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ESPN wouldn’t dominate sports entertainment and broadcasting without a deep understanding of the sports audience. A key source of that understanding is the ESPN FANography insight community, which is composed of 5,000 dedicated sports fans. Members provide ongoing feedback to the company on everything from marketing and advertising campaigns to program content and media usage.

Dave Blumberg, the associate manager of advertiser insights at ESPN, oversees FANography. On September 20th, he’ll share tips and strategies for effective audience engagement at the Customer Intelligence Summit in Chicago.

Here’s what sports have taught him about how to do his job smarter, faster and better.

  1.     Move quickly

Hockey is one of the quickest-moving games out there. Players hustle, race after the puck and make every split second count. The sports media world moves at a similar pace.

ESPN can’t afford to lag behind the moving target of audience tastes, particularly because sports is often consumed live. Blumberg asks his community members for speedy feedback about ESPN’s marketing, advertising, programming, sales, service and creative efforts. The community allows Blumberg to tap directly into fan reactions to games and campaigns to see what’s working and what’s not.

  1.     Make smart decisions

Every year, professional sports teams trade players, making game-changing additions to their rosters. In the business world, big changes are only as good as the intelligence and technology that supports them. Blumberg often utilizes his FANography community to test market receptivity to sponsorships and client campaigns. While this research can be outsourced to a third-party research vendor, Blumberg prefers to insource and consult with confirmed ESPN users in his insight community. In 2015, this helped him reduce research costs by as much as 85 percent.

  1.     Back your moves up

In the final moments of a tied game, you need your most trusted players. When it comes to making expensive decisions in business, always back them up with supporting data and quality customer intelligence.

For example, ESPN wanted to understand if fans were still enjoying NBA Christmas Day promotions, which featured Santa Claus at NBA press conferences. Blumberg discovered that the promos were well-liked—in fact, fans clamored for more. This customer intelligence, coming directly from the campaign’s target audience (NBA fans), was extremely useful in giving the ESPN marketing team enough confidence to continue and evolve this successful campaign.

  1. ESPN fans pexels     Be a team player

NBA player Kobe Bryant is known for being a ball hog. In the brand-consumer relationship, brands, like Bryant, too often dominate the conversation, are too self-promotional and ask a lot from consumers. Being a team player in the real world means giving as much as you take.

ESPN, for example, consistently aims to show fans how much their input matters. Their custom-designed, multi-page quarterly FANewsletters give the members of FANography a chance to see how others responded to questions, detail how their feedback is being used at ESPN and praise individual members for their contributions via shout outs and incentives. ESPN also operates a private Facebook group for its FANography members, where organic sports conversations occur around the clock, and where ESPN can give FANography members a sneak peek into breaking news in the company. The result: fans feel like they’re on the inside with their favorite brand.

  1.     Learn new tactics and techniques

Sometimes you can’t rely on your gut instinct alone. This is especially true for businesses operating in times of uncertain consumer behavior and shifting expectations. For instance, ESPN had a theory that the inconsistency of the jersey colors of NFL players depicted in Monday Night Football promotions was jarring to the viewer experience. To test this, the insight community’s NFL fans went through a rapid-fire response test to identify team jersey color associations. Almost unanimously, fans chose the home or darker jersey colors for every team, thus informing future promotions.

  1.     Play for the fans

To make sure every experience is unforgettable—no matter where it occurs—the FANography insight community represents all audience segments, including mobile users, TV viewers, print magazine readers and ESPN Radio listeners. Every medium presents specific challenges. The ESPN Audio Sales team, for example, must consider where listening occurs, how terrestrial radio listening compares to streaming and podcast listening, when certain means of listening are preferred and how engaged listeners are with content and during commercial breaks. Answering these sorts of questions is imperative for ESPN to help inform its clients on user behaviors.

You can observe a lot by just watching

“You can observe a lot by just watching,” Yogi Berra famously said. Using its insight community, ESPN gets close to its audience and biggest fans to find out what they want to see and experience, before they even realize it.

Hear the entire story by joining ESPN and other leading brands at our upcoming Summit in Chicago.

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