When I say “(ice) hockey”, what do you think about these days? In case you live in the US or Canada, chances are quite high that you would refer to the NHL playoffs that are currently under way. The best league in the world with the best players in the world.
If you live in Europa, things may be different. You might answer “The World Championships”. This tournament, which should in theory determine the best nation in (ice) hockey just started in Germany last Friday, and in reality it is quite far from a tournament in which all the best players in the world participate. Okay, there are some superstars like (a quite tired) Alex Ovechkin, but these are only players from NHL teams that did not make the playoffs or already dropped out in the first round like Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals.
So the World Championships are not comparable to the tournament during the Vancouver Olympics earlier this year for which the NHL took a break to enable the participation of the best players (and we all remember the stunning final – can it get any better?). A second class tournament in a country in which (ice) hockey is far from being the most popular sport. Pretty bad basis for the tournament organizers? Well, listen to this: The opening match between host Germany and the US team (with only one player from the “best” US team that played at the Olympics) was played in front of a world record crowd of 77.803 spectators. That’s more than twice as many people as there were at the highly praised NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park on the first day of this year.
How can this be possible?
No, it’s not that Germans are (ice) hockey fanatics. I would bet that half of the crowd that night at Gelsenkirchen would not have been able to name five of the players that were going to play when they took their seats at the arena. And despite a couple of German players in then NHL, games of that league are hardly televised. Even though Germany won 2-1 in OT, which was considered a sensational win by all media and resulted in an eruption of emotion in the arena, there are still a lot of tickets available for the from a tournament perspective way more crucial match Germany will play against Switzerland on Wednesday. Note: That match will be played in the Lanxess Arena in Cologne – maximum capacity: 18.500.
With this in mind it becomes more and more clear how much of a bold move it was by the tournament organizers to schedule the opening match in an indoor stadium that can hold nearly 80.000 people.
From my perspective the fact that the match was sold out was due to two facts: The creation of a new selling proposition and the creation of a message that media can work with.
1) The creation of a new selling proposition
I truly believe it did not matter that there was some (ice) hockey being played that day. If it would have been hand ball or basketball it would have been exactly the same. A lot of the people were coming because it was something special. An event. A world record. Something that maybe won’t happen again. A mass phenomenon. The place to be that night.
Hype can be an extremely strong and fascinating selling proposition. That’s pretty basic social psychology: If you miss a hyped event you will lose ground in your peer group, if you’ve been there, you can position yourself as someone who’s got what it takes.
Affinity creates affection – as soon as a phenomenon or event reaches a certain critical mass, you have to position yourself on the right side to be socially accepted. If you go out for dinner while the Super Bowl is on TV, not only the waiters will hate you. All others will also just turn away when you tell them the day after the match was decided by a last second field goal how great your dinner was and how overrated the Super Bowl is in your eyes .
It’s a mass dynamic phenomenon that we like people that are alike ourselves. You can use this in marketing: Try to build a common ground among your customers and make sure you scale fast enough to reach a critical mass. Just think about the Facebook example: Ever wondered why there is no “Dislike” button on Facebook? If you participate in the same groups and like the same things, the company can steer you. Not individually, which is a lot harder to establish, but the whole user community instead.
2) The creation of a message that media can work with
Being heard and being recognized is based on creating the right stories. If you try to convince people to come to yet another hockey game it will be a lot harder to accomplish than when you speak about setting a new world records in a stadium that has been modified just for this event, staging a match of David vs. Goliath. If you build a story and add some emotion to it, the message is far more likely to stick than if you don’t (for more on “sticky” messages make sure you don’t miss the awesome book “Made to Stick” by the Heath Brothers).
The media was adopting the message with pleasure. No one was writing about players or tactics prior to the match (and even after it) – it was all about the record crowd and how unusual this all was.
If you want to get heard and amplified, make sure to give a message that sticks, one that fits with the needs of those that you want to amplify what you gave them.
The overall result: Creating a new selling proposition and building a sticky message worked. Nearly 80.000 people were happy they came and nobody cared that the basic product was just second class. So what better way to end this post than with this basic rule of marketing: Perception is reality! And now let’s all go over to Facebook and hit the “Like” button below the link to this story…