Ten years ago I put out a theory about “Prom King Brands”—brands that had a cool factor associated with them so that people immediately flocked to them, particularly on social media. If you looked at brands like Apple and Nike and Starbucks, they didn’t really need to try very hard: anything they put up immediately garnered millions of fans and likes from people who wanted to be associated with that brand.
Prom King Brands were defined as any company whose logo a sizable number of people would wear, unironically, on a cap or a t-shirt. Entertainment properties like music acts, sports teams, TV shows and movies were all Prom King brands too, at least with their fans.
Now the point I was making at the time was that brands that weren’t Prom King Brands needed to try harder. They needed to bring something to the party that people would find entertaining or useful in order to garner attention online. Because even though a consumer might actually drink Maxwell House coffee on a daily basis and stop in at Starbucks once a month, they’d “Like” Starbucks on Facebook and ignore Maxwell House, unless Maxwell House came up with a reason for them to engage.
Prom King Brands, on the other hand, didn’t do a whole lot of that. They didn’t have to. If you were the local NFL team, everyone wanted a piece of you. Same for popular music acts and actors in hit series. You gave value to other brands. Not the other way around. Selling the value of your fan base using data seemed superfluous: people already knew that your fans were valuable. That’s why they were paying millions of dollars for them.
Prom King Brands—entertainment properties and sports teams in particular—were in desperate need of someone to come in and harness all that data for them, someone who could help them determine the best deals and media properties for themselves and for their fans. A data science rock star , if you will.
Enter Vertical Mass.
The Los Angeles-based start-up does just that: it helps sports teams, music artists and entertainment properties collect and analyze data in order to understand who their fans are and what other brands they love and buy. “Sports and entertainment companies have largely relied on CRM databases and basic ad retargeting to sell their own merchandise, albums, tickets, OTT subscriptions and more,” says Mark Shedletsky, the founder and CEO of Vertical Mass. “They’re only now starting to identify a much larger audience of fans and more thoroughly understand these consumers, especially as they relate to other brands.”
Vertical Mass now has over 400 clients it works with to help them understand their fans’ consumer behavior, everything from purchasing tendencies to things like listening preferences and movie attendance. “We help our partners aggregate all of their consumer data in order to have a more complete understanding of that consumer. If I’m a pro sports team, I need to know: do my fans prefer to fly American or Delta, do they drink Coke or Pepsi, do they shop at Target or Walmart? We provide a unified view of who that consumer is so that when a brand wants to spend millions to sponsor a musician’s tour or secure naming rights on a stadium, we can help each side better understand those fans for smarter alignment.”
That sort of data can inform everything from advertising creative to media buys. “If I spent millions on a celebrity endorsement, for example, it’s critical to know which TV networks and TV shows those fans are watching for my media placement, what what type of content engages them across all media so we can truly connect with these consumers, and then discover where they shop to activate my retail marketing. In general, I want to maximize ROI on my investment and deliver as much value to consumers as possible.”
Shedletsky’s appreciation for the value of data-driven marketing began, oddly enough, during his tenure as head of marketing for bitTorrent, the peer-to-peer marketing site. “It was a very data-driven San Francisco based company that was thinking about how to build a consumer business using all the insights they were privy to. It was an incredible learning experience in that media companies rarely had that kind of access to direct consumer insights in the past and now we had these users and could really understand their viewership preferences.”
Entertainment companies are starting to invest more heavily in data, Shedletsky says, hiring teams of data analysts and bringing them into the decision making process. “There’s a curiosity and conviction that data is crucial for success, but they often need help with the right platforms and insights to get there. That’s where we come in. We spend 80% of our time educating our entertainment and sports clients as well as our brand clients as to how to use this exclusive data. Our partners see huge value immediately – that’s how we’ve been successful.”
As Shedletsky sees it, Vertical Mass’s offering helps all three groups: fans, entertainers and brands. Fans benefit by getting more tailored offers and experiences from their favorite teams, artists, and content creators, as well as the brands who support them. Entertainers who know more about their fans can deliver better offers, both in terms of content and specific products. Finally, for brands, Vertical Mass’s data provides a more accurate understanding of where to invest their marketing and sponsorship dollars, how to engage these specific passionate fans and how to measure the value of their investment.
“We’re helping these teams and entertainers use the amount of data you’d get with a Fortune 500 brand,” notes Shedletsky. “And the advantage they have—and it’s a huge one—is that their fans are far more passionate and far more engaged than a typical consumer, which is a real advantage for them and something they can bring to the brands they work with.
Another advantage—and this is so important right now—is that these fans must actively give their consent before our partners can collect their data, and that our entertainment and sports clients are the only ones authorized to do so. For years, we’ve been advising that other companies should not have a right to your audience data – so that the relationship between the consumer and the people and properties they love is closely protected. In general, we’ve found that fans have no issues about sharing their data with their favorite teams and entertainers in order to hear more from them.”
This first party data is particularly relevant for the television industry too. By understanding which shows these superfans watch (and when and where they watch them) brands can plan media buys that allow them to reach fans of the acts and teams they have sponsorship deals with – typically seeing a massive ROI on TV marketing spends.
It allows hit TV shows to weaponize their fan bases, providing compelling arguments for advertisers along with the ability to command higher CPMs for these desirable audiences.
That can extend to product placement and brand integration into shows—data can help showrunners determine which brands make most sense to use, down to which music acts have the most synergy with their fan base—which is not to say that data should ever be the final arbiter of creative decisions, just that it’s certainly useful to have it available.
Prom King Brands have gotten by on charm alone for too many years. Thanks to Vertical Mass and other companies who are helping them understand the value of their fan bases, they can rely on brain power too.
Originally published at Forbes.com on April 25, 2018