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The Ins and Outs of Engaging Your Target Audience: Advice from Georgetown’s Marketing Maven

Consider the headlines below. What do they have in common?

“Georgetown Soccer’s Hilarious Millennial Day Includes Participation Trophies and Safe Spaces” – Hero Sports, 15 August 2017

“Baseball Team Insults Millennials, Offering a Lesson in How Not to Market” – Inc., 13 July 2018

The first is praise that Chris Grosse and his marketing team received. The latter, a scathing review that AA minor league team Montgomery Biscuits endured.

Both refer to Millennial Day, a spectacle born out of the hope of poking friendly fun at generational stereotypes. While the Biscuits featured participation ribbons, selfie stations, and napping areas—Chris took it several steps further when he invented the gag in 2017.

At Georgetown, students were also offered a dabbing-friendly safe space, cable cord cutting station, a cell-phone only section, and more.
 

promotions for millennial day by montgomery biscuits and georgetown university

 

So why was the media reception so different between the two?

“When we planned Millennial Day, we involved the students from the get-go,” reflects Chris, the oft-praised assistant athletics director for marketing at Georgetown. “I think a lot of the negative comments about what the baseball teams [claim] that they’re alienating one of the main parts of their fan bases. Well, when we did it, we weren’t trying to alienate the students…so we had them involved right away.”

The Achilles’ Heel: Not Knowing Your Market

“We know our market and our audience here,” adds Chris. “And [Georgetown has] gotten this reputation over the last four years that I’ve been here for having fun promotions. So, I think if you’re a team that suddenly tries to do something like this and doesn’t have a reputation around it…it may be taken differently.”

In essence, what works for one brand won’t necessarily work for another. While this idea isn’t novel, many brands still struggle to differentiate their audiences from one another and to remain undistracted.

One Forbes contributor laments that when she graduated from business school in the late 1970s, “the work of a marketer and the brand strategy they developed and executed against, was far, far, simpler than today.”

Brands back then had one target audience, one competitive frame, one (or very few) points of difference, and one (or very few) end benefits.

“Today with big data analytics that track micro-targeted, omni-channel shoppers, there are an infinite number of brand positioning possibilities,” she writes. “Many brands, particularly those targeting Millennials and Gen Z, seem to have FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to reaching prospective consumers.”

The challenge for today’s brands ranges anywhere from finding their niche to resisting the urge to over-target. The hope of going “viral” has pervaded some marketing strategies so deeply that they no longer promote originality in the context of reaching a core audience, but originality to reach many across the great digital expanse.

In the case of the Biscuits, the team’s marketers admit that something got lost in the sarcasm while addressing millennials fans and, inevitably, their wider audience of older fans.
 

breakdown of followers between montgomery biscuits and georgetown university

 
Though the team asserts that 80% of their staff is millennial, you could reasonably ask whether they went outside of their circle and surveyed real fans. If they had, would they have been able to better anticipate fan reactions and avoid a PR crisis?

Humoring the Right People

Who you target with an idea is just as important as the idea itself. Creativity needs tempering by realistic expectations and a clear understanding of who your message is intended for.

For Chris and his team, the ascent to popularity was gradual and required thoughtful testing.

“[We didn’t begin testing our promotions with] men’s basketball because we have a lot of traditional fans here that don’t think Georgetown needs to do something like this to create attention. So, one group we began with was women’s basketball—we gave out kale at a women’s basketball game, actually. It was one of our first promotions that kind of went crazy. [With that promotion], we were able to work with coaching staff and administration who wanted to be creative…and show them the results that we got.”

Today, his team targets several segments: passionate fans, incoming students, and alumni, to name a few. The pains of one vary vastly from another and each require a different solution.

As an example, winter sports battle low turnout during winter break. To address this, Chris and his team invented a “student for a day” package in which buyers could receive a free t-shirt, cheer sheet, and other perks normally reserved for students. This has helped to increase winter ticket sales for the last four years.

“So there are different ways that we go about doing all these creative things. Some of them are really out-of-the-box, and some of them are just thinking about opportunities that we have,” he says. Each strategy is carefully assembled for a specific audience and not needlessly flashy.

A Note About Targeting Success

Chris underscores the importance of knowing your goals as they relate to your audience. While king of off-beat ideas, he and his team will only pursue a campaign if it can achieve at least one of several things:

  • Increased game attendance–which can be tracked through promo codes and total revenue
  • Increased social engagement–“If it wasn’t for social media, our ideas wouldn’t see people off of campus.”
  • Wider media attention–“Are there going to be news articles or TV camera crews covering a game that they normally wouldn’t have covered if it weren’t for this kind of promotion?”

How to Find Your Corner

As you’re looking to similarly define your niche and engage them accordingly, consider the following approaches:

  • Analyze who’s already listening. Pay close attention to the people who are already at your games, buying your products, or engaging with you online. Are there any behaviors or qualities that stick out about them? Which types of consumers need more help going from discovery to purchase, and what path do consumers take depending on what source they come in from?
  • Go beyond basic demographics. Digging below the surface can help you divide an audience into smaller, like-minded groups who are easier to analyze and test ideas with. Like Chris and his team, start by looking at your largest audience (e.g., undergrad students) then breaking them down into mid-sized groups (e.g., men’s basketball fans, non-men’s basketball fans), then smaller segments (e.g., passionate fans, casual fans, and non-fans). Use social media or other tools to research your segment’s values, lifestyles, and existing relationship with your brand. This last part will help you define a marketing campaign that resonates more deeply without pushing boundaries too far.
  • Go direct to the source. Do away with biases and assumptions. Talk directly with your customers to see what they expect from your brand. Poll social media followers, email lists, event attendees, professional communities (online and offline), etc. to learn the different personalities in your audience. It’s equally helpful to talk to your consumers as you’re brainstorming campaigns. This not only gives you a way to test the waters, but also lets you get people personally invested in your marketing and motivated to promote your campaign when you launch.
  • Don’t over-segment. Hone in on your core audience, then branch out to newer opportunities. Avoid diluting your brand identity by making sure that your segments tightly align with what you have to offer and your business goals.

From Cargo Shorts to Kale

A well-defined audience can lead to well-defined success. This has proven true for Chris, who has launched a number of popular promotions throughout the years.
 

 
Several of his promotions have caught the attention of the Today Show, ESPN, Washington Post, and others.
 

 

But his personal favorite? Hail to Kale Night, 2015.

The promise of free kale and gift cards to “D.C.’s best kale-serving restaurants” drew a large crowd–and impressed then-first lady Michelle Obama, who mentioned the promotion in a speech about healthy living.
 

flier to georgetown universitys kale night

 

“It was a surreal experience,” recalls Chris. “That has got to be my favorite [promotion] to date. There have been some contenders along the way, but I think kale is still king.”

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Grosse to keep up with his latest work and musings.
 
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