5Qs: The NHL’s Mike DiLorenzo

The NHL’s employment of audience targeting is an object lesson for marketers. The organization has reached out to new audience segments while growing a core fan base that is predominately young, well-educated, upper-income and frequent purchasers of luxury goods, vehicles and tech products. The NHL also recently signed a $2.9 billion, 10-year licensing deal with NBC and has plans to significantly expand its digital media offerings. Mike DiLorenzo, the NHL’s Senior Director of Social Media Marketing and Strategy, speaks about the NHL’s successful use of audience targeting to build a fan base that is luring brands seeking in-roads to an affluent audience.

Do data-driven consumer insights play a significant role in the NHL’s approach to its audience? 
Consumer insights are the lifeblood of our digital businesses.  Whether examining usage in aggregate to design a more delightful digital experience; or using a relational database to create a tailored marketing message to an individual fan. Analytics like these always inform our decisions and actions.
How does this translate into strategy?
A good practical example would be the difference in how we message to in-market (a Maple Leafs fan living in Toronto) and out-of-market (a Blackhawks fan living in Santa Fe) fans. Out-of-market fans – what we refer to as “displaced” – have multiple access constraints around their favorite team – live game action, in-depth editorial coverage, team merchandise, et al.  We speak to these fans differently than the in-market fan based on our insights. We reach fans online through an ever-deepening portfolio of digital products for broadband, mobile and tablets. This includes, but is not limited to, NHL.com, NHL GameCenter apps for 20+ mobile platforms and tablets, and our social channels.
You just inked a 10-year deal with NBC. Does this change the emphasis of your marketing strategy as it relates to audience targeting?
Our most recent marketing strategy has weighted fan activation more strongly than fan acquisition, but with our new TV rights deal in place beginning next season in the U.S., that will evolve.
What are some practical applications that marketers can glean from the NHL’s  approach to audience segmentation?
Marketers can connect with interested consumers through high quality online content, provided it meets certain criteria: 1) the content is proprietary and can’t be readily accessed anywhere else; 2) breadth and depth of content to satisfy the tastes of all fans, no matter how casual or avid, and no matter what the team or player affinity; 3) the target demographic over-indexes on video consumption, and broadband, mobile and tablet penetration; and 4) there can be elegant, natural brand extensions through custom content applications. Our advertisers are certainly supportive of this approach. Some examples on the digital side would be the BlackBerry’s sponsorship of the All-Access Pre-Game Show or “Hockey’s Finest” presented by the U.S. Army.
What about social?
On the social side, we stick to the social contract and the unwritten rules for brands on social networks:  We do a fair amount of listening, and we try to interact with as many fans as we can. I like to think we are doing this well, but there are scores of fans reminding me every day we can be better. We will continue to innovate across all digital platforms, allowing market trends and our own data to inform decisions we make about products, programming and content. “NHL– Everywhere/Anytime” is something we aspire to.
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