Laura Gigliotti_HeadshotWhat can marketers learn from a sports franchise, specifically the Pittsburgh Steelers? Think about what they’re working with: a highly in-demand product, a wildly-engaged fanbase and a national media spotlight. These are not the typical assets the average marketer has at his or her fingertips, but the strategies used by the Steelers to keep their fans engaged turn the fan loyalty on its heads, and just may prove useful to your business.

On June 14, DMA’s Communities traveled to the windy city for our sixth Regional Roundtable this year. Typically, these half-day learning and networking events are hosted at a DMA member company’s office, and feature a keynote, case study presentation, group discussions, and a networking reception to close out the day.

Chicago – just like DMA’s other roundtables this year – was a popular event for us, with over 40 DMA members joining us at Mintel Comperemedia’s offices in historic downtown Chicago. The chance to meet C-suite executives from DMA member companies like Mintel, a global marketing analysis firm, at DMA Regional Roundtables is incentive enough. Throw in the views of Lake Michigan and leading-edge marketers and it’s a fascinating and informative five hours.

Jodi Rausch, Vice President of Strategy at rDialogue, spoke in detail about her work with the Steelers, and, more generally about effective loyalty strategies and executions. “We have entered an age,” she said, “where brands need to recognize who their most loyal customers are, and show them the same love and loyalty in return.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a dilemma. They wanted to create a 360-degree experience for fans, incorporating two-way connections and interactions with their favorite football team in diverse and integrated ways. The solution? The Steelers Nation Unite loyalty program, which Jodi and her team have worked on for the past two and a half years. In it’s first “season,” the program have three goals:

  1. Drive opt-in and identification
  2. Engage, recognize and thank fans
  3. Promote merchandise

It’s important to note that only 1% of Steelers fans are season ticket holders, 2% are single game attendees, and the remaining 97% have never stepped foot in the stadium, choosing to watch the games from their home or favorite sports bar, instead. In order to be relevant and effective, the program had to include the 97% of fans who don’t come to the stadium.

“How we engage fans is the difference between a fan club and building a Steelers-Fan relationship,” Jodi said. Engagement is a broad term that rDialogue defines and tackles in different ways for different clients. In this instance, engagement meant a few different things:

Team: Allow fans to be a direct part of the Steelers in Pittsburgh, at Heinz Field, and in their own community across the country and around the world.
Authentic: Create a program that is democratic, inclusive, and personal for all fans, while not being gimmicky.
Game Day: Create a game day experience that all fans want to be a part of, both in and out of the stadium.
Share: Remind fans that they are essential to the Steelers’ success, knowing they share in the wins and losses; create fan advocates.
Appreciate: Recognize the dedication fans put into loving the Steelers.

With their engagement strategy in place, the Steelers began acquisition efforts for the Steelers Nation Unite program, focusing on owned channels including email, social and in-stadium. Member referrals and sponsored events have also driven awareness about the program and benefits of participation. Communications to current program participants have focused on digital assets and stadium POS. The “Weekly Huddle”, where fans get exclusive access to the Steelers during live twitter chats and conference calls with key stakeholders, has been wildly popular.

“We want to continually surprise and delight fans,” Jodi said. “We’ll send fans prize packs for engaging with the Steelers in various ways. If they join a Huddle, or refer a member, we reward them.” Oftentimes, these prizes are shared by fans on social media, generating even more excitement and interest in the loyalty program.

In closing, Jodi noted that leveraging “fandom” has helped the Steelers create more experiential loyalty for fans, no matter where they choose to watch on game day.
And when it comes to implementing a customer engagement/loyalty initiative for your own business, remember that strategy development, understanding your audience, creating advocates, and continually evolving to retain interest and expand on the business opportunity are all essential.

Our Chicago Roundtable was the third-to-last stop on our 2016 tour, with Minneapolis and Dallas coming up in September and November, respectively. Will we see you there to meet and network with the marketing’s best and brightest? Learn more and register today!