A CMO’s View: How The World Surf League Is Building Its Brand One App Download At A Time
Delivering live broadcasts of surfing events, the WSL app is foundational to the brand's overall success, according to CMO Scott Hargrove.
World Surf League CMO Scott Hargrove says his organization likes to consider itself a 40-year startup.
“We’re a brand new brand,” says Hargrove.
After its acquisition of the Association for Surfing Professionals three years ago, and partnering with major surf brands like QuikSilver and Billabong, the World Surf League (WSL) has become the driving force behind the sport and its athletes. As CMO, Hargrove is charged with building the WSL brand along with its fan-base.
“Ultimately, success for us is pushing people to our live broadcasts,” says Hargrove.
Delivering broadcasts of competitions like last weekend’s Cascais Women’s Pro Tournament in Portugal and next month’s Men’s QuikSilver Pro competition in France is a top priority for the CMO. It’s this focus on giving the core fan-base access to major surfing competitions that drove the development of the WSL app.
Hargrove says offering entrance to the WSL platform and live events is paramount to recruiting and keeping new fans.
“Having both an app and a mobile site is consistent with this access strategy,” says Hargrove.
Since launching the app during the first leg of the 2015 season, the World Surf League has surpassed more than half a million downloads in less than five months. Hargrove says his team will continue to prioritize the app throughout the rest of 2015, and for all of next year.
In the meantime, the WSL CMO was generous enough to share what his team has learned since launching the app, and what he would recommend for any brand wanting to include an app in its mobile marketing efforts.
1. Ease of use. No matter the content, the app experience should be intuitive and easy to navigate.
2. Personalization. Everything the consumer sees should be through the lens of their customized personal preferences.
3. What’s next? There is no finish line in app development. You must be prepared to upgrade the app experience on an ongoing basis.
Amy Gesenhues: What is your primary focus as WSL’s CMO?
Scott Hargrove: According to our research there are approximately 120 million surf fans worldwide. My job as CMO is turn them into passionate fans of the Word Surf League and active viewers of our live digital broadcast.
I believe my success will depend on our ability to create greater access to our live digital broadcast, ensuring a unique and customized viewing experience and developing a deep ongoing 1:1 relationship with the World Surf League brand.
Amy Gesenhues: How much of your efforts are invested in the WSL’s mobile marketing strategy?
Scott Hargrove: “At home” is still the No. 1 location for viewing our live events, so we cannot ignore the desktop. However, mobile provides the greatest opportunity for real time fan engagement and overall smartphone usage continues to grow, so the mobile experience is a top priority.
Amy Gesenhues: How does the WSL app align with your brand’s overall marketing strategies?
Scott Hargrove: In addition to creating another access point for fans, the WSL app allows us to create a deeper and more customized relationship with our fans.
Our event start times are driven by often unpredictable weather conditions so it is critical that we have the ability to connect with fans directly through their customized preferences to let them know when we are “on” and their favorite athletes are competing.
The WSL app is foundational to our success here.
Amy Gesenhues: What types of content are you pushing out via the app?
Scott Hargrove: Our primary content focus area for the app is the live event broadcast. Our goal is to create a personalized viewing experience that rivals or exceeds any other screen experience including traditional television.
All other content on the app is designed to deepen our fans’ connection to our athletes, our venues and the overall sport of competitive surfing.
The “Fantasy” feature is designed to increase fan investment in our athletes and drive long term loyalty. Similar to other fantasy sports platforms, fans select a “team” of athletes before each event that they believe will outperform the balance of the athlete field.
Their fantasy team accumulates points for their success during the live event. The app allows you to track your results in real time, and compare and compete with other fans on the platform. It has proven to be a huge driver of fan retention and loyalty.
Amy Gesenhues: What engagement metrics are you tracking? What have you learned about your audience since launching the app?
Scott Hargrove: It was clear very early on that our app users were also our most valuable fans. They tend to engage the WSL platform on a more regular basis and tune in to our live events with greater frequency.
As a result, accelerating app downloads (we are targeting four times by the end of 2016), and upgrading the user experience on a regular basis are two of our top priorities going forward.
In the early stages of launch we were focused on number of app downloads and overall fan satisfaction. However, long term success of the app will be measured on its ability to drive live event tune in, increase the number of minutes watched per live event, and give fans a reason to keep coming back on a daily basis.
Amy Gesenhues: What were some of the challenges you faced when launching the app?
Scott Hargrove: Our biggest app challenge is an example of our biggest overall marketing challenge: Should we build an app that speaks to core surf fans or to casual surf fans that likely know less about professional surfing?
Ultimately, we chose to focus on building credibility with core fans first with the goal of evolving the experience to be welcoming to both sets of fan targets over time.
I believe we have done a nice job of establishing authenticity with the core. We are now in the process of expanding the app’s appeal and functionality to a larger audience.
Amy Gesenhues: What would you recommend to a brand that is considering building an app?
Scott Hargrove: I believe any marketer contemplating the launch of an app should be able to answer these key questions:
- What is the strategic role of the app and what is its functional purpose?
- How will you measure success?
- How will you track consumer feedback? Will you be able to refine the experience real time to ensure the highest level of satisfaction?
- What is your plan to drive downloads at launch?
- Are you resourced appropriately to upgrade the app experience on an ongoing basis?
Amy Gesenhues: As a surfer, what’s your favorite thing about the app?
Scott Hargrove: My 11 year old son is a passionate surfer and a huge fan of John John Florence. He has customized the WSL app to notify us real time when John John is in the water competing in one of the Championship Tour events.
I love this app feature because it gives fans one more reason to tune in and it’s always fun to see my son’s excitement when he learns his favorite athlete is in the water.