Ep. 35: Mobile Fan Engagement with Sue Thaden
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently.
Sue Thaden, CEO and Founder of From Now On, joins Rob Cressy to talk about how to mobile fan engagement. From a college level, where does fan engagement begin? How can teams and brands fully engage fans? What is the simplest entry point to mobile fan engagement? Why is having fans part of the engagement key to improving word of mouth?
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Rob Cressy: (00:04)
Welcome to The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy and joining me today is Sue Thaden, CEO and founder of From Now On. So great to have you on the show.
Sue Thaden: (00:30)
Thank you Rob. I'm excited to be on the show. Thank you for all you're doing for the community to your GameDay Playbook podcast is awesome and I'm flattered to be part of it today.
Rob Cressy: (00:40)
Thank you. I appreciate the good vibes. Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?
Sue Thaden: (00:46)
Yeah, so I'm the CEO from now on as well as we have another company, CRI, so I work every day for the strategic vision of the organization. From Now On is basically a digital marketing and communication platform company helping schools on a daily basis to do everything they can to communicate great things to fans and create fan engagement. I went a little long. I that's not at all where I meant to go, but go with what you have to Rob.
Rob Cressy: (01:12)
No, I love it. So here's what we're going to talk about today among other things is mobile fan engagement and we're going to start with the college athletics side of things. So what I want to know, and I actually saw this on your website, where does fan engagement begin? Because it looks like there was a sort of a three tiered system here with schools and universities, then conferences, then championships.
Sue Thaden: (01:39)
Got it. Hey, that's a great question. So I might take that in two directions. The college market is our core market. We love the college athletics market and we look at it like an onion. Like you just walked through Rob, the middle of the onion is the college. So go big red. I'm going to talk about Nebraska for my example. So we would love to help Nebraska communicate all things game day, all those amazing things they're doing in and around game day in and around the student athletes, so now they advanced their volleyball team, advances to conference tournaments. The second layer of the onion, we focus very heavy with our platform on creating great tournament experiences, conference tournament experiences. We have many conferences doing fantastic stuff to fully engage that fan while they're in that said town said community cheering on their team and then the outer layer of the onion is championships.
Sue Thaden: (02:29)
We were super excited. The NAIA beautiful suite of schools, small schools, heavy student athlete, percentage of members and great alumni and we have been doing about eight of their championships for a few years. They're awesome to work with. We're super excited. We're doing a number of championships for the NCAA now. Just wrapped up volleyball. We'll be doing women's basketball, men's final four, wrestling, CWS Omaha and believe me, a few grown men cried in our office. We're in Omaha. That was a big deal. Beautiful deal for and then women's college world series, which is an awesome event as well.
Rob Cressy: (03:03)
So with that you mentioned fully engaging fans. So let's unpack that a little bit more because I love all things fan experience and fan engagement. Why? One, because I am a sports fan too because I've got a marketing mindset and one of the biggest game changers for me in my career and why I do what I do was I was at a an event and as part of it there were some sponsors and there was a bank that was there and the bank was handing out stress balls to the people that were there. I was like, you have got to be kidding me. If a bank thinks that handing out a stress ball is going to get me to give a crap about what they do, they are solely missed because the people who were in this room were people of note. It was an audience that you would want to engage with. And it was the opposite of fan engagement. And I'll never forget that because in everything that I do, I always like to think, alright Rob, if you could do whatever you want, if you could throw the best party ever, if you could throw the best activation ever, what would you want to do? And then I'm like, here's a crazy idea, let's do it. So that's why I'm interested to hear more about what you mean by fully engaging a fan because there's so many opportunities.
Sue Thaden: (04:30)
Yeah. Boy, you just laid out a bunch of fun stuff. So I'm going to talk about the bank and then I'll go about fully engaged. So really cool things. You know, fans love to be a raving fan. Courtside feeling for every event, that feeling every time they hear a game live on the radio or they're wearing their Jersey on Monday from, they just went to a Saturday game. Fans love that feeling. And I would say what banks have done wisely is the affinity programs when they become the card of campus and you've got that card in your pocket and I can put my go big red favorite stuff on it. I think banks nail it there. So let's take that to that mobile opportunity so you can do welcome to game day fans. Click here and watch. Click here to listen. Brought to you by bank XYZ and that bank is there or we've been bare with me but I'm talking to activation now we've had some banks do some super cool things about they'll drop a notification.
Sue Thaden: (05:23)
You can do it all fans, you can segment it because when you talk about full fan engagement, what goes through my mind is not everybody's definition of full is the same. I might want to beginning and end of score. I might want to be at it. I might want to be at it and listen to it. I might want to wear my stuff and paint my face. People are in a totally different perspective. So that's one of the beautiful things about our platform is we've created a lot of personalization opportunities. I can pick my favorites forward, I can pick the things I want to know. And now I'm not gonna miss anything. Game day I'm football and basketball and volleyball. I'm not gonna miss things. Game day cause I think that and as predictive gets more and more fluid, you can serve them even more contextually with what they want.
Sue Thaden: (06:01)
Right then you know, right now I'm walking in, I get a notification it says take this 10% coupon and get a discount on your hotdog. So just really great things that are high value to the fan. But we've seen kind of weaving that bank back in. We've seen banks do great things. Just recently, I have a lot of our school's apps of course, and a power five school did a notification. It said, Hey fans, we win. You win. Click here to get free checking and one other thing and you click on and it takes you to a really a pretty good promotion by the bank to take it in and say, this gives me free checking and a couple other services. So they're showing up with the brand and they're showing up through the brand and giving some value things back to the students or people that have the app. So there's neat things that we see going on and the technology is not the limit. It's really creativity alignment, high value to fan, high value for sponsors and ultimately schools, what they're trying to do? Fill their seats, have raging fans, have people love being part of their program. And so if all that can come together, it's just special.
Rob Cressy: (07:02)
And I think you nailed it with the personalization side of things because I think as we continued to peel the onion there, you say, what does it make meet? What is what makes me as the fan feel some sort of way about something. It's not just, Hey, how's it going? It's Hey Sue, how is it going? Like a symbol personalization. And then you start to say, well what are the various areas that we can create personalization? Because what we really want to do when you unpack the word engagement, it's conversation in community and the ability to communicate back and forth in so much of marketing and messaging is buy what I'm selling by what I'm selling. So they take what my agenda is. I want you to purchase something and I jam it down the throat of the fan or as now the landscape is becoming so commoditized, you can buy anything anywhere from anyone at any time.
Rob Cressy: (08:02)
So now you need to give me a reason to want to hear back from you again. So now you need to start personalizing the message. You need to add more layers of creativity. And the creative side of things is what excites me the most. And I actually believe it's the biggest opportunity because I don't always see the most creative things because a lot of brands out there believe that the simple act of doing means that we can check the box off as we did fan engagement without realizing that is the actual engagement with the fan. That should be the check box, not just the act of doing.
Sue Thaden: (08:39)
Yup. You know, it is so true that personalization opportunity, we take data pretty seriously. I mean that's a popular word. I wish I could use a different one to make my point. But we watch really closely what are fans doing? What are they doing the most often? What aren't they doing? Okay. Maybe that should go because you really want to have limited things, an experience with a fan so that they're doing the things they like and it's just really maximize some of the fun engagement stuff that we've learned about and we've been doing mobile in our parent company for 13 years. So the college athletic stuff about five but in the parent company a long time. So we really watch behavior. What are they doing? What does it look like they want to do? Cause they keep clicking on that. But in venue, like you say engagement, one thing that is most clicked on is that player bio who just dunked, who just spiked. I want to be closer to her. I wanna be closer to him. Oh my gosh, you went to that high school. Oh no kidding. He did that. And then that creates the, Oh I got my guy on my team, I got my woman on my team. Then you're following that guy or that woman. Now you're following the team. This is what we all see is as really cool opportunity. And then how else can you engage them with that team in venue? Everybody's got a phone, everybody's looking at the phone and over the past probably five to seven years, people have given up trying to get rid of the phone in the venue and say, Hey, how do we become the second screen? How do we become what they're doing further yet? How do we, while they're on that phone, have them interacting with the event they're currently a part of.
Sue Thaden: (09:59)
So we've partnered with Q audio, great light show, have had huge turnout. They've done a great job with that. It's powered through our app. People love to do that. We've got polling and trivia, you know, in the, in the spirit of people wanting to a little bit poll and trivia. You can vote on the halftime song and cool, you see that meter on the digital board going up and down and I put my vote in or MVP or anything that you want to vote on to get that fan differently engaged. So there's so many fun ways to get them taking that phone that they're already holding onto and they love dearly and connect it to the event. So they keeps their conversation, get that conversation opened up and keep it high value. Sometimes high value is low touch.
Rob Cressy: (10:39)
I love the thought process on this because what it immediately brings to my mind is realtime. So let's unpack this a little bit more because not all marketing is real time. It takes a lot more on us, a lot more effort. It takes more effort or intention or attention to detail to make it happen. But I think the simplest example is if you ever go to an NBA game and it's like if the Chicago bulls score a hundred points today, everyone wins a free taco. So now even if the bulls are getting blown out, everyone's sitting there and it's like they're at 98 and then they hit a three pointer and the crowd goes wild and the ability to then activate it that way. So can you talk a little bit more about real time engagement in what are the challenges and then what are the opportunities? Because I like the idea, but does everybody execute it correctly?
Sue Thaden: (11:31)
Yeah. Well, we'll talk about challenges and get that slightly negative out of the way first. But we have a super powerful notification platform in our product, and I'm just describing this scenario, I'm going to point out. And so we had, a hockey school in first period drop a notification to all end venue hockey fans that there's going to be 15% off merchandise in the inner arena apparel. They emptied seats first period. So the power of suggestion, there's a discount. I'm going right now, I'm getting up. So we all have a little bit of responsibility in those situations, really understand the power of it. But as far as real time, you know what's valuable to them at the moment. And so you talk about the a hundred. We have a college of power five that when they hit 75 points in basketball, everybody gets an activation of a sponsor.
Sue Thaden: (12:25)
And so it has gone off three times in the last week and so it's kinda fun but like you said, alignment. Did they win? I don't know if everybody's talking about that in the moment. I think they're talking about, I just got this awesome discount to said chicken place because my team hit 75 points. So the, you know, the context like you said is so important. Like if we are sending out notifications in venue to say 15% off merchandise, Twitter's awesome but if you put that on Twitter, the guy is, say the game's in Nebraska. The guy in Alabama is like, how do I get my 15% off? So there's a really good chance everybody out of venue just got offended because it was a full Twitter communication thing. Twitter's beautiful. We integrate with Twitter. But what we really see in the value of is just in venue notifications that are about this situation, voting at halftime, voting on MVP, getting discounts for this, discounts for that, or a three ticket package given to everybody. Third quarter for the next three games for attending today. So context is a big deal. But again, as we all know, your phone's intimate. It's on my nightstand, it's in my pocket, and I really don't want stuff coming to me that's not valuable to me. Maybe once they give them a little grace, but a lot. No. So it's important to make sure and have people have options to personalize the experience they have. So it's the experience they want.
Rob Cressy: (13:50)
Well, yeah, I mean you just nailed it. A very important thing that needs to be valuable but valuable is in the eye of the beholder. If I'm the bank, I may think that free checking account is valuable. Me on the other end, I'm like, why in the world at 9:00 AM I receiving a free checking account thing? But if thinly veiled in March madness and a bracket challenge and something that's going to engage me, now we're sort of talking and I really think it's really about understanding the entire circle or loop and making sure that from start to finish, that you understand each part of the fan interaction so that you can control that experience and not just put it out there.
Sue Thaden: (14:34)
Yeah, I don't want to sound like a simpleton, but right where you were at, Rob, I'm with you. You know when we work with schools on a daily basis and they'll be like, what are we going to put in that app? And I'm like, we can all the amazing things you're doing, let's just get that in the app. Let's let them know the marching bands cornering here at noon, that clear bag policy or that you're having this fan fest for kids this morning or there's a concert or there's a coaches show. Every school is doing super, super cool stuff. What we've experienced is, you know, the world's multichannel, we've got multichannel media and the mobile app in people's pocket has really been contextual. In tailgating, they told me the band's coming. I got my son and he's excited to go check out that band. His game day begins once we get over there and follow the marching band and sing the fight song. So I think that as far as you say, fan engagement, schools know what they're doing. It may not be through digital, mobile, flashing lights, but all that stuff can be taken digital. I think that is like beautiful opportunity for everybody. You know, everybody's kinda not created equal on the size of their digital team or their resources. But I tell you the smallest schools are doing super cool stuff and they've got a lot of crowd fans and alumni and the more we can make sure every fan. We do bowls as well. So how many times have you heard somebody say, I went to the bowl, I went to the bowl. Oh did you go to that one tailgate? Where was that? I didn't even know it existed. Here's this bowl in the city together, putting on a premium event and they're trying to get everybody to love it and they genuinely want to make money. Their community shine teams win. And if you can make sure that everybody has an opportunity to know all those things that exist, they can personalize their trip instead of going home and saying, man, how come I didn't know there was a, you know, we could watch a practice or meet the players before. So just there's so many. My background's technology, 20 years, 20 plus years of technology and I love technology, but I got to tell you what matters more is just what you're trying to get done and why you're trying to get it done. And not doing tricky technology for the sake of tricky technology, but mastering how you can engage with that fan, give them the experience they want.
Sue Thaden: (16:44)
We did this AR product last year, it's really cool and a couple of our schools use it and it was really exciting. I think we'll expand on that, but we always have to play with technology. But most importantly technology is probably not the challenge. It's what do fans want? What's valuable? What makes me go, man, that's my brand. That's my team. This made my day. So the harder part is not the technology, it's the making sure you're clear on what fans want and what the trends are in great experiences. If I can belabor this minute more, you know, one we're all like in the experience economy and everything we can do to be the experience that people are willing to be a part of to give up that other experience. So I recently read Essentialism, have you read that?
Rob Cressy: (17:27)
Is that by Greg McKeon?
Sue Thaden: (17:28)
Yeah! So we could get off track. So my take away and you maybe you'll laugh. My takeaway is you have a limited amount of time and if you do this, you can't do that. It's always at the cost of something. So this year, 2020, our motto and planning, goals and our product roadmap, hell yes or no. It's hell yes or no. And you know what it does really makes your product meetings go quick because we always fluster with those mid fat things that you wonder. If it's not a hell yes, everybody wants to be on track. So we go, hell yes or no. So when we're looking at our product roadmap or looking at trying to look at the hell yes things for fans, we're not trying to get so ahead of them, they're not going to use it while we them with the stuff you have is pretty important.
Rob Cressy: (18:14)
I love that. One thing that I want to talk about is actually you said the technology is not the challenge, it's what fans want. So let's speak to the entry point. So someone's listening to this right now in maybe they are work with a high score or booster club or a small school or university or they just aren't doing what we're doing right now. Let's talk about the entry point into this from the mobile fan engagement because I'm like yes, but Sue, I don't know where to start. I'm not Nebraska. We don't have all of those same resources that they do now and I'd really like to think about the excuses why someone would make something. So can you help us understand the entry point into mobile fan engagement?
Sue Thaden: (19:03)
Yeah, the entry point into mobile fan engagement and I am going to decide step and come right back to it. So we tee shirt size our app so it can be double XL, blow out Ohio state, blow out Nebraska, big digital teams just doing amazing stuff. Or you can be a small NAIA where the golf coach is the AD and he's managing the app and we out of responsibility have to make sure it's valuable at all levels. Valuable means fresh content, low effort, right? So nobody has time to do new stuff. So number one, don't reinvent new habits. Reuse the stuff you have. If you're doing posters around campus, drop that poster in the app. If you're doing a campaign, a foundation campaign to raise money or to update locker rooms at your DIII school, drop it in the app with the same exact pictures and everything that you have.
Sue Thaden: (19:50)
So the entry point, I think it's really a, I've got gotta think about that a little bit, but I'm trying to think of limited resources and be really fair to that because we do here every day how strapped people are and what all they're already doing. But I think you just have, I'm going to repeat. Thank you. Really just have to go with what you're already doing. Find a simple platform and push it through it. And we do as much as we can to automate. So we have integrations with websites. So all those cool news and stories automatically go to the website. Integration with schedules. So your update and the game goes through integration with bio's. So all that stuff is automatically updated as well. So we need to be responsible as the provider to look at anything we can automate because our people we're working with don't have time for more, but they're sure doing cool stuff. I think one thing that is important too, and we talk about this internally, the time, by the way, I think our developers would say, see, the technology is not that easy. And I would say you're right guys. There's always complication in it, putting technology together, but the capabilities are beyond really capacity usually.
Rob Cressy: (21:06)
So when talking about, Hey, we've got a lot of things going on, what to me that actually says it's a prioritization issue or opportunity where, where is fan engagement falling on the spectrum of things of importance? Because for me as someone who is a community builder, a content creator, someone who engages fans, then engagement is at the absolute top or pretty close to it. Whereas if you make it a lower priority, then of course if it's an afterthought and we're running and I've got a lot of other things because I'm putting posters up around town and I'm dealing with interns. But that's the reality of the situation dealing with interns is getting done before someone says, let me be strategic about our mobile fan engagement.
Sue Thaden: (21:53)
Yeah. Gosh, you had some great stuff Rob, and I'm going to tie back where I kind of left off a second ago here with that you asked me pointedly about that entry point and so I really think it's important that we not always talk about the technology and I just think that because it evens the playing field, not everybody's tech savvy. Let's be honest, it's, it's intimidating to talk about a mobile strategy, a digital strategy and by the way everybody defines them differently and that's fine. That's a correct answer. So we really look at what are you trying to get done as an athletic department, as a campus, as a university, as a community, we survey our schools formally twice a year. Every day we get feedback through our feedback channels or through just direct calls to our team and the five things that schools are trying to get done that they believe our platform adds value for them. So let's take us out of it that they believe the mobile channel adds to them. Number one, revenue generation. You know, studies show that ad spend growth in mobile is outpacing every other medium of ad spend. So hey, I need to raise some money, I need to satisfy my bank, my sponsor, my ticket place down the street. So revenue generation. So platforms like this can generate it directly with great sponsorship placements, high value to the sponsor. You've got to do part but not interruptive to the fan. It's just kind of pleasant down at the bottom, over in the corner. It's not popping up in the middle and you've got to click through a Butterball. Then secondly, communication. I'm beating a dead horse on that one. I apologize. Communication, you know, all these great things. On Game day being able to communicate through our platform. Schools say this is helping us engage that fan to everything we're doing. And then branding, every school has a cool brand. They might have a funky mascot, they got weird colors, they got really fun stuff going on and the more they can brand and people can have that in the pocket. Now I'm with my team more often. Maybe I'll come to more stuff, maybe I'll buy something else. And so that's just a really important piece. Then game day interaction, which we've kind of talked about quite a bit. Welcome to game day - don't forget to stop by this tailgate or as you walk in, you know, welcome to such and such nation. Enjoy the game and get 10% off at the concession stand or 15% off the lid store, whatever it might be. So amazing opportunity for game day interaction. So in the light show, the trivia, I'll leave it there.
Sue Thaden: (24:13)
And then data analytics, every school wants to know who their fans are, you know, they want to know who they are so they can, let's be honest, sell them more stuff and make their day better get I'm a bigger ticket package. And also so they can tell their sponsors, who are our people, whose eyeballs are on your ads, your sponsorship, your affinity card. So these are the things when we talk about, you know, where do you start? I think you start with your goals non-related to mobile. And you say, what can we accomplish with our, what goals does this help knock out? I'd love to say we came up with this, but the truth is you listened to the customers and they'll tell you, they inform you and they're usually right. Keep them close and listen to kind of do what they say. If it's a hell yes.
Rob Cressy: (24:57)
Well, yeah. So you just touch on an extremely important thing. Listen to the customers. Because once again, communication back and forth, we're not just saying, buy what I'm selling. Buy what I'm selling. It's, wait a second, we want to make this an amazing experience for you as well. I was even thinking when you said this school too wants to sell you more stuff but really I would almost reframe it where it's not selling you more stuff. It's the ability to allow me the fan to further express my sports fandom. I just think about NFL fans, college fans, they love the newest gear. I mean it's why the NFL is always like welcome to our military month where everything is camouflage and here's our breast cancer awareness and there's always a something of a something. When you buy those things, I don't put the hat on and be like, man, I feel like I was just sold by that company. You put it on. And as a fan you're proud to express your fandom, to go with your other 12 hats that you've got going on there. So I think that's the most pure way that you can think about it. Because if you can get to consumers who want to be apart of what you're doing and who then become your brand advocates who then talk about it and spread that for you, that's a Goodwill that you're going for. And in the event that we're able to find a way to do that, to translate back to a bank. But guess what? If you can be a bank or any brand who can actually do that, Holy smokes, Batman, you are going to crush. Because if you can get your fans of a school or a university or a team to talk about you and your brand and you're not just a company that is dunking all the time, like you're an actual bank, that actually means something because you're differentiating and you're understanding the fan and you're creating a positive experience in that is was lasting.
Sue Thaden: (26:51)
That was awesome. I love it. That was a good catch on fandom versus sell stuff. And I agree. I have three daughters and the amount of gear they have is unbelievable and sadly probably get something new at most games.
Rob Cressy: (27:04)
Well, right. The key to all of this is I've become a student of the game of language because so much of language, which goes into marketing and fan engagement. But it's what you say and how you say things that can convey one thing versus another. So the more that I can be a student of the game, of the things that people say because a simple reframe of we're selling you versus we're giving you the opportunity, complete game changer. So then I like to look at all the different areas in my life or in marketing or in fan engagement to say, are we positively presupposing this out there as opposed to is it positive versus negative?
Sue Thaden: (27:49)
I think you're dead on track and you know, at the core I'm a marketer, but really because I want to do, I generally want to do more for others than I get from others because it just feels good going to bed that way. But yeah, when you talk about that. So from a fan engagement perspective you know, schools want fans in their stuff like you said, and ideally it's going to spread to others. I mean as a company, if I could get people as excited, people wear our hashtag get a great tee shirts everyday. That's our thing. We live to get great for each other, for our schools, with them, for their fans and community. And it's fun way to be. But if, you know, as a company, if you could get the roar that some big school brands get, it would just be really cool.
Rob Cressy: (28:35)
It was completely possible. All it takes is effort, consistency and not stopping.
Sue Thaden: (28:40)
Yeah, totally. Drive, drive, drive, drive.
Rob Cressy: (28:45)
Sue, I really enjoyed this conversation with you and the way that your mindset works about mobile fan engagement. Where can everybody connect with you?
Sue Thaden: (28:54)
Oh great. Well the best is Susan Thaden on Linkedin. @SThaden is my Twitter really most of my communication goes through our @FromNowOnEXP for Twitter, Instagram, and we do an a lot on LinkedIn as well. So yeah, I'd love to hear from anybody. It's great. You know, we learn from each other and I've learned a lot from you, Rob. Not just energy but vision and I love the way that you look at the world.
Rob Cressy: (29:21)
Thank you. I appreciate it. As always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. I'm curious, do you have examples of brands that you feel a certain affinity towards? If so, tell me about how that relationship got started. You can hit up @FanFoodondemand on twitter, @fanfoodapp on instagram, or on LinkedIn. As always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms @robcressy