys. The most exciting results have come from a brand lift study we conducted where we’re seeing double-digit lifts in key brand health metrics like “for me” and “is a brand I talk about.”
Drew: Was it tricky implementing a program like this over a wide range of sports – did you have to make adjustments as you moved sport to sport?
Each of our sports has its own culture and a slightly different tone of voice; that uniqueness is critical to engaging authentically with youth in each specific sport. So as you can imagine, it was challenging to get all of our individual sport marketing teams to coordinate on approach, content and timing. Believe it or not, I think this was the first time we used a common look for our social skins and avatars. In the end it was worth the extra time and effort because it helped us take a huge step forward in presenting ourselves to consumers as one brand.
Drew: What are some of the major lessons learned when it comes to driving (user generated) content programs like #MyWilson?
Our baseball team has a long-running social photo contest called “Wilson Wednesday” where consumers submit photos of their glove for a chance to win a prize. We learned through that promotion that it takes a while to get consumers over the hump to submit photos and even there we’ve had limited success with getting consumers to submit videos. Given that, we decided to lean on a content partner, Whistle Sports, to help solicit user generated content for the My Wilson campaign. Whistle Sports’ community readily garners and shares UGC content and so when they asked for videos on our behalf, UGC content began flowing in. As we suspected, we saw a limited number of consumers willing to create and submit content directly through our channels. Photos a little more, but very few videos. Moving forward we will be looking for ways to build a stronger two-way conversation with our audience so they are primed when we’re ready to turn on a UGC-based initiative.