Question. What would be the ultimate proof of your content being absolutely first class? That your audiences see your efforts as unique, and that you are offering value they do not find elsewhere?
That you are being heard in the ocean of noise that is content today?
That they would pay for your stories.
As loyal fans.
Until recently, I only paid for my cable tv with sports package and my printed newspaper. Everything else I find online, for free, of course.
Paying fan in less than a week
Yet, when I, as a soccer addict, discovered The Athletic, I did not hesitate to start my paid yearly subscription within my first week of free access. The Athletic’s mission is to make me fall in love again with the sports pages through epic football writing.
Mission accomplished. Within week one.
Better even: the app has made it into my daily routine. I open their emails every week, the app shines on my phone’s home screen and I read at least one article every morning on the train on my way to work.
I look forward to it.
There are lessons to be learned here. Because the reasons I value The Athletic so much go way beyond football itself and my love for the beautiful game. That’s why I proudly present my:
6 athletic content strategy tactics you can score with
(apologies in advance for all the football puns below)
1. Master your format
The Athletic is all about long form: classic, long articles that completely set mobile content rules offside. Every piece is way longer than 1000 words.
But: they are incredibly well-written. Truly excellent. Clever, funny, insightful, engaging, masterfully crafted, witty and full of character.
So I enjoy reading their lengthy pieces on my mobile screen for more than 10 minutes. Also, despite being so lengthy, they are optimized for mobile with lots of white space and clearly structured paragraphs. Clever cliff hangers make me want to read on.
So. You won’t score in the middle of the goal.
If you write, write at the highest level. If you make an infographic (video, poll, slideshow…) rise above the average we have to plough through everyday.
Better make one kick-ass article than five plain ones.
2. Turn your absolute expertise into absolute value
How did The Athletic seduce me as football fan? Simple. The writers are a hundred times more fan and expert than me. So I read stuff I won’t find elsewhere.
They are total football freaks.
And that’s totally contagious.
(For example: in-depth analysis of Liverpool’s genius fullbacks, a hilarious 1200-word article about 11 seconds of gameplay, Vincent Kompany’s comeback speech in Anderlecht’s ultra pubs.)
Unique voices, unique perspectives. I learn with every article. Become smarter. Want more. Love the game even more. I am getting to know the writers and their styles; look forward to their weekly contributions. Know them by name. ‘Oh, there’s a new Sam Lee!’)
So. Line up your top players.
Go for nothing but total expertise within your field. Make your audience smarter. Which does not mean you have to be serious. See also tactic 3 below.
3. Variation equals value equals win
True expertise automatically amounts to a wide range of angles on your subject matter.
Anonymous club owner writes about life with football. Club histories. Player profiles. Game analyses. Historic moments. Icon interviews. In-depth looks at a player’s running lines. VAR opinions. Referee stories.
So. Apply variation, keep your focus.
Content variation builds loyalty. And keeps your team awake. It makes room for different stories, from serious to funny. Do be funny. Be more like your favorite magazine.
4. Know where your ideal audience is
How I stumbled upon the Athletic: through a sponsored guest post on a fabulous Youtube channel called Tifo Football. A place for fans, freaks, that offers a unique perspective on the game through funny and insightful videos.
The Athletic post offered me a link with a 50% discount on my first subscription.
So why invest in a broad paid campaign when you know where to find the people most likely to fall for your offer? Then give proof, real proof of your expertise, by not using an ad but a free piece of content that is so powerful it speaks for itself.
So. Head straight for goal.
Show, don’t tell. Know where your audience is and win them over with real evidence of your unique value with, e.g., a free story, and possibly your best one. Stop advertising when you want to win people over and tear down that paywall in the beginning.
5. Open doors, build relationships
Kick-ass content happening? Great. How about opening doors for questions and interaction? The Athletic’s writers are available. Commenting is encouraged. Writers respond to comments quickly and with wit. There are live chats, straight after events and games, that result in lively debate.
‘… is waiting for your questions now!’
So. Keep your fans close(r).
Starting a conversation is a great way of starting a relationship with your audience. It’s the beginning of your community. And community means loyalty. The quality of the interaction is directly linked to the quality of your offering. I still have to encounter my first troll on The Athletic. Because we all want to talk about football there (and show off our own expertise once in a while.)
6. Keep up the great work well into injury time
This is not a list with items you can choose from. Playing Champions League content requires you to score on all 6 points here. Which means: offering that unique value time and again. Persist. No compromises.
So. Every game counts.
Go ahead, call traditional media old school, but see how they manage to rise to the occasion every single day, week and month with stories, with formats.
Can you be as consistent as they are? If by the end of the season you have not reached the Champions League, you must have lost precious points during the season.
Fans and your true goal
Like any club does, you want to build a relationship with your fans. Your content’s true goal is:
by offering unique value to create a meaningful relationship with your audiences based on real, unique value.
Kick-ass content will help you make that happen.
So make sure content is a means and not a goal. It’s your cement, a part of your whole customer experience, from first point of contact to after service. But reaching the Champions League with your customer experience, that’s quite another ballgame.