Quiet Please! Listening in Progress

Kyle Ragsdale, Ex CMO, Billy Casper Golf

Kyle Ragsdale, Ex CMO, Billy Casper Golf

I have had the pleasure of working in sports related marketing roles for nearly 15 years. I’ve been to Final Fours, Super Bowls, NBA Finals, The Masters and U.S. Opens (golf and tennis). Recently, I played golf with phenom Jordan Spieth.

My wife won’t allow me to call what I do for a living "a job."

I won't lie; teeing it up with the game’s newest star was really cool. But it is the marketing opportunity presented by sports, specifically golf, that inspires me most. Combine the rapid advancement of data analytics with the natural affinity consumers have with sport and you have what I believe is the beginning of a golden age of engagement marketing opportunity.

Big data gets all the hype these days and for good reason. Advancements in statistical analysis, computing power and decreases in storage costs have provided marketers more insights into consumer behavior than ever before. The data scientist role is ascending rapidly to the most strategic levels of organizations worldwide. Harry Crane’s “Computer” in Mad Men has indeed taken over the [marketing] world.

My company, Billy Casper Golf, is the largest domestic owner-operator of daily fee, resort and private golf courses. Our unique value proposition (and corresponding marketing challenge) is that we market each golf course as a stand-alone brand as opposed to leading with the Billy Casper Golf “flag”. Our marketing mission is to deliver custom marketing solutions at scale. The only way to accomplish this vision is to make data-driven decisions on programming, copy, segmentation, pricing, channel strategies, creative concepts and basically any other marketing activities. Call it big data, smart data or data science – our success depends on our data strategy to grow market share in a flat industry.

This is the beauty of marketing a sport juxtaposed to marketing any other consumer product. People love sports. They love to talk sports, they love to watch sports and they love to play sports. The word “fan” is short for fanatic – people are crazy about sports. As a marketer of sport, consumers are more accepting of information gathering tactics because these tactics are jointly aligned with their desire to enjoy the sport more deeply. I am allowed to ask questions about equipment because the right gear can enhance satisfaction. Skill level, desired playing times and even household information is freely shared in exchange for the opportunity to get the right match at the right time with the potential of improving a score.

With an engaged consumer base so forthcoming in sharing preferences Billy Casper Golf set out to build a platform simply focused on listening. But what should we listen to? At what points do consumers speak to us and how loudly are they talking?

As a marketer I’ve always been impressed by the amount of information casinos keep on my gaming habits. I am not a huge gambler but I do enjoy playing blackjack when I find myself in Las Vegas. Upon sitting I’m only asked for identification ("Sir, do you have a players card?"). That simple, initial transaction triggers a combined information gathering exercise executed by the dealer, pit boss and steady stream of service associates. With casual conversation and keen observation my behaviors systematically build a persona activatingfuture precision marketing messages.

In golf we have the same opportunity to observe behaviors over the five hours a customer typically spends at our facilities. In a sense, our “listening” needs to mirror the same actions of a pit boss.This is the vision for our customer data strategy – appropriately named "Pit Boss" – and an approach we refer to as Big Listening.

Big Listening is about treating every customer interaction as an opportunity to gather insights and “listen” to what the customer is telling us about his or her experience. This is not necessarily a novel concept in retail; however, to execute on this we had to build a data capture eco system that included both online and offline interactions. Only 20 percent of golf transactions are online, so we had to inject a number of data capture tools into our customer service approach to track the substantial offline component. The resulting platform now tracks nearly 20 different customer interactions including initial course contact, making reservations (across all channels), the check in process, on-course exchanges with starters and beverage carts, the final putt, follow up "thank you’ s" and satisfaction surveys. We also track interactions not directly in our control such as third party aggregators like GolfNow, review sites including Google + and Yelp, social interactions via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and ever-present third party mystery shops.

All of these interactions are distilled into a single customer service metric and distributed weekly to our regional marketing and operations teams.

The basic premise of data driven marketing is that customer demographic, behavior and transaction data leads to the most effective marketing programs. While certainly true, I believe these efforts are best accomplished when we take time to listen first. This approach unleashes the power of big data and flies in the face of traditional marketing campaigns that seek to grab attention via disruption and interruption.

As fans we are quick to provide feedback to the teams we follow. We cheer loudly when we approve. We voice our disapproval even louder. Our net promoter scores are translated through television ratings, attendance numbers and jersey sales. As consumers of sport, we provide the same feedback albeit not quite as loud. Our buying patterns validate price and channel strategies. Our star ratings and reviews grade value and service. And those of us fortunate enough to have a “job” marketing these sports, our mouths are best kept shut. But our (data) ears are open.

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