let the madness begin


Sink a 3-Pointer and Leverage the Power of March Madness for Your Brand

Perhaps the most appropriately nicknamed tournament in all of sports, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament—better known as March Madness—pulls down staggering statistics that marketers cheer for. According to the NCAA and Nielsen Fast Nationals (media reporting), the 2015 NCAA Tournament experienced its highest average viewership in 22 years, boasting an average of 11.3 million total viewers (up 8% from 2014) and posting big numbers among live streaming video and social media outlets. The 2015 tournament grossed a record 350 million total social impressions across Facebook and Twitter for a 45% increase over 2014, and 40 million people filled out brackets betting approximately $9 billion. Plus, you can't forget those advertisers who spend billions year after year to be a part of the tournament.

The people and money are clearly at the dance, but two questions remain. Why is March Madness such a big deal, and should your brand be in on the action?

The popularity and power behind March Madness can be attributed to its 24/7 multi-channel, multi-device access and three core themes—storytelling, community, and competition. There is no shortage of great, engaging stories surrounding the tournament. From Cinderella teams to individual player personalities, fans and non-fans alike are interested. The hoopla can pull at our heartstrings and boost adrenaline all at once. Games may bring us to bond with strangers or form intense rivalries with friends. Passionate loyalty is born. Of course, there is also the actual sport, chock-full of fast footwork and the buzzer-beaters that make hoopaholics feel the most alive. March Madness allows consumers to not only be swept up in the fandom but to actually be a part of the competition, perhaps feeling like a baller themselves.

So here we are, where it all starts again. Everywhere you look, you will see references to March Madness. Last year's wounds and wins will be fresh again. School pride will extend far beyond campus boundaries, and even the oldest hoops fans will feel like kids again. A new crop of bracketology recruits will sprout. Seasoned bracketeers will jealously curse beginner's luck. Grandmas and grandkids alike will find new favorite mascots, sometimes with completely unexpected geographical allegiance. Part of the charm of the Madness is that it means something to just about everybody.

Insert your brand here. In the heat of tournament moments, just about any brand can find a way to meaningfully connect with the community. (In this case "community" is primarily defined as men between the ages of 25 and 54, Millenials, and anyone who has filled out a bracket.) Connecting amongst the Madness can magnify impact due to the intensity and viral nature of community chatter during the peak game times, and you don't have to be a big ad spender to have success. For example, Mike O'Brien's Final Four: Brands Who Did March Madness Marketing Best article cites KFC's 2015 Facebook post that referenced the idea of using a losing bracket as a napkin. It was liked more than 36,000 times. His article notes “KFC’s success with their Facebook post, shows that non-sponsors have plenty of opportunities to activate…The most important factor for brands in driving event activation is whether they can establish a connection between their brand or product with the excitement around the event. Understanding your customers and what they love matters much more than how much you spend.”

So for our pregame wrap up, here are 3 pointers to consider:

1. Everyone can get in on the game. Identify the point of entry that makes the most sense for your brand and marketing budget, and use an authentic voice that clicks with Madness consumers in a way that is also true to your brand. For some this may mean simply knowing who your clients' favorite teams are and sending them personal, timely texts, emails or tweets cheering them on or congratulating them on their team’s win. For others, a multimedia mix or full-court promotion could be the answer. Research past successful Madness marketers for inspiration.

2. Avoid whistles. Don't get sued. Before you print, digitally publish, or record any communication, make sure you are not violating any NCAA trademarks. It's also a good practice to refrain from rooting against any team or bad-mouthing any segment of the Madness community. You don't want to pick a pride fight that you can't finish.

3. Be the ball—actually, be the Madness. Watch the games, follow players on Instagram, drink the Kool-Aid. You'll have a blast and be a better-informed advocate for your brand, giving new meaning to the terms mad men and mad women.