Content marketing thoughts inspired by the World Cup

July 6th, 2018

In many ways it didn’t look as if Russia 2018 was going to be much of a World Cup. Dogged by the corruption scandal that engulfed FIFA in 2015, missing key teams in Italy, Holland and the USA, and held in a country ruled by a leader who some feared would use the event for political ends, expectations were initially on the low end of the spectrum.

Yet Russia 2018 has turned out to be a vintage football tournament with so much tension, drama and quality football that it is has gripped everyone from Aarhus to Zixing. A World Cup that was expected to be quickly forgotten may also, for English fans at least, turn out to be the most memorable since the glorious Italia 90.

What is especially interesting is that in several new and unique ways the World Cup seems to reflect some of the key trends that define our era. There are clearly a few lessons which marketers of all stripes can learn from the World Cup. And not just the usual ones about adopting a two screen approach to watching and interacting with the game, and the seemingly unstoppable power of social media. I am not even going to expand on the technology either, and the way in which VAR has invariably been harnessed to complement the gut feelings of the officials. Tech validating human hunches – sound familiar content teams?

There is much we can learn from the approach of the individual teams. Here are three quick case studies.

Direct connections, informality and storytelling are powerful – England

At previous World Cups the relationships between the England team and the media, and often the fans, was at best fractious and usually rather toxic. Who could forget Wayne Rooney, who after the 0-0 draw with Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, turned to a nearby camera and said “Nice to see your home fans booing you. That’s what loyal support is.”

This time, in what has been hailed as master stroke, the manager Gareth Southgate has made every single player in the squad available to the press. Undoubtedly they will have been media trained and given strict boundaries, but the interviews with the players have been informal, insightful and invariably a lot of fun.

The new openness is a reflection of what is happening with the world in general and marketing in particular. This is a generation of players who have grown up with social media, and in some instances know how to harness it to promote themselves. So the images of themselves they present appear to be authentic and occasionally even humble. There’s no sign of the arrogance or combative approach that have characterised previous England campaigns.

The press has responded in a very positive way keeping negative stories out of the papers and largely focusing on the like-ability of the players and the management team. What is really innovative is the way the England team have used storytelling. The Football Association appears to have encouraged the players to share stories of their lives, not just their successes, but their passions, and in some instances, like Raheem Sterling, their struggles.

It is chiming with both the media and the public. It really has a whiff of X-Factor in the way that the backgrounds of the players have been constructed – and this before they had even laced up their boots. They might earn more in a week what many of us take home in a year, but somehow the distance between the team and the English public seems a lot shorter

It is an underlining of the fact that the old tactics of top down messages heavily pushed out via traditional media channels really have no place in the modern world. Both the England team, and the rest of us have moved on.

Don’t underestimate the power of momentum – Russia

By the time you read this the host nation Russia could find itself in the semi-final of the World Cup. An incredible feat for a team that was ranked 70th in the world just a few months ago. The level of cynicism about the team back then was incredible with some pundits predicting that the side would struggle to get out of their group.

Yet Russia’s team of misfits have proved themselves to be the tournament’s surprise package, and some of their success can be attributed to the collective will of a nation pushing them on. An impressive opening game victory over Saudi Arabia gave the team a degree of momentum, and since then they haven’t looked back. That momentum too has spurred the fans on, which in turn has inspired the players.

Momentum is critical in content creation and social media. Yet achieving it comes with a cost of commitment and hard work. As content marketers it is hard sometimes to constantly come up with stories, tweak messaging and optimise social media channels, especially if we don’t always see the results we hope for. Yet the breaks, whether that be in a piece of content that goes viral and significantly increases brand awareness, or a story that generates lots of new business leads, do come and content marketers need to be ready to capitalise on them.

Reputations should never be relied upon – Germany

As England fans know all too well, boasting one of the world’s key football leagues and fielding a team worth hundreds of million of pounds is no guarantee of success. In football teams are only ever really as good as their last performance.

And in Russia 2018 the German team which had charmed the world in 2014 with its seamless attacking football, never really got started. The 2-0 defeat at the hands of South Korea was the final crushing blow to a nation for whom anything less than a semi is seen as a failure. There was much criticism of the manager, Joachim Low, for sticking with players who might have excelled in the past, but now seem to have lost they energy and motivation they once had.

It wasn’t just Germany either, Italy and Holland were no shows at the tournament, while neither of  the two best players in the world could carry their teams, Argentina and Portugal, to a place in the quarter finals.

For content marketers it is a lesson that our brands must never rest on their laurels as the world can change quickly and violently. Who would have predicted three years ago that Facebook, so ubiquitous and seemingly all powerful, could be on the receiving end of headlines like this? Or that brands so woven into the fabric of British retail society could find themselves struggling?

Great content will never ever save a totally stricken brand. Yet it can, if it inspires its audience, generate insight and intelligence which could be used to ensure that management teams can respond quickly to turbulent markets.

Every content marketer needs, from time to time, to reflect on the fact that each year thousands of startups launch in the UK often driven by ruthless, incredibly smart individuals bent on disrupting existing markets.

Having a great reputation is important, but maintaining it and thinking about the future, well that’s everything.

Next week was going to be about ‘what Love Island can teach us about social media’ – but it looks like someone else got there first 😉

Ashley Norris, Editorial Consultant, The CMA

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