3 Differences Between NHL and NBA Audiences: A Game of Marketing Strategy

(Originally posted in Business2Community)

Much like hockey, marketing is a fast-moving game of strategy.

If you don’t know much about hockey, it’s time to acquaint yourself with the Wayne Gretzky expression “Skate where the puck’s going.”

Much like hockey, marketing is a fast-moving game of strategy. The winning team must have a well-researched plan of action but also be ready to strike at a moment’s notice.

What will you do when the puck skims toward your feet as you face the net? Ideally, you’ll act decisively and expertly thread the puck where the goalie has the smallest chance of blocking it. But in both marketing and hockey, this is only achievable when you know your target inside and out.

Brands looking to reach the young male demographic might think they can approach the Stanley Cup market the way they would approach the Super Bowl or the World Cup and be successful. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

The differences between the NHL, NFL, NBA, and FIFA soccer audiences are subtle, but by paying close attention to them, you can create a much more successful marketing campaign. The most effective brands will reach the Stanley Cup audience through its unique interests and preferred media outlets — not by using a blanket approach based on generalizations.

Unique Finds for Stanley Cup Finals Fans

Although the Stanley Cup ranks last in ad spending among the big five sporting events of the year, it still accounts for more than $100 million. And while this represents only one-tenth of the spend for the NBA Playoffs and the Super Bowl, it’s a great opportunity to capture a group of uncommonly avid fans by speaking to this target market’s unique customer personas. Here are three important characteristics of the Stanley Cup Finals fans that marketers can use to inform their unique marketing approach:

1. They’re a Homogeneous Group

According to our data, the NHL’s lead persona engaging on Twitter is wholesome single males, 25 to 34 years old.

Using this information, content creators can craft marketing materials that speak to this brand personality’s desire for simple, emotional engagement rather than the Super Bowl’s tradition of funny, sarcastic commercials.

For example, the ads that engage NBA fans with ambiguity, clever snarkiness, and double entendres won’t resonate with the wholesome persona. The best strategy for this persona is to tug at the heartstrings with emotional videos of NHL season wins or losses or inflame their passion with the best punches thrown or chanting fans.

2. They’re Under-engaged Swing Voters

The NHL’s second most engaged persona is the young, daring male who falls into a precious under-engaged marketing demographic. These under-engaged males act as “swing voters” who have no problem shifting between brands and preferences. They’ve dipped their toes in the engagement pool more than a few times, but they’re not do-or-die brand advocates, making them prime targets for truly exceptional marketing campaigns.

This under-engaged persona is slightly younger than the NHL’s lead persona, and it responds to trendy, up-to-date imagery and copy — especially when it’s placed in media outlets with high concentrations of similar personas.

Here’s where NBA personas might lead you astray: Wholesome fans’ chief blog is Mother Jones, but Mother Jones doesn’t even make the top 50 websites or publishers for most unique among NBA fans.

So why spend money on Bleacher Report — which is heavily saturated with NBA and NHL fans — when you could get a better return on investment with NHL-heavy Mother Jones? Go for the most unique blog for NHL fans (ranked No. 11), and speak directly to the fans who matter with a lower price tag.

3. They Listen to Unique Influencers

NHL has another big advantage over the NBA or NFL demographic: accessibility. Because hockey isn’t as mainstream as American football or basketball, there are many more unique and accessible influencers and blogs than there are for the NFL or NBA.

Here’s where it becomes crucial to depart from your customer research for other young male sport demographics: NBA personas are reversed from the NHL. Their most engaged fans are daring young men, and their under-engaged personas are wholesome young men.

If you want to cut through the NBA noise to get to your most engaged NHL fans, try influencers who have both a high concentration of your target persona and a low concentration of your competing personas.

In this case, the NHL’s top non-reporter unique influencer that’s low on the list for the NBA is Tina Stull. For the NBA, it’s Tony Dungy. The difference between the wholesome and daring personas is small but powerful.

Make the most of every unique audience that’s valuable to your brand. Don’t reuse your sports personas because of a few overlapping details, or you’ll risk alienating different engagers on those subtle distinguishing characteristics.

Prepare your marketing strategy with audience insights through research, compelling content, and strategic media placements so when that golden opportunity comes along, you have the confidence to react decisively and know where to catch that puck. Get it right, and those fans will defend your brand with the same kind of bare-knuckled enthusiasm they show their teams.

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