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I’m John and I’m Design Director at 383.
I’m going to share some thoughts with you on Fan Engagement and
specifically I want to look at a couple of areas that I believe require
sharp focus for National Sports Organisations, Associations and
Collaborations of clubs.
But first for a bit of context, a little bit about who 383 are.
We’re are a UK based customer experience studio.
That means we do two things… firstly, we help brands to identify and imagine
differentiated customer experiences.
And then secondly, we help design and engineer innovative digital products that
enable brands to deliver those experiences to their customers.
In terms of our experience within sport. We’ve been fortunate to create experiences and
build products for many organisations you’ll recognise.
Currently we’re working with organisations like England Rugby and the Football League, and
in the last couple of years have worked for sports brands like Polar, and sports events, like
Amongst our specialism in sport, we also work with other brands you’ll recognise, people like
Hilton and the BBC,
but irrespective of the sector our focus is always driven by a belief that for brands to succeed
today, they have to be making useful experiences for customers.
And utility, making things useful, is an idea that really drives our thinking
at 383. This is the Useful Brands Playbook - it’s a book I wrote last year.
And really, this book is all about how utility helps build strong customer
and brand relationships.
You see, I believe that the brands who succeed when it comes to
engagement are the ones who understand not just how to entertain, but
also how to be useful.
So, before I get further in to my talks, there’s two things you should know.
The first, is that because we work across lots of different sectors as well as sport, one of the most useful things I thought I
could do is bring some examples from other industries that I believe are transferable and provide a perspective from outside of
The second thing to know, is that I’m an avid follower of a football account on Instagram called 433. It’s basically a gold mine of
amazing football videos and gifs and I’ve borrowed liberally from it for the backgrounds throughout my presentation.
I speak at a lot of these events and get to watch a lot of other talks; some memorable, some not so much.
And so it’s my hope this afternoon that even if you don’t remember me as the guy who did the great talk, you might remember
me as the guy with the funny videos.
So, where to start? As I mentioned, at 383 we work across quite a few different sectors and one thing
I’ve picked up on since we’ve been doing more and more in sport is that you guys really love this word
However, the way the word gets used I believe, has some inherent problems. Firstly, it gets used
interchangeably, in lots of different ways and to mean lots of different things.
I went to one sports networking event recently where I spoke to one person who seemed to have what
I would call an engagement ‘tick’, where every sentence he said to me ended with ‘of course, it’s all
about fan engagement’.
Often, fan engagement campaigns as I view them, are guilt of looking a lot like this.
We throw lots of marketing experiences out in unplanned ways, to an unsuspecting
audience. We’re maybe a little bit blind as to where the audience hangs out, and in
addition they’re a little bit blind as to what we’re trying to do. We then share and
celebrate only the ideas that hit, and not the ones that miss, and in truth the
‘engagement’ idea can leave everyone feeling a bit like no one really knew what just
happened and we all ago away agreeing it was entertaining but probably not
something that we’re going to repeat.
So, looking at this word engagement. I think
we need a better one. Because I think that
really what we should be thinking about to do
engagement properly is not fan engagement
at all, but fan enablement.
Because when you talk about enablement, it changes the job that we’re all trying to do.
It puts the emphasis be it at a national level or a club level on what actions we want to enable people to
take as a result of the things we do.
It makes us start to talk about the new behaviours that we’re trying to create amongst fans or new
technologies we want them to adopt.
It makes the job not just about entertaining, but about making sure that the outcome of our work is to make
the target audience feel more enabled to be a fan.
And at a governing body level, I think enablement is a really important word
So, I’ve picked 2 areas, there are actually many more, where as practitioners in the
sports industry, I think we need a sharper focus to begin to enable fans in football.
And I’ve titled these;
‘People, not just data’ and
‘Experiences, not just technology’
And if you stick with me, for the next 15 minutes or so I hope to show you how making
small adjustments in our thinking in these areas, can make a fundamental difference to
Firstly, then let’s talk about people and data.
Data, alongside the word engagement, is another buzzword that I’ve noted in sport. No doubt you’ve heard
it once or twice today. But, rather than talking about the value of big data, or how we should be putting
data front of mind, I actually want to talk about not forgetting the value of dialogue with individual fans.
You see, I believe that often an over reliance on big data can be the downfall of truly engaging with real
people, particularly when it comes to our view of how we categorise and understand typical fans.
In the background here is YouGovs online profile tool. I’m sure some of you have seen it. And,
when it comes to mining data to generate customer segments it’s an excellent tool and incredibly
This is me building up a profile of a typical UK football fan, and you’ll see that really quickly we
can drill down in to interests, demographics, geography and income. You’ll find out that this
person loves curry, is likely to own a pet bird, prefers to shop at ASDA and is amused by toilet
humor. The information is really comprehensive.
But used in isolation there’s a problem with acting on all this information, and that is that it’s quite
hard to turn it in to insight. For example where football fans may well map to a lot of these
behaviours, they can at the same time be very different from one another.
For my sins, I’m a Portsmouth fan and many of you may well know another far
more famous and more dedicated Portsmouth fan than I.
This is John ‘Portsmouth Football Club’ Westwood and back in 2007, I had the
pleasure of standing next to him at a game. He’s really a lovely guy, but as you
can see, we’re quite different.
Unlike me, John Westwood likes to wear a little
less clothing at the matches. Where I tend to
carry a phone, or maybe a drink, John
Westwood carries a bell and a trumpet. And
surprisingly, whereas I’m a designer by
… John Westwood is actually an antiquarian bookseller.
Surprising, but true.
So, what’s the point here? And am I saying that every fan is as different
as myself and John? Well, no, I’m not, that would be a bizarre world.
but what I do think important here is recognising the value of quantitive
insight (like YouGovs profiles) versus qualitative insight, like actually
speaking more to individual fans.
You see John and I probably both map to a good 80% of the
information YouGov had on us, but making sure we have focus on the
20% of fan uniqueness is really important too.
And the reason I think that’s important is that whereas customer
profiles can tell you WHAT, actual people can tell you WHY.
And sometimes being able to ask ‘Why would John do it’ or ‘why did
John like it?’ is an incredibly valuable question, particularly when our
focus in on enabling individual fans.
A quick example from outside of sport where having a direct dialogue with real people is playing an
This is Hive, the connected thermostat from British Gas. We know the team at Hive really well as they
participated in the Useful Brands book with us.
Hive run weekly user groups with real customers where alongside their big data sets, they also ask real
customers in to the design studio to expose them to new features and ask what those features might
enable the customer to do.
Hive use real people as a feedback loop not only to learn what works and what doesn’t but also as a way
of validating the user needs that they’ve identified in their large quantitative data.
Their using their personas and their datasets to figure out WHAT new things they could do, and then using
conversations with real people to validate WHY people like them or not.
Running quantitive and qualitative feedback like this, capitalises on both your big
data, and the opportunity to speak to real people.
The model looks something like this, identifying what opportunity exists for
something new on the left using data and then validating WHY people find that
idea useful or not on the right by speaking to real fans.
Perhaps in fact, some of the most valuable fan data we have isn’t locked in datasets at
all, but in the people at a club level who interface with fans week in week out.
I wonder what Governing bodies would learn about football fans for example if they
regularly asked every person who sold pies and programs at the ground what attendees
moaned about week in week out?
It’s a small example, but lets imagine our customer data is telling
us something like mobile payments are a big driver of fan
experience across the league.
That’s the what. But asking first line staff what they’ve observed
might tell us the WHY.
Maybe we learn something obvious like there’s only one cash
point at the ground and the ATM queue is always huge.
But maybe we discover something more commercially
significant like the fact that first time football fans often
don’t know how much match day food costs and
therefore mobile payments would reduce friction around
carrying cash and increase sales.
If the utility turns out to be something different from our
assumption, then it informs better business decisions
and a provides a clearer lens on why we’re adopting
Another quick example; at 383 we often use this X and Y model to think
This is like a goal statement, where we’re looking to fill in the blanks, the X is
the what we’re going to do, the Y is the utility or action we want to enable in
the fan by doing it.
Let’s take the Premier League fantasy football
mobile app as a quick example. The X and Y
statement here might look something like this ‘We
will create a fantasy football app so that fans can
play on their mobiles’.
It’s a really logical straight forward statement, it
makes total sense, and is probably backed up by a
tonnes of data on fan mobile usage. However, as I
mentioned earlier, often the real utility, the Y, is
If you actually look on the app store, you’ll see that the mobile app seems to create some friction for users and has some pretty
bad reviews at certain points in time.
Delve in to the individual comments and you’ll see that primarily these reviews are driven by connectivity issues during the game.
Dig a bit further, and do a live twitter search over a match day weekend and you’ll see that problem validated in social where some
fans are tweeting about being frustrated at connectivity problems during live matches.
Of course, there may be some very real business problems behind why these app issues exist. Perhaps there’s a latency on game
data, or perhaps demand has exceeded what was anticipated in terms of server requests. But the point is that fundamentally, to
improve the fan enablement with this product, we need to adjust the X and Y statement to reflect the utility fans really want.
In light of the reviews, the new statement might be
something more like ‘we will create a fantasy football app
to enable fans to play alongside live matches’.
This slight tweak to the statement means we have a
common understanding of the real utility the fan requires
and the experience we need to enable.
It focuses us to not throw a great app out with the
bathwater, but to understand the gap between what the
data told us fans needed and the real reasons why fans
tell us they are using it.
As a quick example of how to apply this thinking when planning goal statements, this is a product we’ve just built
for the RFU.
The objective here was to capitalise on interest around the Rugby World Cup, but also to actually measure metrics
which aligned to England Rugby’s strategic goals.
The purpose of the product is to enable people to find ways to get involved with Rugby, be that playing, coaching
or watching. And the entire UX was based around a series of different goal statements which reflected these
By thinking is this way we’ve also able to measure real impact for the World Cup. Not just vanity metrics like traffic
and dwell time, but real tangible metrics, what I’d call sanity metrics, like the fact that 50,000 people looked up
their local club contact details, we can see from postcode searches where grassroots blackspots are, and we know
that women’s rugby was one of the highest searched for terms during games.
It’s a good example of customer experience and strategy leading product development, and resulting in true fan
So, there’s some thoughts how organisations can close the gap between data and
The second area I wanted to talk about is technology and how we need to have a
focus not on emerging technology alone, but on how that technology enables or
changes the fan experience.
Of course, it’s a truth that technology is changing and will change our experiences,
particularly in sport. But sometimes, when we focus on technology alone, we can end up
forgetting about how bizarre things can appear to real people.
Some of you might have seen this TIME cover a few months ago, which I think typifies what
I’m talking about.
Now, Virtual Reality is super exciting, but the imagery and terminology used here on the
cover feels completely detached from the actual experiences it will probably deliver. It’s
kind of lawnmower man meets Thomson Holidays and it’s a terrible representation of the
actual use cases we will see with VR.
Of course, when the internet got hold of this,
they did a good job of parodying the cover
and there were some absolute corkers that
Whilst I was writing this talk too, I found this series of drawings from 1900 which illustrated
how people then thought might life might look like now.
And what’s interesting is that, just like right now, 1900 was a time of great technological
change. Except then, rather than the change being digital, it was mechanical.
And of course, some of the things they predicted were right… here we have examples of
mechanised farming, machines that clean houses and machine based transport like
monorails and planes.
But, they also got stuff wrong, here is a robot barber, and a fully mechanised orchestra with only the conductor
And I think the lesson here from a hundred years ago is one we can learn from now. That there’s a real danger that
if you look at the world, like this artist did, through a lens of ‘where technology could be used’ you forget the most
important question which is ‘where can technology enable better experiences’ and ‘which technology experiences
do people actually want’.
The mantra has to be to think about how new technology enables new experiences, not simply, how much new
technology can be adopted.
To illustrate how to think about experiences, not just technology, I thought I’d
give an example that I know is a hot topic in sport right now, which is stadium
Because from what I’ve read so far, most of the coverage I’ve seen is very
focused on how wifi can be enabled in stadiums and much less about what
stadium wifi will enable for fans.
And coincidentally, wifi is a topic that is very close to my heart as we’re
currently in the process of rolling out a new wifi experience for the entire
portfolio of Hilton Hotels across the globe.
Hilton currently have about 1 million rooms globally. Currently, we’re in
about 50% of those properties supporting about about half a million unique
users per day so if you want to bend my ear afterwards about dead spots,
APs and authentication afterwards then I’m all yours.
But the real story here is not the technology, but the experience we’re trying to deliver
over the top of it.
This is the new wifi product that guests are presented with post-authentication and it
was really born from the question ‘what experience do we want to enable for hotel
Our goal statement was to drag the first google search someone might typically take in a
hotel, forward in to a wifi product and we’ve tried really hard to focus on providing utility
for guests with the various modules on the page.
A few things of note are a tie up with Foursquare, to provide
lists of popular out of hotel activities.
We’ve got an exclusive commercial deal with Live Nation,
where out of hotel gigs and live events are pulled in via their
API and tickets can be booked directly through the page.
We brokered a direct deal with Guardian Labs in the states to
utilise their news content for quick headlines. And, we’ve also
baked in an API partnership with uber for travel.
A couple of results to backup why I think this experience is a good example of both enablement
Firstly, it’s highly useful for the guest. We’ve seen the NPS score for Hilton Honors customers, their
most value segment, show around an uplift of 60% in terms of recommending the wifi experience in
The commercially astute amongst you will also note that where we’re offering utility for the
guest, we’re also driving a lot of new revenue for Hilton. I can’t be specific on numbers, but
I am allowed to tell you that this platform is driving several million dollars of ad revenue to
date, through both programmatic, partnership and direct sales.
And of course, the guest behaviour data that comes off the back of all of these interactions
is incredibly valuable too.
And why I wanted to show you this today, is that I want to demonstrate that when you think about the
experiences, not just the technology, it changes the conversations you have within your own
Where technology and stadium enablement might be a club level imperative, the experience, the
commercial model and fan product can begin to become a multi-club or league conversation.
The possibilities here are about a top level commercial platform opportunity, not just an isolated stadium
So, let’s recap and go back to the question right at the very top of this talk ‘how
should national organisations and associations think about fan engagement?
Point number 1. Is to think less about engagement and more about enablement. I strongly believe that
we have to start thinking more about how fans are going to be enabled to do things and take real life
actions as a consequence of the things we do.
I mentioned with the England Rugby project that we’ve been focused on sanity metrics, not vanity
metrics, and I’d really encourage people to start to think about how fans are going to be enabled to take
real world actions as a consequence of the things we make.
So, Point number 2, is people not just data. I believe it’s crucial for for
organisations to close the people gap between them, their member clubs, and the
The objective here is to learn about the nuances as well as the big trends and to
develop feedback loops to consult with how enabled, or not, fans are by the
experiences we deliver.
And finally, point number 3. is to Focus on experiences, not technology.
Organisations need to set their sights on building meaningful and effective experiences, not just rolling out a tonnes of emerging tech.
And when we do that, when we ask
‘what technology should we use’
not ‘what technology can we use’,
we focus our strategies and our actions towards proper, scaleable fan enablement.
If you want to chat further, you can find
me on twitter @john383 or email me at
john @ 383project.com. Thank you.