Shift Happens: A Guide to Being Relevant and Staying Relevant

Sometimes all we can do is throw our hands up and say, “Shift happens.” This is definitely one of those times. Markets keep shifting, and we’re doing our best to react, but it’s important to remember with change comes opportunity.

Global fan growth for the esports market is projected to hit 500M people this year, nearly doubling its 2016 tally. While I’ve enjoyed playing video games in the past, I don’t really consider myself part of this growing consumer group. However, as previously mentioned, sometimes shift happens and desperate times call for desperate measures.

As an avid sports fan, I have my personal viewership hierarchy determining what I choose to watch when multiple options are available. This hierarchy also guides my viewing decisions when primary options aren’t available. I move down the hierarchy and find something that satisfies my need for sports, even if it’s a bottom-tier option. Then there’s sports gambling which can act as a safety net by creating a vested interest in an otherwise uninteresting matchup. In these less-than-ideal situations, I lean on the old adage something is better than nothing.

But what if there were no sports at all? What if the unthinkable happened and all sports were cancelled? Even the safety net of gambling is rendered useless. What then? Luckily, this has been a hypothetical doomsday scenario… until now.

My fellow sports fans and I are reeling in the wake of our favorite pastimes being taken from us. All our options have been shut down, and we’re reaching for something, anything, to fill the void. The result of this desperation is a willingness to consider new options which might end up being an incredible opportunity for outside entertainment categories to reach new viewer segments. Or, perhaps, it’s a chance for an unconventional sports category to engage new audiences and convert traditional sports fans who have yet to join the global movement.

Esports, get in there and show us what you got.

I’m certainly no expert in this area, but I’m aware of the basics. There are plenty of online video games that allow users to connect and compete with players from around the world. For those who aren’t interested in being directly involved, platforms such as Twitch are streaming channels where viewers can watch other players compete in a variety of popular games. These are two standard esports options, but sports fans are getting creative with how they’re using video games to find sports entertainment.

Most sports video games have a simulation setting where teams are selected and play without user involvement. Player skill settings and team performance probability drive a matchup where the game plays from start to finish, and the outcome is unknown. Most of us are familiar with this concept of game simulation run by computers at high volume (thousands of times) to predict winners of big games like the Super Bowl or World Series. What we’re not so familiar with is using this simulation feature as a significant viewer attraction. But as I said at the beginning, desperate times call for desperate measures.

There are Instagram posts of parties with sports fans watching video game simulations, and they’re genuinely excited about it. If you looked only at their reactions, it would be easy to believe they’re watching live sports. The videos are pretty funny, but they’re also thought provoking. This would not be happening a month ago, and it might not ever happen again. Regardless, for the time being, there’s a captivated audience of sports fans willing to take whatever they can get, even if that means watching a simulation.

It will be interesting to see how the esports industry responds. While in-person esports events – which pull in tens of thousands of fans – are being cancelled like the rest of sports, this industry can still produce new content and host live competitions while players are in isolation. In addition, platforms like Twitch can stream events without the need for an on-site film crew, and viewers can be reached on a global scale without cable TV contracts. With all these stars aligned, the stage is set for an epic coming out party.

While we’re here talking specifically about esports, brands across all industries should be paying close attention. As we work with clients to address the challenges of an ever-changing competitive landscape and to maintain a foothold through significant market shifts, our mantra is simple: Be Relevant. Stay Relevant.

Being relevant is knowing your own business inside and out, understanding your existing customers, and establishing a foundation of insights pulled from your current data inventory. Staying relevant is understanding the environment surrounding your business, such as trends, competitors, opportunities, threats, and customer behavior drivers. This approach to strategic brand development provides the insight needed for today and the foresight needed for tomorrow.

Here are a few standout principles framed in the context of esports that can apply to any brand:

Regularly organize and analyze your existing customer data inventory.

The value of customer data is being able to pull actionable insights and know-how to use those insights to guide decision making. In this regard, having too much data can be just as problematic as having too little data. Keeping data organized and accessible to all departments will ensure that incoming data can be quickly and effectively used across the entire company.

Over the next few weeks, there will be a significant influx of viewer data as esports streaming platforms like Twitch are one of few remaining sports entertainment options providing new content. There will likely also be an increase in online gaming activity and in-game purchases. If their existing customer data inventory is disorganized or siloed, this flood of new data will be overwhelming and pile onto a weak foundation which can be a big problem.

It’s also important to know which types of consumer data are needed to fill existing data gaps. Having a detailed customer data inventory will identify areas where more data is needed and areas that would just be producing duplicates. Customer data segmentation and profile development is a vital aspect of content personalization and targeted marketing. Esports companies likely have a firm understanding of their primary audience, but there’s always more to know.

Developing new engagement initiatives can open the door to new data categories. If Twitch already knows which streaming channels are most popular, perhaps they can develop sub-categories to further detail the most popular content types. Adding or restructuring fields within new user registration forms can start to establish more detailed customer personas by looking beyond general demographics and asking about outside interests, lifestyle preferences, or what new users hope to find within the world of esports.

Keep an eye on market conditions and dig deep into consumer behavior drivers.

Obviously, global health concerns are driving significant market shifts. The cancellation of major sports leagues and events has presented esports with access to new audiences. Rather than looking at short-term behavior drivers (i.e. extended periods of isolation), look further into WHY consumers are so interested in sports to begin with.

There are plenty of entertainment options available and new arrivals seem to pop up every day, yet the sports entertainment industry continues to grow. By gaining a more detailed understanding of the social and environmental factors that have shaped sports fans, the esports industry can strengthen its position within the competitive environment.

What needs exist that traditional sports don’t meet? What market trends and opportunities outside of the sports industry might help identify new opportunities within? What are consumers looking for from their favorite brands that esports can use to build meaningful relationships and connect on a more personal level?

Don’t just let consumers walk away without asking their reasons for leaving.

Customer defection is inevitable, and this can be a valuable learning experience for brands willing to see these former customers as a resource. Once the traditional sports market returns to business as usual, there will be a segment of esports viewers who leave for that reason alone. Esports were a temporary fix that were never intended to be a long-term solution.

There will also be viewers who stick around but switch to a different platform or who might have stayed but felt something was missing from their customer experience. Reaching out to these lost customers to ask why they haven’t returned will provide valuable insight and uncover areas for improvement that weren’t previously considered.

Whether new or existing customers, direct communication will benefit both sides. People want to be heard, and there are some truly good ideas out there. People also want to feel appreciated, and asking for their input will make them feel valued. Imagine you’re hosting a party and a new guest arrives. A good host will greet them and make them feel welcome. Treating new customers the same way helps raise engagement levels and build strong relationships.

Voice of Customer research is not a new concept. However, not all brands are strategic in their approach. Presenting a standard feedback survey might be effective, but it’s not engaging. Something like esports provides limitless opportunities for engaging feedback methods, such as gamification, and reinforces industry value propositions that aren’t relevant to most others. Making customer feedback part of a broader brand engagement strategy will establish an open line of communication that is authentic and adds value to both sides.

The current, unforeseen global market shifts have presented esports with an unprecedented opportunity to expand its audience. This opportunity has an unknown expiration date, so it’s up to esports brands to take action. The brands that have made strategic agility part of their long-term business plan are positioned to capitalize on this opportunity. Maintaining a healthy data inventory, closely following broader consumer market conditions, understanding consumer behavior drivers, and holding open lines of two-way communication are all things every brand can be doing.

About MacKenzie Corp:
For 35 years, MacKenzie Corp has been empowering our clients to accomplish all the above. As a result they have built stronger relationships with customers, solidified their position within the competitive market, and continue to achieve their strategic business goals. Are you prepared to capitalize on market opportunities when they arise? Looking to fortify your long-term strategy and take your brand to new heights? We’re here to lead the way. Give us a shout and let’s get the process started.