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Marketing Your Program – The Obama Way

Let me preface this blog: this is not a political blog, this is purely marketing.

Fast Company Magazine, March 2009 issue, ranked The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies. #1 wasn’t Google, not Apple, nor Hulu (and if you don’t know Hulu, this blog’s for you), it was Team Obama. The headline reads, “The year’s most successful start-up took a skinny kid with a funny name and turned him into the most powerful new national brand in a generation.” The headline hits a soft spot; I’m a skinny kid, without the funny name. Maybe I’ll be President yet! 😉

Before my coaching career, I spent 10 years in international marketing, selling millions of consumer goods through television, catalog, direct mail, and over the internet. I just might have some insight into effectively marketing your volleyball program. How will you differentiate your program? How will you, as a coach, stand out? In a tough economic time, what is it going to take to fill MORE seats? Are you already succumbing to the spiraling economy and have you already accepted a decrease in booster or fund-raising participation for the season? How are you going to INCREASE fund-raising dollars? What is it going to take to attract recruits in this “Twitter-ing” technology? Take a look at the Team Obama way…

Team Obama and the power of technology.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took advantage of radio to win his presidential campaign, JFK demoralized Nixon on television debates, and Barack Obama exploited technology online. Team Obama’s campaign, known as the “Triple O” (Obama’s Online Operation), raised a record $750 million. Online donations totaled $500 million, a vast bulk in increments of $100 or less. How is your online fundraising? John Tschohl Service Culture

In the interim between my volunteer position at the University of Minnesota and my next coaching gig, I lucked into an internet consulting position for the world’s “Guru of Customer Service” (as called by USA Today and Time Magazine), Mr. John Tschohl (JohnTschohl.com). For 38 years, Mr. Tschohl has been preaching service culture plans to organizations (see Diagram 1 on right). The message is eerily similar to Team Obama’s campaign plan: Create a Culture. See the Team Obama graph below and you’ll notice a similar upward rising trend. Both experts utilize a vast array of technologies to systematically remind and rejuvenate people over time. What is your program’s culture? I assume your program may come up with a single idea to stimulate fund-raising, or a new way to attract fans, or to bring in that top recruit. Albeit might be a great idea, it is just that, a single idea. After that fan visits once or you were able to get that recruit to contact you once, what happens after? Does the fan want to return? Does the recruit even remember the name of your mascot or have they already received the next call from the next school on their way home from visiting your school? Team Obama and John Tschohl are successful because they consistently present new, invigorating ideas through different mediums that your audience uses over time. They create a culture.

Terry Pettit did a masterful marketing job to create the Nebraska volleyball culture. He did not simply reach out and ask people to come watch a match. He understood that volleyball was a complicated game, fans needed to be educated, and going to a match one time might be more confusing than entertaining (Why didn’t that spike count and the ref is holding up two fingers? Why is the ref signaling a traveling call?). Instead, Pettit went out and gave away season tickets to companies. Companies give away these tickets to customers and employees, who over time, continued to attend matches. Season tickets systematically reminded and rejuvenated these customers and employees to attend matches. These customers and employees eventually became part of the Nebraska volleyball culture that we love today.

Follow along (click on the Team Obama graph below) and compare Team Obama’s Triple O marketing plan to your program’s marketing plan. (Does your program have a marketing Obama Culture Planplan? Do you ever wonder why the University of Florida has great attendance? Mary Wise wrote a nice article about marketing your program a couple years ago in the AVCA Coaching Magazine). Team Obama’s first operation was to create a social networking website, mybarackobama.com. Through that website, over 2 million profiles were created and these members took the initiative to start over 200,000 offline events. Next, Barack Obama joined over 16 commercial social network websites like MySpace and Facebook. Do your boosters have an online place they can gather, chat, brainstorm, and commiserate? Your boosters love to talk about ‘their’ volleyball team. VolleyTalk seems to be a popular public forum, but it’s hardly linked to your program. How are you connecting with those members? What about for recruiting? Kids these days are the driving force of social networks. Myspace is slowly fading, but Facebook is all the rage with Twitter quickly catching-up. Wouldn’t it be great for these kids, potential recruits, to become associated with your program? A social-networking website or at least a MySpace and Facebook group is a good start.

But Chuck, my budget is being slashed! My club dues are too high already! We can’t afford to create a social networking website! I say, BOLOGNA! When there is a will there is a way. Have you looked into Ning.com? How about Clubspaces.com? These are free websites to create a social network. MySpace and Facebook are already free. But Chuck, I haven’t a clue how to set-up one of these social-networking websites! I don’t understand technology, let alone a social-network! I say, BOLOGNA AGAIN! You are around the driving force of technology every day, kids. Believe in their power and you have the world at your fingertips.

When I started my first e-commerce website in 1998 when the technology bubble was just blowing-up, I didn’t have much money to hire a fancy, high-tech company to develop a snazzy website. Instead, I went back to college. Not to attend, but to where technology was being created, by the students. I developed a relationship with the Dean of a small university in Ottawa, Kansas called Ottawa University. We created an educational program for college credits where the students experimented, designed and created the functionality and platform of this e-commerce website. The students attained real world knowledge of business and e-commerce. Not only did we develop a website at little expense, but we even hired a few of the graduating students to continue with the project. It was a low cost, highly effective way to implement technology. These resources are widely available within your institution, from high school to any university. Take advantage of your internal network!

Social networking websites are only one piece of the technology puzzle. When creating a culture, we need many ideas to remind and rejuvenate (the attention span of recruits these days lasts as long as a sneeze – they need constant reminding). The reminding needs to come from many types of technology mediums. If you ask a child how his day was when he comes home from school, isn’t the answer always, “Fine.” Don’t you think they are tired of that question? But if you ask the same question via text or email or video, the question doesn’t sound repetitive. The child might not think you are ‘bothering’ them (as much). You might get a text reply saying, “LOL gr8t day! :-)” Now you just have to translate the message. The point being is to use technology in different formats.

Continue along Team Obama’s political campaign path (in the graph above), notice his next technology tool was a YouTube video. By Election Day, 1,800 videos (created by his supporters for free) were posted on YouTube that generated over 110 million views! It is not difficult to upload a video on to YouTube (add a video to Google Video too – be seen – be on as many websites as possible). Upload part of a match or a press conference. Not a big enough program to have a press conference? Create your own and upload it to your school’s website. Why not video a practice or demonstrate a particular skill? Club and high school coaches are sponges, they love to learn. It’s a great way to make a better relationship with these coaches (continually reminding them too of your program).

Text messaging was next in Team Obama’s quest to world domination 🙂 Today, people prefer text to annoying phone calls (tele-marketing anyone?). Obama had more than one million people signed up for his text message program, each receiving 5 to 20 targeted text messages per month. High School and Club coaches don’t have an issue with text messages, but before all my NCAA Coaches tell me they can’t use text for recruits, I say correct. But what about those high school and club coaches? Continue to build your affinity with them by an occasional text update. The nice part about building your program’s culture is that you do not have to text them but maybe once every three months. Between texts, you will have sent them an invitation to your social network, a link to your video, what about an email newsletter next?

Email newsletters should already be a common occurrence for your program. Each month (obviously with permission) an email update about the program should be sent out. Don’t make it a plain, text-only email newsletter! Make it a colorful and eye-catching newsletter, use pictures, graphs, and link it to your program’s website. If you have Scoutware, you are at an advantage, but any basic HTML program can easily create an interesting looking newsletter. I recommend after delivery of this email, post the newsletter in a blog. A blog? Yes a blog. Blogs not only offer a great way to deliver information, but its a great place to archive information by topic and date.

Bethany University Head Coach, Reed Duffus, has done a good job with his “Cup of Joe with Coach” Blog. His blog provides great insight into his fun character, “I must share that Dunkin’ Donuts ground coffee is very awesome – found some at the grocery store this past week. Back to volleyballand…”, Cup of Joe with Coach Blog and he even lets recruits know in his February 20th blog the tournaments he and his assistant coach will be attending. Awesome! Furthermore, players of your team enjoy blogs (like social-networks). Have each player submit one or two articles per season. It could be on pre-season training, a recent tournament, summer break activities, etc. Have them post pictures and maybe even mention something about a fundraiser or particular booster too. Not only will they enjoy it, but the coaching staff certainly gets a kick and some insight into their minds. And the fundraiser or booster who was mentioned, expect a check coming from them shortly!

Tweet, Tweet! This Twitter thing keeps chirping in my ear. Honestly, I haven’t figured out the fascination of Twitter, but it seems to be the rage. Team Obama posted Joe Biden as his running mate on Twitter before announcing it to the main stream media. Team Obama believes in fans first (heck they are part of the team now and they like thinking they’re on the inside). Twitter claims to be the answer to one simple question: What are you doing? It’s a real-time social network that allows a user 140 charcters to update their status. They can tell the world what they are doing at that particular moment. Just another technology avenue to keep your program name out there. Instead of a text, why not Twitter?

So how did Barack Obama become the 44th President of the United States? He created a culture through technology. Team Obama utilized a vast array of Barack Obama Websitetechnologies to systematically remind and rejuvenate people over time. Social networks, video, texts, blogs, newsletters, emails, and Twitter were all essential to his campaign in continually peaking interest. But all these mediums still needed a focal point, a gathering place, a place to put it all together, and that was BarackObama.com. The website was not only the campaign’s anchor, but it boasted a clear, poignant, confident message: CHANGE, HOPE, YES WE CAN! These few words changed history. What words resonate throughout your program? What does your website say about your program?Your programs website should shout out its personality and culture!

Unfortunately, my job search has forced me to visit too many dull, boring University websites. For the most part, they are all the same and I have two pet peeves. The first is the URL addresses of these websites are ridiculous. Check out the University of Minnesota’s URL:
http://www.gophersports.com/SportSelect.dbml?SPID=3301&DB_OEM_ID=8400 This will look good on a marketing banner, not. Simply have it as www.gophersports.com/volleyball. Keep it simple. Recruits have an easier time remembering simple. The second pet peeve is the difficulty to find a coach’s email address! “Coaches don’t want to be bothered?!?!” That’s your job, be bothered! Get a second email address for players and staff if necessary. I’m always impressed with the best coaches that reply to my email almost as soon as I send them out.

It appears, most universities have contracted out their websites to third-party companies that provide a basic template that includes, coaches, roster, schedule, statistics, and archives. This content is necessary, but spice it up! Yes, there are NCAA Rules to follow, but the NCAA, like the government, is always too slow to keep up Nebraska Volleyballwith technology. The University of Nebraska has a nice, non-template website that offers a large list of easily accessible information. Right at the top reads, “Welcome Recruits”. Click on it and it opens a page that has information like “Why Nebraska?” and “How to Contact a Coach” (although when I click on “How to Contact a Coach”it, it brings me to the 2009 Roster and says “No staff listed for this season”). And then there is the infamous “Recruiting Questionnaire”. They are all the same, so standard, about 30 questions to answer. Yawn. Don’t you think kids get tired of filling out these same questionnaires? They might fill out the school’s questionnaire they don’t have a chance of playing at and forget yours. Why not have a simple three question questionnaire. It asks: name, age, and email address. Maybe a player from Hawaii, that you would have never known about checked out your school’s website from a cool YouTube video posted by a fan and filled out your quick questionnaire by chance? Maybe you’ll take a look at them at the next tournament?

Along the same lines, have a place for fans to request a newsletter on your program’s homepage. Another quick and simple three question form: name, age, email address. This is a great way to build a fan base with a monthly newsletter (or video blog or text), especially as a reminder of your program in the off-season. How about have your program’s roster as a video? Each player can introduce themselves around different parts of your campus. A high tech method to show-off your school. Don’t forget to include the blog mentioned earlier or create a video blog. These technologies can all be easily implemented under your team’s current website or branch out and create a more exciting website. Remember, your school is a wealth of knowledge and resources. The students at your school could develop this website and I am confident they will paint a better picture of your school’s culture than any third party company. The University of South Florida has done a nice job with this concept: USFVolleyball.com. I’m not so sure I’d have the coaches as the main focal point of their website, but they do have a nice blog. Props to them for being different! It’s this differentiation that will give them a competitive advantage.

Phew, it sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but you will get 10 times more out of marketing then you put into it. The initial leg work is difficult, but over time, you are building a culture that will carry your program. Barack Obama is now President. John Tshohl, the “Guru of Customer Service”, has a service culture that’s lasted for over 38 years. When Donald Trump was asked what he would do if he had to do it all over again, his reply: “I would get into network marketing.” Mike Hebert is masterful at the many details of marketing and he’s got one of best and longest tenured fan bases going. Through this fan base, he has a great booster club. Through this booster club, he’s able to get ‘things’ for his program that other programs can’t afford (the University of Minnesota Team Room is awesome!). These ‘things’ bring in those top recruits. Those top recruits help make a successful program over the years. It’s what helps make the best the best and helps keep the best the best.

One comment

  1. Nice read Coach. Lots of information that I can apply to everyday life and GSU Club Volleyball. We finished 4th out of 9 teams at our home tourney last weekend. Florida International University won the whole thing as FIU A played FIU B in the finals. They were extremely good and fun to hangout with after. We leave on April 6th for Nationals in Houston. Hope everything in Rock Hill is going smooth.

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