How Cricket’s IPL Can Help Make the Digital Play by Brands Better

Most people in Asia (and certainly the subcontinent) will be aware of the Indian Premier League (or IPL), the new format of cricket where a game lasts just three hours with each side playing 20 overs. More than the cricket, what’s really made the IPL enormously popular is the format it follows – of city-level franchisee-owned teams that consists of a mix of Indian and international cricketers (much on the lines of club football played across the world). The other aspect that’s endeared the tournament to viewers and attracted a large following of cricket non-enthusiasts as well (mostly women) is the entertainment element. Entertainment has been woven into the very fabric of the tournament, complete with cheerleaders on the field, and a generous sprinkling of glamour in the form of Bollywood stars and other celebrities.

With this brief background to the IPL, I’ll dive straight to the lessons one could draw from the game and explain how these could be applied by brands to the digital activities they carry out.

(If you would like to know more about IPL, its genesis and what it’s all about, look no further than Google! You’ll get more than you can read.)

1. Too much of a good thing isn’t always wonderful

Simply expanding what’s working isn’t the best way to go. Growing and getting bigger and better sometimes calls for a rethink of the basics and creating a fundamentally different structure that accommodates the growth needs and ambition.

We often see brand owners kickstart social media activity for a brand. And then as they taste early success, they simply add on other brands or replicate the model for the rest of their portfolio – often with disastrous results that include a fragmented (and sometimes confused) audience.

2. Community and commerce needs to be well-balanced

In the case of the IPL, team compositions underwent radical changes this year. Not because viewers were bored of seeing the same players play for the same teams, but because it made commercial sense for the owners of the IPL brand.

This behaviour is something that other brands adopt as well. By making radical changes. We see this with websites, social media destinations, and how and what brands say in the digital space.

It’s important to remember that while brand owners see their brands (and their communication manifestations) every day, it’s not the same with their audience.

An audience (particularly in the digital space) builds up gradually and usually joins the brand ‘story’ at different points. It’s the same with IPL, which has added on new viewers every year for whom the first time was some way down the actual life of the tournament.

So while avoiding stagnation is paramount and evolving is important – it’s just as crucial to retain some constancy in how brands represent themselves. As we all know, overnight successes actually are years in the making!

3. Brand rituals are something that can help enliven the brand

Give it a real face, and more importantly deeply engage its audience – both in the creation of the rituals and in living out the ritualistic life of the brand.

Rituals, too, take time to develop and get immersed in, and certainly aren’t something that an aggressive media plan or a short-term tactical approach can achieve. It applies both to brand IPL and every other brand, and is valid for activities in the digital space and offline too.

4. Integration, that oft used term that’s rarely truly done justice

Yes, it means integrating with more than just the core offering and integrating with the rest of the marketing mix. More importantly, integrating with the ethos of the brand.

IPL has integrated its core component (cricket) with entertainment very well; so much so there’s debate whether it offers cricket + entertainment, or entertainment with cricket thrown in. It’s a seamless fit and that’s something brands should strive to achieve.

Too often we see brands undertake a digital play (no pun intended) that seems a forced fit. This is probably due to the fact that digital is still treated as a marketing after-thought by many brand owners. It helps to think digital at the start of marketing planning, not at the end.

In conclusion, I’d like to bring up a question:

As brand marketers, how many of us actually do digital around a long-term vision rather than a set of tactics and campaigns strung together that one hopes when put together will create an enduring brand impact? And how many think and plan for brand ‘property’ beyond brand campaign?

Certainly, something worth mulling over.

For longer than the duration of an IPL match. And hopefully, with the intent and zeal to come up with an answer – that creates a property for the brands we manage, that’s just as different, yet engaging as the IPL.

And one that makes an impression on the audience, and an impact on the brand and its business. Beyond the life of a campaign, and ensures from one season to the next, and the next…

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