One in 9.2 quintillion—that’s the odds of filling out a perfect March Madness bracket. But that doesn’t stop the 40 million or so Americans who place a collective $10.4 billion betting on the NCAA tournament. Even Warren Buffett is offering a prize of $1 million a year for life to any Berkshire-Hathaway employee who makes it past the Sweet 16 round.
Fortunately for marketers, the chances of hitting it big on social media this March Madness season aren’t as slim. To help tilt the odds in your own social media campaign’s favor, this post draws some concrete ideas from March Madness marketing initiatives in the B2B space.
But first, you need to find out if it really makes sense for your B2B brand to piggyback on the March Madness craze. You don’t want to end up on the long list of embarrassing social media fails by brands that seemed a little too eager to jump on the NCAA tournament bandwagon. Chief Marketer suggests going over a quick 3-point checklist to help you decide:
- Does the content reflect your brand? (Reaching a bigger audience won’t mean much if it doesn’t generate engagement.)
- Can you tailor your campaign to fit the right platforms? (The message and delivery need to adapt to each platform’s unique attributes.)
- Does the campaign benefit your audience? (Again, it’s all about engagement, not just reach.)
If your answer to each item is an emphatic yes, then it’s time to get cracking. Here’s a list of practical ideas drawn from B2B companies that pulled off successful March Madness-themed social media campaigns:
Capital One’s comprehensive #RoadToOne campaign successfully created a seamless brand experience for the target audience across different social media platforms and marketing channels. The #RoadToOne campaign shared Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee’s road trip to the 2016 Final Four via an integrated social, TV, and digital experience for fans.
The campaign garnered some impressive engagement numbers: 7,600 mentions, 20 million people reached, 10,000 fan contest entries, and 42% usage rate for its event-specific Snapchat filter. Forbes later named #RoadToOne as the March Madness marketing winner for 2016.
Although not purely a B2B brand, Bing’s March Madness campaigns deserve to be mentioned here since these initiatives are great examples of effective social listening. During NCAA tournaments, Microsoft unleashes its prediction engine Bing Predicts on March Madness forecasts to help fans apply a little statistical rigor to their brackets.
The technology that powers Bing Predicts uses machine learning systems that analyze search, social, and other relevant data to predict outcomes of events like March Madness. In 2015, Bing Predicts was in the upper 30 percent of all national brackets, outperforming forecasts published by Google, Facebook, and Sports Illustrated. Last year, Bing launched Sportscaster, a Messenger bot that lets fans closely follow their favorite NCAA men’s basketball team.
After rebranding itself as a one-stop-shop where small businesses could get everything they needed to run smoothly, the UPS Store created a series of campaigns to get the message out. This included the company’s “What’s Your Story” campaign released during the 2016 NCAA March Madness tournament. The integrated TV, print, social, and digital campaign showed how UPS could help small businesses tell their story through UPS’s marketing services.
Engagement Labs recognized UPS as the 2015 March Madness Social Media champion, citing the following innovative strategies which helped it stand out:
- The use of brand ambassadors
- Holding tournament-related Twitter chats
- Getting involved with worthy causes
Insurance and financial services company Northwestern Mutual carried out a very successful March Madness social media campaign in 2016. The campaign revolved around the brand’s four advertising spots which debuted during the NCAA Tournament. Each spot ended with the phrase “live life differently”—which connected the brand’s promise of financial security to the target viewers’ experience.
Northwestern Mutual managed to weave the #liveLifeDifferently narrative into social conversations on different platforms during the tournament, speaking to its strength in integrated technology-driven financial planning. The campaign was so successful in terms of engagement and reach that Engagement Labs awarded the 2016 March Madness Social Media Championship to Northwestern Mutual.
Social media management platform Hootsuite joined in on the March Madness fray in 2014 with its take on braketology. Hootsuite devised a clever way to come up with bracket predictions anyone can use. The model forecasted a team’s odds of winning based solely on social media metrics.
While Hootsuite’s bracket predictions left a lot to be desired, the campaign did do a great job of appealing to data-driven marketers. It also provided a chance for the company to show its number-crunching prowess in action to a broad but interested audience.
Riding on the NCAA tournament’s popularity, PR firm Walker Sands launched a March Madness-themed campaign to coincide with its 16th anniversary. Called “Sweetest 16 Marketing and PR Campaigns”, the project highlighted 16 of the best PR campaigns the company ran for its clients in 2016.
According to Conversion XL, customer testimonials are the most effective form of social proof. By indirectly using a widely-followed sporting event to make its campaign more timely and relevant, Walker Sands has multiplied the reach and effectiveness of its social proof strategy.
SnapApp shared an interesting case study about a B2B company that managed to bake March Madness into an interactive content material. Heavy Construction Systems Specialists (HCSS), a construction software development company, wanted to showcase their customers’ projects and people in an engaging way. Accordingly, HCSS sponsored a contest called Most Interesting Project Bracket Challenge, which let people share and vote on construction projects via a dedicated website.
The campaign drove exceptional results and even led to a closed deal for the company. According to the SnapApp case study, timing and preparation helped guarantee success for the campaign. The bracket format allowed HCSS to take advantage of a popular event for that time of year and to craft content that engaged the target audience.
The Takeaway: March Madness provides excellent opportunities to connect with your social media audience. Keep in mind that it’s not the extended reach that counts; it’s the engagement. That’s what you should be shooting for.