[BE] Midmarket CMO Blog

Using Social Listening to Shift Marketing Strategy


How can a Chief Creative Officer spearhead a seismic marketing shift to triple ticket and retail sales as well as TV and radio ratings in one year’s time?

Not without quite a bit of resistance, legwork and thinking outside the box, but Peter Sorckoff, SVP of Marketing for the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena, made it happen with significant support from entertainment veteran and visionary CEO Steve Koonin.

Peter Sorckoff, Chief Creative Officer and SVP of Marketing, Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena

Recruited from his native Canada in 1999 to help birth the Atlanta Thrashers NHL franchise, Sorckoff grew into the organization during Turner’s glory years “when it was one humongous family with stock options.”

The evolution of the ailing Atlanta Hawks brand was set in motion when Sorckoff stepped into the role as Vice President of Marketing and Creative and challenged the old notion that a brand refresh could be accomplished with a new tagline and redo of the media mix.

“It wasn’t a particularly popular statement, but any long term chance at success in this new position [as VP of Marketing and Creative] was going to require a bit of dressing down to better understand our core issues,” he recalled.

It’s a problematic notion across the sports and entertainment industry that “if we just win more, people will come out to support the team,” Sorckoff noted. There were plenty of organizational notions about the audience but a lack of empirical data to substantiate them. Were they targeting the wrong audience? Perhaps awareness issues existed around the brand, or were there new product lines that could be added to boost sales?

Enter MotiveQuest, a technology-enabled insights company that employs social listening to help clients see the world through their customers’ eyes. In 12 months, MotiveQuest captured 1.7 million conversations around the Atlanta Hawks brand. That data was compared with three other NBA teams, and an 83-page summary of the findings revealed a market that was emotionally disconnected from the brand.

Atlanta is an extremely fragmented market with where racial lines often still define neighborhood boundaries, and the relatively affordable cost of doing business has meant an exponential flow of transplants into the Southeast.

Instead of targeting Baby Boomers that lived outside the I-285 perimeter, fresh data demonstrated their sweet spot was the 28-year old millennial living in the city center with plenty of disposable income and a thirst for engaging experiences.

Sorckoff embarked on this social anthropology experience in part because he felt focus groups failed to uncover honest opinions about the brand. His team worked to discern where their target audience was conversing, and for the late 20-something professional, the answer was undebatable: Tinder.

They launched Swipe Right Night in partnership with the mobile dating app. It was so successful that Hawks are hosting Swipe Right Night 2.0 to usher in Spring 2016 against the Houston Rockets tomorrow night.

“Promotions like that are about being authentic to this audience,” Sorckoff said. “It may not make sense to the 45-year old married man with three kids like myself, but it’s about putting the brand where we know our audience lives on a regular basis. It blew up because it was misinterpreted as being taboo.”

Sorckoff will delve deeper into the organizational transformation of the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena during the Midmarket CMO Forum April 3-5 in Orlando, FL at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.

San Antonio | October 23 — 25, 2016

Blair Shiver
Blair Shiver
Blair is a communications specialist with 15 years experience in the print media sector. Prior to joining Boardroom Events, she was a member of an accomplished sales team in the New York City real estate market. Much of her spare time is spent working with local and regional non-profits to help underserved children and promote sustainable development.​
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