A Renewed Focus On “Connection Planning”

In his February, 2015 column, SLRG’s Last reflects on how recent activation by leading sports properties, effectively illustrates some of the basic tenets of the “connection planning” discipline.

Every industry has buzzwords, though it has often struck me that sports, marketing and advertising over-index for the phenomenon. Since we live in a world where “internet years” make a decade ago feel like a half-century ago, I feel like I’m reaching back into the stone ages of marketing vernacular to surface the term “connection planning.”

In its infancy, connection planning became a vehicle for agencies to recognize and address the oncoming proliferation of “new media” (itself a buzzword) options that mandated a closer look at how and where brands could best connect with target consumers. The most skeptical maintained that connection planning was simply a shiny new way to polish up traditional media planning, with an infusion of insights driven by behavioral analysis to add a dose of marketing science.

History lesson aside, my recent travels have me thinking further about the original concept of connection planning and its relationship to sports marketing. In its most literal definition, the concept is at the essence of what sports marketers are so well positioned to do. I’ve written frequently about some of our research that demonstrates the uniquely powerful level of engagement that sports delivers beyond other marketing mix elements.

I’d maintain that there have been some great illustrations of the original concept of connection planning, in the first weeks of the year. Leading sports brands have leveraged consumer insight to adeptly infiltrate a broad array of media, with channel appropriate language and asset deployment that remains true to consistent brand message. Here’s what’s captured my attention:

Super Bowl Advertisers: Obviously not every brand that leveraged “The Big Game” broke through and delivered a compelling or relevant brand message. But the sheer magnitude of buzz surrounding this year’s offerings generated heightened levels of conversation relative to prior years. The advance promotion, digital sharing and ubiquitous post-game evaluation of the advertising has exploded to the point that from a sheer awareness perspective, I’d maintain that virtually every brand has “won” to some extent (even Nationwide and it’s ghost child), despite what the litany of polls and research of varying validity suggest.

The NFL: Will Leitch was spot on in suggesting that the Super Bowl, much like the Olympics, is not primarily for sports fans. And while “The Shield” has been a popular whipping boy this season, particularly for those outside of its true fan base, the league used its grandest stage to captivate the public at large and connect on levels specifically appropriate for this expanded audience. “Deflategate” was frivolous pre-game hype to many hard-core football fans, but it, along with in-game messaging to address important social issues like domestic violence, fair play and health and wellness, speak to that broader market while the game itself reinforced the strength of the core product.

Major League Baseball: Commissioner Manfred came out of the gates with a powerful and deftly deployed cross-channel outreach to fans on his very first day in office. The commissioner’s clear message emphasized a commitment to continuing the evolution of how the MLB product will be presented through the league’s best of breed digital communications assets.  Further, to the theme of connection planning, was a clear articulation of increased emphasis on engaging with the next generation of fans.

The Golf Industry: Beyond new product introductions, my most compelling observation from this year’s PGA Show was a focus on combatting misperceptions about the game’s vitality. Last year saw a number of largely unfair, poorly analyzed alarmist fodder from several prominent mass media outlets. Industry leaders are addressing this by rallying around the core of what’s great about the game, and seeing past the over-reaction. The announcement of a number of high profile, well-funded industry initiatives, have the potential to walk the talk towards inclusivity and outreach to underserved and under-represented markets like women and young people. Hopefully, these efforts will do so in a way that doesn’t lack authenticity, or it risks misfiring with core customers who our research has shown, will scrutinize and reject positioning shifts that lack authenticity.