An issue that major sports brands face is that while they may dominate in their core market, their major growth opportunities lie abroad… and yet, their digital expansion efforts are frequently ill-conceived and badly executed.
The big players all have international growth initiatives. For years Premier League teams have done summer tours to key strategic markets and more recently the All Blacks have started adding a US leg to their trips North in the Autumn. In the USA itself, you would say that there is a ceiling to the number of NFL fans in-market, a ceiling that the league has been quite successful in nearing, hence why they’re playing games in London and Mexico City.
Large European football clubs have opened satellite offices in China and the US (although these often tend to be commercially-driven – they’re there to find new commercial partners, not grow the audience).
To have real success in ‘globalising’ a sports brand you have to go very deep to understand the unique digital consumption environment in each of your target markets.
Brands will start with a market sizing and attractiveness exercise, assessing regions based on things like their population size, income per capita, internet and mobile penetration rates (today and forecast), brand affiliations and their engagement with the sport in question.
This is a relatively straightforward exercise but beware of simply looking at the most populous markets without assessing whether they will even care about your offering. China at 30% and India at 31% have relatively low engagements with football, compared for example with Nigeria at 83% and Indonesia at 77%, yet these countries have vast populations, with growing social mobility and connectivity rates.
Brands will be influenced too by the ability to commercialise audiences. For many football clubs for example, Indonesia is not a commercially attractive market today, because it’s very difficult to make money from Indonesian fans now, despite their passion for the game. What’s your time-frame? What’s your end-game?
So you’ve chosen your markets, now it’s time to get to know them. Understanding the unique context in which potential fans consume digital media and how your brand fits in that context… this is the hard part. You will need to dig into a host of variables, including…
Localisation vs Translation
You’ll probably start by thinking about which languages you need to translate your content into, but in most cases simple translation isn’t enough. We have analysed how translated content performs. Our findings: not great – particularly when sports brands use translators with no knowledge of the sport or worse, Google translate. What works better is content that has been produced in-market by locals who understand the nuances of regional tones of voice, the stories that are relevant in that market and how to weave them into local events.
Centrally, brands can still provide content kindling for regional markets (brand guidelines, local viewing times, statistics, news about players from the market or translated versions of central content) but to be effective in market they will still need to appoint local freelancers or agencies to do their ‘localised’ content. This process in itself is fraught with difficulty and variable performance.
BUT let’s assume, your local in-market content folk are doing a great job, you still can’t leave what they do up to ‘gut-feel’. You will also need to do both qualitative and quantitative audience research to understand what aspects of your sport and team particularly appeal in said market…
In a market comparison study for a US sports league we identified that fans in certain latin American countries prefer English game footage to be dubbed into their local language, while users in certain Asian countries prefer subtitles so that they can still experience the excitement and cadences of live commentary. Behaviours vary depending on audience socio-demographics, so you’ll need to do similar language preference work to understand what your audience(s) favours.
So you have your translation and dubbing list made. Next, you should consider…
We recently did a piece of work for a global sports league in which we conducted a series of in-depth audience research studies to establish what elements of the sport really appealed to fans.
There were marked differences in what appealed across markets. Some markets for example prefer content that focuses on the cultural elements surrounding the sport (music, clothing, lifestyle and celebrities) while others are more interested in data and statistics. Some like their content to be personality-led, whereas others prefer to see high-level skills on show.
In order to be most effective, you’ll need to understand the lens through which local markets view your sport. Bear in mind too, that if you’re trying to reach new fans, the proportion of ‘explainer’ content you publish is likely to be higher in foreign markets.
In short, you’ll need a market-by-market content strategy.
Many assume that experiencing sports is still about the live experience, but this will necessarily differ according to time zone. African football fans will by and large be able to watch European football live, while their Asian counterparts may require packaged highlights to consume in the morning on waking.
How you package your digital offerings to maximise the engagement of these different audiences will be determined in part by where the sun is in the sky.
Simply being aware of your audiences’ daily patterns will also allow you to schedule when you post and at what times you geo-target your social media activity.
You will also need to consider which third party platforms you use regionally and to what end. It’s relatively straightforward to identify which platforms have greater penetration regionally – even a passing understanding of digital will tell you that that you need to be on WeChat in China, LINE in Japan, WhatsApp in Brazil and VKontakte in Russia.
What brands understand less well is the best way in which to partner with or use 3rd party platforms to aid their own strategic objectives and what works best on each platform, but that’s a topic for another post entirely…
We need to talk about tech
So far, we’ve talked a lot about content but how you get it to people differs vastly across markets.
Browsers & devices
From a UK, US or even Japanese perspective it’s easy to over-inflate the importance of Apple devices and the iOS. However, with an adaptable, open-source system powering less-expensive devices it is Android that dominates in most emerging markets.
Even so, in India and large parts of Africa it’s actually the Opera Mini browser that has a higher mobile penetration than Chrome. Try viewing most Western sports websites on Opera Mini… it’s not pretty.
Data & connectivity
While internet connectivity is projected to double globally in the next 5 years, the way people go online, at what speed and at what price differs significantly. You will see from the statistics below that India has relatively low broadband connectivity rates, compared with a range of other markets.
It’s also a lot more expensive for people to get online.
Of course, these numbers are skewed by India’s large rural population and would be different if you zoned in on the young, urban middle-class who would likely be the target market for most global sports brands.
Nevertheless, catering for data poverty can give you a marked digital advantage and in practice means doing things like offering variable streaming rates, creating Google Accelerated Mobile Pages, creating ‘Lite’ apps, implementing file size controls and having ‘download for later’ product features.
Once you’ve considered how to vary the content you produce market-by-market and how you design your digital services around device usage, preferred platforms and connectivity levels, you still need to understand how countries differ culturally in their consumption of digital media.
We have an extensive and growing list of cultural variances against which we test assumptions and hypotheses. Let’s look at one cultural variance (propensity to purchase) as well as five market ‘quirks’.
You’ll see from the graph below that Japanese consumers purchase far less digital content than their counterparts in six other markets. Variations like this exist for the usage of particular payment methods and extend to eCommerce in general (rather than simply the purchase of digital content). You don’t want to develop a paid digital product in a market only to discover that consumers there don’t like to pay for things online.
5 Market quirks
1 In Brazil, it’s all about Zap Zap
In Brazil the price of texting is 55 times what it is in the US, which means WhatsApp has become a fundamental pillar of Brazilian digital culture, where it it’s affectionately known as Zap Zap, reaching 95% penetration.
With 91m users, the use cases for WhatsApp in Brazil far exceed how it is experienced in Europe or the US. For example, it’s an expectation of Brazilian consumers to be able to communicate with businesses and service providers via the tool.
Shops interact with customers on Zap Zap, estate agents use it to organise viewings and local government uses it to consult citizens.
2 Germans value their privacy
Germans are far less forthcoming on social media than consumers in the US for example, largely due to fears about security and data privacy. German Facebook users often use pseudonyms instead of their real names.
In December 2015, eMarketer interviewed German professionals over entrusting their personal data and found 88% would trust doctors, 83% for retailers, but just 10% for internet service providers in the US.
Understanding this fact has a very real impact on your social CRM strategy in this market.
3 India has the most developed coping mechanics for poor connectivity
Both Google and Facebook are spearheading initiatives in India, both to grow connectivity and to cope with it. Not only is Google offering free WiFi at train stations, it has also developed an India-only product – YouTube Offline – in partnership with three mobile operators.
It’s common in India to have a period in the middle of the night where data costs are cheaper and YouTube Offline helps users download content during these periods.
Another India-only Google product designed to address data management issues due to launch soon is YouTube Go, an application that allows for file size control and direct sharing to other app users.
Facebook’s Lite app is the fastest of its interfaces to hit 100 million monthly active users and occupies approximately 100x less memory space. It has been specifically designed to work well on 2G networks, with features like supporting lower resolution videos, ‘play later’, and proxy server architecture designed only to send resources down as needed and cached.
With these products alone you have a completely different ecosystem of low-data routes to market to consider.
4 The Chinese love WeChat (and QR codes)
WeChat is the platform of choice for Chinese fans. Fundamentally a messaging app, it has a suite of native applications that serve many of the functions of services like PayPal, Yelp, Facebook, Uber, Amazon, Expedia, Slack, Spotify, Tinder, and more.
Chinese people use WeChat to pay rent, locate parking, invest, make health appointments, donate to charity and find one-night stands. The police in Shenzhen even pay rewards through WeChat to people who expose traffic violators. Last Chinese New Year 8 billion red envelopes (a traditional Chinese gesture of goodwill, now enabled via a robust mobile payment platform) were sent over WeChat.
And while QR codes have not found favour in Western markets, the fact that WeChat has an embedded QR reader means that they have been widely adopted. It is not uncommon to see brands using QR codes in all walks of life encouraging users to add them on WeChat
5 Japan digital products have a completely different design aesthetic
To Western eyes, native Japanese digital products can often appear cluttered. While Western design sensibility currently values white space and minimal text this is not the case in Japan, where users like digital services to be upfront with information, including terms and conditions.
Take the example of the home page of the Urawa Red Diamonds, which has 53 clickable links:
Instead of a complicated information hierarchy requiring multiple steps, the Red Diamond’s site offers users instant access to specific areas all from the home screen via one click. These designs would explain or perhaps even sustain the lower rates of mobile traffic across Japanese sports websites.
Take a look too at J.League’s Japanese and English websites and the difference in their look and feel:
In short, adapt your design to match your market.
Developing fans in new markets requires a marketing approach, and marketing is fundamentally about identifying and serving the customer need, something you can’t do without detailed understanding.
Of course, we could go on… but you get the message: ‘go in depth, or go home’
To find out more about our localisation and research services get in touch.