Sports and Essential Communication Lessons: What Football Taught Me About Marketing

Walking through my neighborhood on a Sunday morning is no longer a time for quiet self-reflection. House after house, cheers of excitement and shouts of anger escape through insulated walls and double-paned glass. This can only mean one thing: it’s football season. The bright flat screens that peak through neighbor’s windows and the individuals glued to it all sport matching jerseys as they high-five or fist pump in unison. Sports, like football, are an incredible study of human behavior, especially with all that you can learn and apply to concepts such as communications and marketing. Here are a few you may find intriguing:

1.) Play to Group Identity: Football season combines the power of patriotism with the addiction of being a sports fan. In his book “The Righteous Mind,” Jonathan Haidt talks about humans having a “Hive Switch,” in essence where people naturally move from self-identity to group identity.  It is not only a very seductive and powerful shift, but an important thing to remember when communicating with people. Reaching out to people through their group identity is an extremely powerful way to reach your audience.

2.) The Power of Emotions: I have to admit I am not a huge football fan but when I am at my parents house sitting next to my very serious Dallas Cowboy fan of a father you bet I am screaming at the TV screen as much as anyone else in the room. The community you form wherever you may be to watch a game—whether it’s at a family member’s home, a restaurant, a bar, or the electronics section at Target—is riveting. You catch yourself hugging strangers, yelling at your cousin, and standing on furniture that you definitely shouldn’t be standing on. It plays on your emotions: excitement, anger, happiness, fear, suspense. It brings us together despite who we are and what we look like. If you speak through emotions you can motivate and communicate in ways you did not believe possible.

3.) The Addiction of Suspense: One of the reasons I believe football is so popular in the US is because most games are equally matched and aren’t determined until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Football games often have scores that are neck and neck separated by a touchdown or just a single field goal, and it makes you watch to that very last minute of the game (and sometimes overtime). So the audience has to deliberate: can their team make a miracle field goal or Hail Mary pass, or is it over? We are naturally drawn to suspense, we want to know what will happen, how things will change. While we always want to be clear in our communications, sometimes holding off on the punchline and building the drama of the outcome is a great way to engage your audience.

So here’s to football. Here’s to engaging communications. And here’s to finding an excuse to join a group of strangers on an autumn day to root for your favorite team.

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