Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The Cronulla Sharks clinched the 2016 premiership with a 14-12 win over the Melbourne Storm, ending a 49-year drought for the club. It was a momentous moment countless fans had been waiting for all of their lives.
While that was the big rugby league story of the season, for those working at the sports club and its various affiliated businesses, it’s the ongoing, behind-the-scenes narrative around marketing technology and strategic planning that are helping propel the club into the future, group GM, strategy and growth, Jonathan Prosser, says.
“Our mission statement is to be more than just a football club,” he says, noting Cronulla Sharks Rugby League Football encompasses both the sporting team, as well the home stadium, leagues club, foundation and real estate development.
Over the past year, the club has shaken things up through its use of advanced marketing automation tools, data management, and creative strategic planning, Prosser tells CMO. Since adopting Marketo’s platform, along with a new data management approach, the club has worked hard to better manage member and fan engagement, and is already reaping results.
“Our approach is a combination of Marketo, to automate marketing communications, and then Tealium to pull in all of the various data points and build that single customer view. Tealium comes first, you build that and then you communicate to them in a tailored way through Marketo,” Prosser says.
Here, Prosser shares how these martech platforms have helped the club to date and where he’s set his sights next in terms of customer engagement.
Gathering consumer intelligence
The beauty of deploying marketing automation, digital and data management technology has been the ability to gather tailored intelligence, Prosser says. For example, if a customer is on the website and logged in or in some way identified themselves through social media, the marketing team can put together specific activities to help drive conversion and engagement. One of these is cart abandonment.
“This allows one of the team to give them a call back and say, ‘we noticed you were on the site for a while; is there any way we can help and are there any questions or queries?’”Prosser says.
Overall, the technology has uplifted customer service and improved sales. “The great thing is having analytics that allows you to say, ‘It looks like this customer really needs help,’ and then we are able to provide the real warmth and support to get them what they need.”
Cronulla Sharks is now working with an external organisation in data capture and analytics in order to do further database analysis, with the view of pulling together numerous disparate datasets into one. The findings of that research will not only be a general optimisation of business processes, which helps the club find greater efficiencies, but will help the organisation go the next level in terms of data capture and analytics.
“Currently, if you shop in our merchandise retail outlet online, there is data capture. But if you shop in the Sharks store that is within the club, or indeed at one of the pop ups in the Stadium on a Game Day, then there’s limited data capture,” Prosser explains.
“While it’s a pretty obvious area to uplift, it is all very well to say, ‘We will just add in an iPad and do something’. We know customers want to get in, get what they want, and get out, and have a really good experience. And as soon as people stop and explain they need their email address while buying a set of Rugby shorts, they’re immediately thinking, ‘I’ve got to get out of here’.”
As a result, the organisation is evaluating the customer experience piece in order to keep it customer-centred. “This isn’t just about a huge exercise to vacuum up as much data as possible. It is about continually putting the customer first and ourselves in their shoes to think how do we continually uplift their experience, make it more tailored, and make it more enjoyable,” Prosser says.
Building an all-encompassing activity roadmap
The combination of marketing automation, single customer view, data capture and analytics has also enabled the club to create a more comprehensive campaign roadmap, allowing it to start delivering what Prosser says are unique product offerings in the market to businesses. He highlights one martech campaign, the ‘360 Game Week Takeover’, as a case in point.
The brand activation saw Cronulla Sharks working with computer game developers, Electronic Arts, and its PR agency, Frank PR, on the national launch of the game, Battlefield. All communications in the build-up to the game, from digital to social, was customised and painted with Battlefield messaging.
“There was a hashtag running across all channels, and then bespoke messaging and videos with the players, which typically summed up saying, ‘come on down to our battlefield’,” Prosser explains. “When people arrived in venue… we created pop ups and artwork.”
The campaign, which delivered a big buzz on all channels and forms of social media, culminated in fanfare to the kickoff match, where players ran out in a limited edition, special edition Battlefield jersey. Videos as well as special edition content was also developed featuring club players.
“This was a big campaign underpinned and enabled by all of the martech technology,” Prosser says.
The club is investigating how to take advantage of its single customer view, marketing automation, and data and analytics tools for further brand activation opportunities.
Strategic revenue growth
Prosser says the organisation is building 14 new businesses or projects within the sports brand, which will deliver new and non-traditional revenue to the organisation, and will also rely on its underlying technologies to help deliver key insights and advancement.
The first project is the ‘Sharks Have Heart Foundation’, which funds projects that relate to anti-bullying, anti-violence, tackling isolation of the disabled, inclusion and diversity.
“It is the vehicle through which we will take our already significant social and community work to a whole new level,” he says. “The foundation is up and running. It has funds coming into it. We are doing a lot of strategy work and delivery work, and tapping our data capture and analytics capabilities, to continue to take that up and up and up.”
To help, the club is tagging more of its Web assets to bring into the Tealium fold including the Sharksfoundation.com.au website. “This is all part of our analytics and getting better at engaging our donor and philanthropists in that space. That is a key one and there will be more akin to that,” Prosser says.
Iterative digital innovation
Asked about the club’s overall digital plans, Prosser says it’s about taking a “listen, watch, ask and then build” approach.
“My view is you should have the right business strategy which covers all channels, technologies and components,” he says. “You get your reason for being right first. We are more than just a football club. We are not only on this planet to win premierships, this is hugely important, but our overall contribution to the community is of great importance. Otherwise in the year that we don’t win the Premiership, does that mean all of our efforts have resulted in failure? Certainly not.
“We are doing a lot of incredible work in the community and touching the lives of people in deep and meaningful ways, and helping corporate partners grow. So we are very clear on our reason for being, and the ‘why’ part of why we exist as a club, a Foundation, and as an organisation, are around. The rest flows around that, including having the right technology.”