Three all star members of the Portland Trail Blazers marketing department took time on Nov. 13 to share best practices and insider stories with AMA PDX during a luncheon at Bridgeport Brewery, 1318 Northwest Northrup Street. The audience learned how the basketball team works through traditional and nontraditional routes to build connections with fans both inside and outside the Rose Garden. The Trail Blazers marketing team has learned through failure and success and AMA PDX members from varying industries found useful takeaways from the shared knowledge. For those who couldn’t make it, we’ve rounded up the key lessons covered—read and share your reactions and your own best practices in the comments for the AMA PDX community!
- Michele Daterman, Senior Vice President, Tickets & Marketing, Portland Trail Blazers
- Dan Harbison, Senior Director of Digital Marketing and Media, Portland Trail Blazers
- Ryan Flaherty, Creative Director, Portland Trail Blazers
- Learn from the past and adapt: “Our product [the players] can be challenging as they can walk, talk and Tweet all by themselves,” said Ryan Flaherty. Through experiences, the Trail Blazers have come to find high caliber people are important to Portland fans and so new players are now strictly hired based on a balance of both talent and quality of character, and marketing efforts highlight the well-rounded personas of the team.
- Timing is everything: Marketing is about the right message at the right time on the right platform. The Trail Blazers engage with fans through social media, a fan site, and Trail Blazers TV, to name a few. They create tons of content on their various channels timed around each game, since that’s when fans and media are most involved in discussing the Trail Blazers.
- Leverage technology: The Trail Blazers marketing strategy reflects Portland, which envisions itself as one-of-a-kind and a city of modern day pioneers in the technology field. “We embrace being different than other NBA teams,” said Michele Daterman. The Trail Blazers were the first NBA team with their own website and their own Twitter handle. They characterize today’s roster as their most social-media savvy players to date. Dan Harbison said they are seeing the most rapid growth in fans and engagement on Instagram: “It makes sense with what we do because we have inside access [to the Trail Blazers].” Echoing what fans are doing by highlighting their activity on various social media channels also drives engagement, he said. “It makes them feel special,” he added. Additionally, the Trail Blazers are proponents of “tons of live video” and of mobile apps that adapt when games are happening live and utilize proximity-based marketing.
- Staff are your best brand champions: The Trail Blazers make all staff feel the perks of the inner circle, in an effort to be able to look to them to build the Trail Blazer brand. The goal is to equip the staff with the knowledge and experiences to be able to talk authentically and enthusiastically about the team while out in their daily lives. “We want to give our staff a voice,” Flaherty said. To achieve this, the Trail Blazers staff are some of the first to meet any new player who is signed, they are the first to know news, new marketing campaigns—anything new is brought to light internally before externally.
- Relationships, relationships, relationships: ”Making connections is part of who we are … it’s how we show we care,” Daterman said. “We know we need to be actively involved in the community,” she said, stressing that the key is to make lasting connections. The Trail Blazers build these connections with a number of initatives including the “Make it Better” community improvement foundation. “We measure the success through the lives we’ve touched, not by financials or number of volunteers,” Daterman said. In addition, they build lasting connections with season ticket holders through the Rip City United program, which provides exclusive invites to events, offers and promotions.
- Be real: Trailblazers view players as products and make every effort to create an environment where the players are as accessible as possible. They aim to complement the sheer closeness allowed at games: no barrier between fans and the court, no helmet blocking the faces of the players. In addition, see No. 7, below.
- Tell stories: The Trail Blazers are introducing their “New Team, New Dream” with videos by Portland-based Sockeye and Limbo Films, taking a nod from recent summer Olympics where personal stories about athletes were often part of the package of footage covering the competitions. “Our team is brand new—we knew we needed to introduce our players to our fans … let them hear [the players'] hopes and dreams,” Flaherty said. They’ve publicized these videos on an array of traditional and nontraditional platforms, from movie previews at theaters, to radio, PR and social media.
The Audience Response
Converting consumers to fans is the ultimate goal in any industry’s marketing efforts. The Trail Blazers marketing officials acknowledged their 15-person roster is a very manageable ”product” and having a true fan base puts them in a unique marketing position. But even for those AMA PDX audience members in industries not associated with sports fans, the Trail Blazers presentation proved useful and thought-provoking.
Erica Drake, Marketing Specialist at MasterCare Solutions Inc. in Portland, said the importance of building relationships and lasting connections was the number one tip she’ll bring back and work to apply in her health insurance related field.
For Lani Lorenz Fry, an AMA member in town from Iowa who attended the AMA PDX event while visiting family in Portland, the concept of employees as brand ambassadors is familiar. At John Deere in Davenport, Iowa, where she is Manager of Global Brand Strategy, the strategy is utilized oversees but Fry is looking to incorporate it even more prevalently “Feeling part of it, putting their employees at the center, is important,” Fry said.
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