Thursday, January 28, 2010

Marketing 101

Back when TigerBlog was in college, he used to love to get mail. TB lived in a large group of dorms under one common structure as a freshman and sophomore, and there was a large mailroom near the main gate.

Usually when something was in the mailbox, it was a bill or junk mail. Even in those cases, there wasa great anticipation when there was something staring back at you when you looked into the little window by your box. And then there were those moments when TB - in the pre-email/texting/facebook days - would get an actual letter, or even better, a package. Those days were great.

At some point each morning here at HQ, the day's mail is dropped off in the mailroom, up on the balcony of Jadwin.

When you need a break from whatever you're doing, there are worse ways than sorting the mail. There are rows of mailboxes in the mailroom, which at one time were in alphabetical order but now are almost random. The key is to know where, say, the marketing stuff goes or the men's swimming or whatever without having to stop each time and look.

The office that gets the most mail, by far, is football, which sometimes has so much that it needs its own mail bins on the floor for the overflow.

As for TB, the feeling of looking into the mailbox isn't quite the same as it was more than a quarter century ago in West Philadelphia. Still, it's always fun when something different beyond the usual University publications or invoices shows up, whether it is an odd request or the newest edition of Inside Lacrosse or a handwritten note (usually from older alums either praising or criticizing something).

Earlier this week, TB saw something a little different. It was a small piece of orange paper, regular copy paper, with simple printing on it. The paper was an invitation to come see the Princeton women's tennis team play in its two matches yesterday, and it included a reference to free bagels and coffee. Women's tennis coach Megan Bradley had put one in each of the boxes in the mailroom.

As an aside, TB has never had a cup of coffee.

Anyway, the first match was at 10 a.m. Sure enough, beginning at 9:45 or so, there was a mass exodus from the balcony down to E-level, as everyone went to get a bagel and check out the tennis. Some stayed longer than others, but clearly everyone had gotten the invitation, read it and acted on it.

What's the lesson? Well, it has something to do with not making things more difficult than they need to be.

TigerBlog isn't sure what story he read or where it was or even what it was about, but he does remember a Princeton student who was quoted as basically saying that the most effective way to get information on events is through the little table tents they have in the dining halls.

In other words, you can have the most sophisticated marketing plan in the world, but it doesn't necessarily mean much. The key is getting the basic information that people want to them, and doing it in a manner that will stick.

Here at HQ, we have tried almost everything in terms of marketing. We have identified target audiences (students, faculty/staff, local families with kids). We have tried focus games. We have tried basically every combination of ticket pricing, ticket availability, ticket packaging.

We've spent thousands of dollars printing ticket brochures. We've been in schools, in the Valpack, online, in emails, in text messages, on facebook. We've had huge mailings and no mailings. We've had a billboard on the New Jersey Turnpike and our events listed in calendars everywhere.

Slogans have been big. We've gone through a few, and those slogans have been meant to convey messages that have run from wanting fans to be part of the great athletic tradition of Princeton to understanding how close, welcoming and affordable Princeton athletics are.

Our basic pattern is to try something and give up on it quickly in favor of the next idea. Among our problems is that we have no way of measuring success, because there are so many variables. What crowd sizes are considered good and what are considered bad?

For football, there is a small sample of home games each year. Then, if you put one on a Thursday or Friday night for TV, the sample gets smaller. Then there's the weather. Or start times. And we have no vehicle for market research.

So where does that leave us?

Well, TB feels that marketing moving forward is similar to what media for us has become. We have the ability to go directly to our fan base, rather than going through a middle man (advertising in another outlet, for instance). Also, printed materials aren't the way to go.

Our efforts may be best served by developing databases by sport, by fan type (families? faculty/staff? local corporation), by any number of categories and then going directly to them via email or text or Twitter. Perhaps we're better off creating simple, emailable (or through mobile apps) reminders of upcoming events, not for every time there is a game, because these would end up getting deleted, but a few times a year.

In this way, our marketing focus can reach across most of our 38 sports and not just for our five ticketed sports.

As for those ticketed events, our pricing is already so affordable that the answers extend beyond that. Maybe instead of only season-ticket plans by sport, we should institute a way to buy a certain number of tickets, which can be used across all different sports. Fans could buy a 10-ticket plan and then use four for football, two for men's hockey, two for women's basketball and two for lacrosse. Our all 10 for men's basketball. Or any other combination.

Tie-ins with local sponsors is another way to go. In this way, sponsors get an extra bonus for being part of Princeton athletics, and Princeton gets to introduce people to be part of something they might not otherwise have thought of. Or maybe it's Hamilton night or Lower Bucks night or Hopewell night?

All of these efforts then get tied into providing the right atmosphere and experience once fans are in attendance. This is something that TigerBlog thinks Princeton does a great job with already.

And then we need to not overlook the obvious. In this era of the highest speed, highest sophistication, multiple platform ways of communicating, there is a place for something really simple, like an invitation on a small piece of orange paper.

As the parade of people to the tennis match Wednesday morning proved, sometimes simple sells best of all.


Anonymous said...

Forgive me if this has been implemented or suggested before, but how about a pass that fans can purchase in the beginning of the fall sports season that can be used for the five ticketed sports you offer through the end of the spring season?

For one affordable price (family packages can be available, discounts for students and fans 60-years or older, too), the holder (or holders) can go to those events and just flash the pass to get in and not be tied to going to X number of basketball, football, lacrosse or hockey games.

Some restrictions may apply (Penn basketball game, Cornell hockey game, Cornell or Syracuse lacrosse games, etc.), but it would be akin to a general admission ticket with no assigned seat.

It can be Princeton's own version of EZPass.

Princeton OAC said...

That's a good suggestion. There are probably issues to work out regarding seating and such, but it fits with the type of direction TB thinks might work as we go forward.

Anonymous said...

What are your main goals/reasons for turning out a crowd, and is there any order of importance? i.e. game atmosphere for the athletes/events; community relations; growing sports; developing interest by potential/future recruits; raising the school's profile; generate revenue; promote camps; etc. I'm sure there is more than just one reason, but I'm curious as to the priorities.

Princeton OAC said...

Student-athlete experience is the main goal, but there are so many other factors at stake that can't be ignored. You listed many of the issues that are discussed here regularly. Corporate sponsorship is another key factor. Revenue generation is a piece of it but not the driving force.

Brian - Orange Copy Paper said...

Thanks for the blog. As a fan of tennis and marketer of copy paper, it is interesting to see proof of the effectiveness of color paper for leaflets.
However, I also think twitter is becoming just as effective for reaching your fan base. It is very easy to do and creates the community you desire to create in Princeton Athletics.

I would encourage the Princeton Athletic department to track the marketing efforts to see what works. Keep testing different messages and approaches. The college of Business would love to help, I am sure.

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