America loves sports! It is an important part of our country’s culture. Passion for sports ranges from individual sports like running, tennis, swimming, golf, and NASCAR to team sports such as football, baseball, basketball, volleyball and more. Whether it’s an individual or team sport, there’s always potential to gain a huge following of passionate fans and participants.

One thing that stands out in American sports compared to sports around the world is the focus towards college sports like football and basketball. Many college teams are as famous and have as large of a following as professional level sports, and are regulated by the non-profit association the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). And one competition in particular seems to rally the entire country and generates an unmatched level of excitement: March Madness!

So what is March Madness?

Each year in March, millions of Americans tune in to watch the NCAA college basketball tournament. It is a single-elimination tournament that features 68 colleges that uses bracket style formatting to determine the county’s best basketball team. Teams play each other in a round and matchup and winning teams advance through the tournament and play winners of other matchups in subsequent rounds. This tournament has become one of the biggest and most famous sporting events in the United States. It’s where fans take part in filling out their bracket to determine who they think will win the tournament, cheer for their favorite teams, and hangout with their friends and family to watch the games. There are bracket contests for this tournament, referred to as a ‘national pastime’ by sports commentators, where the winner gets a huge prize based on their predictions. Even a few celebrities have been known to take part in the fun (like President Obama!).

According to US News, 10% of the United States population takes part in the bracket tournament. Many offices run bracket pools where the winners get money (no, it’s not legal!), and there was even a prize of $1 Billion offered for a perfect bracket prediction in 2014 under a partnership of Quicken Loans and Berkshire Hathaway. It’s clear with this amount of participation and money behind it that this event is huge.

As we get closer to NCAA college basketball tournament this year, we believe marketers can learn and leverage some valuable lessons that we’ve seen in previous years that can help them drive more consumer reach and engagement during this key time of year.

Whether you are running a company wide office pool for the tournament or creating your own non-basketball based bracket campaign, we’ve put together 9 tips that should help you get the most out of this exciting time.

Here are 9 tips for running a kickass campaign:

  1. Start with a unique and easy to remember campaign name

Your campaign should stand out, and that starts with solid branding and a great name. Create a unique name that is simple to say, easy to remember, and original. Come March the term ‘March Madness’ will be everywhere, so make yours memorable. Logos, punchlines and branding should be fun, relevant to your brand, and stand out.

For example, last year a client of ours who is a locally owned shrub, tree and plant nursery ran a campaign called “Schrub Madness” that specifically catered to their audience of plant enthusiasts.

  1. Use interactive content to generate audience engagement

The NCAA tournament is famous, and engages an enormous number of people over roughly 6 weeks. People are familiar with filling out their brackets, and the act of filling it out encourages collaboration and competition. Prior to launching your own campaign, look at leveraging interactive content that will help you drive interest in your campaign before it starts.

For example, in February before the tournament selections have been made, you could run a prediction contest among potential teams and ask your audience who they think will make the “big dance” as March Madness is commonly referred to. This is a way to generate buzz before the tournament starts, and captures user input at the same time. From there, you can re-engage these participants in your pool or campaign.

  1. Create a compelling social media strategy

There is so much content shared on social channels around thel tournament that marketers can take advantage of. Fans who are not able to sit in front of the TV and watch the games usually rely on apps and social networks to stay informed. Marketers who run value added advertisements during this surge can do well. If you have a following, now is a great time to super charge your outreach to them and ask for their participation.

  1. Facilitate emotional connections

The emotional connections that fans make with the games and the tournament drive their passion for participation in NCAA college basketball tournament. Marketers should look at ways to facilitate emotional connections to your brand and create campaigns around causes that matter to your audience.

For example, if you are an animal based non-profit and are looking to raise awareness of endangered animals, you could run a campaign around endangered animals where the audience can vote for their favorites, with the winning animal having money donated to an organization of choice that supports them.

  1. Know that competition leads to action

The competitive nature of bracket pools leads to massive adoption within companies and higher engagement during the campaign. Fans tell their friends to play with them and predict their outcomes for the tournament. Once predictions are made, fans obsess over how they rank. Marketers should include friendly competition in their campaigns and offer prizes to drive higher action in its audience. If you’re running a Madness campaign you should leverage a leaderboard and showcase your standout users.

  1. Build community involvement and interaction

NCAA college basketball tournament serves as a powerful bonding experience where fans come together to vote on brackets, drink, eat, and discuss results and how they are doing. Marketers should focus on creating communities through their campaigns to drive higher engagement among their audience.

For example, a sports brand could take fans of one particular team and host a happy hour and appetizer session at local restaurants in various cities during a game or for every game that the team participates in. This would lead to online and offline engagement.

  1. Make your lesser known products popular

In the tournament bracket, lesser known teams also get recognized as they compete with bigger and more known teams. As a result, these teams also become popular since there is huge visibility for the tournament. Marketers can use contests and bracket pools to make their lesser known products & brands more popular by placing them with the bigger brands in the competitions. Use this unique time of the year for a product launch and pair it with teams in the tournament for extra lift.

  1. Create diverse content across all mediums

Marketers should create unique content across all mediums such as a website, social networks, mobile apps, etc. The content around the tournament is published by many publications and in many mediums, so make sure your campaign stands out by having unique content that is strategically placed and customized in each medium.

  1. Create more demand for your brand and products via online and offline

Marketers can leverage online and offline events to drive conversions, and if you partner up with relevant companies who are running bracket pools or doing promotions, you can also see a lift. Look at this time as a time to take some chances and run ads or sponsor campaigns among your peers. This will generate brand awareness and increase demand for your products.

In Conclusion:

Marketers can learn a great deal from NCAA tournament brackets on driving higher engagement, making campaigns fun and exciting for their users and having a simple, scalable and memorable campaign. Create campaigns that connect deeply with your audience and entice them to take part and share it with others. Being creative and keeping your campaign simple to grasp and use is the key to running a successful campaign. Craft compelling stories about your company and educate your consumers through your campaigns to build your brand, just like Madness campaign does for the teams, players, coaches, brands, sponsors and fans involved along the way!