How to be a Marketing Thoroughbred

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How to be a Marketing Thoroughbred
How to be a Marketing Thoroughbred

The Kentucky Derby is known for showcasing the most promising Thoroughbreds, mint juleps, elaborate hats, and – as of this year – the Derby can claim a new kind of marketing standout. Among the horses competing was Audible: named after a football maneuver when the quarterback changes the agreed-upon play at the last moment by instead ‘calling an audible'. That's exactly what the marketing team of Amazon's audiobook business unit, Audible.com, did when they learned of the existence and racing prospects of their equine namesake. Within a matter of weeks the Amazon team brainstormed, put together, and carried out a sponsorship campaign with social media outreach, awareness-raising, activation, giveaways, donations, topical content, interviews in marquee media outlets and other earned media-generating activities.

This wasn't the first example of marketers operating in near real time at a high-stakes sports event. In 2013 the lights unexpectedly cut out during Superbowl XLVII and Oreo's social media team garnered accolades for their fast, witty response to the sudden darkness engulfing the stadium. The campaign's spot-on execution masked how well-prepared Oreo's team of 15 social media experts, copywriters, and production artists was to be able to create truly memorable content in minutes instead of the many months it normally takes to execute Superbowl-related work.

How can marketers spot and plan for these types of unexpected opportunities when they arise? Here are three suggestions:

1. Connect all relevant channels

The first indication of Audible the horse came via search engine ranking reports – as soon as the Audible.com marketing team realized this, they were able to dig in and quickly learn more about the horse, brainstorm the details of what to do in case the horse won (or lost), and put together a plan that spanned everything from awareness campaigns on social media, through dedicated landing pages and interviews in marquee media, all the way to donations to horse shelters. It's easy to imagine how this idea could have gotten mired in process and never surfaced past a report.

2. Budget for the Unknown

The first indication of Audible the horse came via search engine ranking reports – as soon as the Audible.com marketing team realized this, they were able to dig in and quickly learn more about the horse, settle on the details of what to do in case it won (or lost), and put together an execution plan. It's easy to imagine how this idea could have gotten mired in process and never surfaced. Ensuring that different teams are able to collaborate and escalate opportunities like this is key; a weekly touch point between channel team leads on what each is finding the most interesting can be a great starting point.

3. Alter usual processes to execute rapidly

The timeline here was measured in weeks: Audible started gaining attention in February, and qualified for the Derby at the end of March. If you find you need to operate on a drastically shorter timeline than usual creating a small, diversified group of experts coming from different relevant teams and functions (‘tiger team') can be the way to go. In order to execute rapidly some of your usual processes like A/B testing, creative versioning, etc may need to be drastically streamlined or skipped altogether and ensuring that those types of decisions can be made quickly and by the right people is imperative for success.

In the end Audible (the horse) placed 3rd in the Derby and Amazon's marketing team undoubtedly deserves to pick up some well-earned recognition this award season. It remains to be seen whether this was an opportune one-off or if we can expect to see more brands sponsoring and naming horses in the years to come. In any case it's a welcome excuse for marketers to talk about horse racing in the context of our own discipline.

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