In each episode of The Playbook presented by FanFood, host Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are modernizing today’s customer experience through technology in sports, entertainment and hospitality. We invite industry veterans to talk about how customer expectation have changed in today’s world, and how businesses need to change accordingly for greater operational efficiency and better guest experience.
Amir Zonozi, President & Co-Founder at Zoomph, joins Rob Cressy to talk about fan-driven marketing. How can you create marketing that your audience wants to see? How has the marketing & fan engagement landscape changed without fans in the stands? Why are digital & creative teams the most valuable assets right now? How do you get people’s attention and build a name for yourself?
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Rob Cressy: (00:08)
Welcome to The Playbook presented by FanFood. A discussion around how leaders are modernizing today’s customer experience through technology in sports, entertainment, and hospitality. I’m your host, Rob Cressy. And joining me today is Amir Zonozi, President and Cofounder at Zoomph. Amir, great to have you on the show.
Amir Zonozi: (00:31)
Rob, it’s awesome to be here. I love the fact that I’m here from via conversation on Twitter.
Rob Cressy: (00:38)
Yes. So, I’ll give some quick insight into this last week I put a message out on Twitter that said, Hey, is there anyone in the world of sports technology and fan engagement that I need to connect with and have on this show? And you, Amir, were recommended to me. And I was like, boom, let’s do this.
Amir Zonozi: (00:59)
Let’s do it. And I saw whoever owns the name BaconSports.com I have to join and talk to. So, I’m really excited about this show.
Rob Cressy: (01:09)
Thank you. I appreciate it. So, can you give a quick overview of who you are and what you do?
Amir Zonozi: (01:15)
Yeah, absolutely. So, as President of the company, my role is to move without whatever mountain is in front of my team. They’re the best and the smartest at what they do. My role is just making sure they get to do what they do. And I’m the co-founder of the company. So, basically it’s simple. What we do is we help teams, leagues, agencies, and brands understand the value of their partnerships especially on social media. And then we provide them our ROI analytics and audit audience analytics so that they have a better understanding of who their fans are and how to best connect with them.
Rob Cressy: (01:50)
So, what we’re going to jam about today among other things is fan-driven marketing. And this is actually the term that you mentioned to me. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Amir Zonozi: (02:02)
Yeah, absolutely. So, Rob the way we look at it, you and I are entire businesses, this entire sports business industry relies on the oxygen that we breathe and that’s fandom, right? That passion that fans have is the very reason why we get to continue and do what we do and we’re fans ourselves, right? Sports is not the most lucrative industry in the world. A lot of us are here because of pure fandom and passionate about what we do. And at the end of the day without that, it’s so sacred that if we don’t treat that with the utmost respect and it’s not there you’re going to lose fans. So, at the end of the day, what we aspire to do is let fans lead marketing opportunities, let fans lead those partnerships. How can we look at those established relationships that fans already have with brands that are out there and leverage that? So, a lot of times what we do is we help teams with prospecting agencies understand what relationships are there. We look at different verticals, what partnerships, and then we look at those affinities between those different groups. That just helps us understand at the end of the day, they’re the customer, how do we lead with them? How do we focus around now? How do we make sure they have the best experience?
Rob Cressy: (03:18)
So, here’s what I’m curious about. I’m all on board with fan-driven marketing, but in this pandemic world that we’re living in right now, NBA Playoffs currently has no fans in the bubble, same with the NHL. With the NFL to be determined what we’re going to be seeing there. So, the fan marketing landscape has changed. Now, we’ve got a primarily at home driven fan marketing landscape and brands who had previously engaged fans on-premise or at the stadiums or had a large partner partnership or sponsorship dollars attached to in-stadium activations. Now all of a sudden needs to find a way to innovate in reach the at-home fan or be more digital, which I think is a huge opportunity. What are your thoughts on this shift in the landscape?
Amir Zonozi: (04:12)
Yeah, I mean what I’m about to say is nothing new. These trends that we’re seeing now have just been catalyzed, or just happening faster, right? The pandemic is just making all these trends that have already been established happen faster. And that is, digital is the only way right now to connect with fans and the best way. And what it does is it allows us to have those relationships where we can constantly come back in contact with our fans based on the different activations that we can do. So, as you said, experiential and stadium, that’s almost gone there. The NBA is doing some really cool stuff with Michelob Ultra, Anheuser Busch family, and Microsoft with the digital fans. I don’t know if you caught it over the weekend, the Celtics fans actually brought brooms to show the sweep against the 76 years, which was iconic. There was a woman who went viral for bringing her pet goat on the live show.
So, we are finding ways to evolve, how to include fans into the experience. And we’re finding that all of this, that infrastructure is all built on digital. And so the best way for us to continue that relationship with fans is leveraging that digital connection through every social channel. Now, each one of them is going to have a different audience. The one thing that we always preach to teams, Rob is that audiences are not homogeneous, right? It’s not just one fan it’s a segment of fans. There are audiences of audiences. Everyone has different reasons for what is brought to this organization now. And some eyes might roll at this, but people have sometimes stronger relationships with their teams than they do their own church, Rob. I mean, it’s like people get tattooed the brands of the logos. So, that connection that’s there is super strong.
When they’re following you, when they’re engaging with you, when they’re sharing all this information with you there are ways to bring partners in especially on the team side, you put your arm around them and say, Hey, this is my partner. This is my friend. You guys trust us. We take care of you. And for partnerships, there’s a no better relationship than being executed upon our inactivation that’s on digital because you get to see the reality of the results. You can see the attribution, you can see the digital engagement, you see who’s connecting, what type of people. Is this my target audience? So, brands should want these activations to be done on digital and for the teams and this is something we were talking about right before this podcast, Rob. Digital teams are the most important asset that these sports teams have today. And they need to start acting like media companies when it comes to this. I honestly don’t know what you can do or how you’re going to still stay in business in the future if you don’t. Not only did we just discuss this the only way to connect with it, but they are finding new, creative, exciting ways to interact and they’re acting like in house agencies on behalf of the team. And by creating this content by knowing their audience best, by weaving a strong narrative with their partners this is where storytelling happens. This is where you know that brand plays happening because you’re thinking of the emotion or the connection that you have with that partner that they bring in. And there are all different types of ways that brands or teams are looking to do is. Think of Budweiser with the home runs with the targets out in the outfield.
Rob Cressy: (7:36)
Love that idea.
Amir Zonozi: (7:38)
Brilliant, brilliant stuff.
Rob Cressy: (07:40)
So, let’s actually expand on this because it is a theme that we’ve talked about often on this podcast, but it’s one that I believe the message needs to continue to get reiterated into the atmosphere because of how important it is and because of how many excuses are being made. Because you know what, Rob and Amir? We’re different. We don’t have the time, the knowledge, the resources, the budget to do all things digital. And I think digital is one of the biggest areas where people can put an intern on it and say, well listen, anybody can do a tweet or an Instagram post or a Facebook post and we’re going to call it a day or they can be quick to say, I’m not going to be jumping on IG stories or doing IG reels. The excuses on digital seem to be hot and heavy in a wide variety of industries, both small companies, and large companies.
It’s something that for the last seven years on my hand, I’ve been proudly waving the content creation flag because I am the perfect example of someone who can do more with less. Because you can build out your own studio, you and I right now are both doing this remotely. We got professional equipment, but guess what? Professional equipment let’s put in air quotes. If you’re a team or a brand for $500 or less, you can have professional-grade equipment to do all of these different things. And what I think it really boils down to is one word, intention. All you need to do is be intentional about the content that you create. The challenge is often this always-on C, where you feel overwhelmed by how much you could do in this uncertainty leads to inaction. Instead of just saying, imagine if we just committed to one post a day, and if we really started to look a little bit deeper in that one post, what would our audience want to do? So, now let’s put ourselves in the shoes of our fans or our audience. Hey, what would we want? Would we want the same old buy what we’re selling or a white paper like we would want to do from a company? Or what if we actually create something that delivers value or engagement or fun for the brand in making it fan first?
Amir Zonozi: (10:04)
I love that. I love that. You’re absolutely right. It’s somebody saying they’re not going to get on social media is like somebody saying, I’m not going to use a telephone. It’s a tool to connect one to many, right? And it just doesn’t make sense for someone to say, I’m not going to use a telephone. It’s one of the ones, right? And a lot of times society doesn’t get the one to one building those relationships. You’ve got to have that patience to kind of do it. But I love your ownership mentality there, Rob, where it’s just like, hold yourself accountable, get out there. But this is the voice of your company. This is one of the most important aspects of it. You can put an intern on it, but having that connection and understanding what your customers or your fans want to see from you. You need to know that you need to have that intelligence and there’s nothing quite like it than having your finger on the pulse and talking directly to them.
At a minimum, if you’re not the one that’s posting or engaging, and that’s totally fine, understand the results. Look at the analytics. See how people are engaging. What content do they care about? Cause all of this, I’m telling you, is vital for you to continue in where we’re going. Like we said earlier the pandemic, this is only making these trends that were already happening, happen faster. This digital economy of us creating content, it started first with influencers, regular people like you and I. People are now professionally doing it as a career, but now organizations are getting into it and weaving people into brands and into their content as they do this. And you need to know this language, you need to understand it. And the excuse of, it’s too much, or I don’t want to share my lunch and all this kind of stuff. It’s just that that’s not going to cut it dealing with business how it’s done today.
Rob Cressy: (11:52)
I’ll break this down as simple as possible. This is something you can actually take action on right now. So, there are three layers to what I would say you should do to create intentional content. Step one, strategy. This is where you can have the higher-level person come in and say, what is the strategy for our marketing content and fan engagement. Step number two, creative. What does the image video or captioning headline look like? So, now this is where we get a little bit of art. Step three, this is when you can roll in the intern or the junior level person to do the scheduling. And this is a simple way where you can see how seamlessly it flows through. And I think a lot of times the higher-level executive is like, I shouldn’t be posting on social media, but it doesn’t mean that their fingerprints can’t be at the top of this by saying, listen, I’ve got the knowledge of how these things work.
I also do want to give a caveat that sometimes this high level executive, they may not currently be on social. They may not have the same pulse that the intern does in terms of what is going to work well on one platform versus another. So, I would recommend there can be a blend of all different levels of people in these meetings and strategy sessions because you want to have your finger on the pulse and you want to do it for each platform. And if the person who’s making the biggest decision is not doing all of these. That is a problem.
Amir Zonozi: (13:26)
Yeah. And Rob, I love that fingerprint analogy that you had there. That was so perfect. I could get the kudos to that, but what you said is on point. You want as much diversity as possible as you can to sort of running these ideas through because other people in our team are going to be helping you think of things that you might not be thinking about. How does this message apply to different people from different backgrounds? You always want to kind of consider that but look, I’ll be open and raw and honest with you as much as possible. The strategy behind our success and what we did at Zoompf. You know, you’re coming with a name like Zoompf in a world of sports and business, it’s like, how do you build a name for yourself? How do you get people’s attention?
So, our strategy was, how do we get content that’s compelling enough? Because your competition is everything that those thumbs are scrolling up against, right? How do you make that thumb stop scrolling? And so what we did was we went after Gary V, The Rock, Casey Neistat and we looked for moments where our data would make sense and we would interject with it. Casey Neistat had this story of a Burger King that was liking his tweets from 10 years ago. And he’s like, there’s gotta be a cost. Burger King duked me on this. They owe me some money and I’m going to take this money and I’m going to donate to the boys and girls club. I was like, wait, we can value that content.
So, we went back, we evaluated and he generated $89,000 worth of social exposure value. What that means is someone could’ve run, like Burger King, $89,000 worth of money towards ads. It’s the same level of engagement that Casey generated. We tweet that out. He retweets us, we get a lot of engagement. Did the same thing similar to Gary V. Did the same thing to The Rock, but we weren’t getting any leads back. People weren’t really coming back. We got some, but it wasn’t like what we had with the amount of activity. Then we realized, okay, there’s a failure point in our strategy. They are not influencers of the audience that we want to be in front of. So, we changed our pitch. We changed, basically, we changed our focal point of what we were targeting. So then we went after, okay, how do we be in front of audiences, and we sell to the front office of sports, right? Our agencies and brands, right? How do we get in front of those people? And so then we started targeting accounts that were influential to that publication like Front Office Sports, Hashtag Sports, Sports Business Journal. How do we get our data in front of them? And so we started doing that and then it didn’t happen, it gradually kind of came up and up. But now we’re at a point, Rob, when we go into meetings, people know who we are and it’s a different type of meeting now. I don’t need to pitch you on what we do and what we build. I only need to share, how can we personalize this experience for you? And it’s different. To get there It’s not going to be easy if it was easy everyone would be doing it. You’ve got to have that discipline, like you said, of setting yourself up for it. But it transcends your business and the way business is being done when people already know coming to you, who you are, what you do and who you do it for, and then it’s just personalizing it. And I can’t tell you how much of an impact that’s made for us.
Rob Cressy: (16:39)
I love that. That’s a great example. And I actually am a big fan of all of those people that you talked about, but certainly Casey from a creator standpoint, he’s a huge inspiration for me because I love the way he creates. And he’s so unique and doing it. And I remember that Burger King thing. And when you said, how do you get people’s attention and build a name for yourself? And let’s think about one of the very first things you said on this podcast. You said you had begun sports.com and I needed to find a way to get down with this guy. So, for me, boom, you’ve got this name Bacon Sports and how do you build attention? The reason I even created a company in the first place, one, it has always been my dream to work in sports and be creative. But two, I looked at the sports landscape seven years ago and all of the content that was being created was homogenous. It was aggregators. Copy-paste, insert what’s on Deadspin, Bleacher, ESPN. And I was like, you know what? I know I can be better than this. At the same time, I was aware enough that they were not building communities. I never understood why you and I right now aren’t wearing ESPN branded shirts. For as many hours I have spent watching and rewatching Sports Center in the variety of personalities and brands that were there. I just felt like it missed a giant boat there. And then I looked and if I showed you content from The Score or Bleacher or any of these others, would you be able to tell where it’s from? No, you couldn’t. So, I was like, there’s a huge opportunity to one create original content and to do it with a community mindset.
So, I really then reverse engineer it. And I was like, well, what would I want to create and consume if I was on the receiving end? And essentially it evolved into almost like a sports bar on the internet type content where you and I are jamming about Luca Doncic. Would you rather see him or LeBron in the finals this year? And it’s a conversation we would naturally have. And it was through the evolution of solving our own problem that we got good at generating and getting people’s attention and building a name for ourselves because we were able to stand out and be unique and be different because we weren’t just trying to change chase page views. We were actually doing it to build a community
Amir Zonozi: (19:10)
You really absolutely nailed it there, Rob. That’s what we’re talking about with audience segments, right? Like there are these pockets of groups of people. The other day, my inlaws have a boat and we went to the marina and I’m looking at it. I’m like, man, there should be a relationship that like teams have with boating. Cause like a lot of these voting people is fans. I saw the Washington Football Team flag, I saw Cowboy’s team flag. Look for these pockets of groups of people. Create content that’s just for them. And they will amplify it with their audiences internally. And they will be your biggest marketers for you, right? If you connect with them on a level on the foundation where they feel like they’re being spoken to and heard too. I grew up in Northern Virginia my entire life. You might argue, I don’t know what winning is like until recently with the capitals and with Nats, but I’ve been a Washington Football Team fan my entire life, right? Working in sports you kind of get jaded with some stuff. But one tweet got retweeted by the New York Giants. And for a moment in time, my entire years of fandom and memories from the ground and dirt that I grew up on was expelled. I was like, I love the Giants. Go big blue, right?
Because they told me, Hey, we see you, we hear you. That made me feel important. It made me feel love, right? And they embraced me through social. From just one tweet, from just one retweet, right? Years of a relationship on-chain. And that’s how important it is to show your audience that you hear them, you see them, you engage with them. You can build a fan for life, one by one. And that in that relationship is not fluent, right? It doesn’t break that easily. But even though my story was going to intimidate that, but I went right back into what I do. It’s that important that connection of being heard and listening to. So, what I love is like that sports mentality. You know your audience, you know that type of content that they’re looking for. And a lot of times I refer to community marketers and community and people behind the social channels as DJs. And basically just as a DJ is playing that next song to get the audience going and dancing in physically moving because they’re hearing a sound, right? They’re just inputting data into their ears and they are physically moving their body. It’s the same way in digital. It’s like feeding content out there to get your audience engaging and talking and moving. But that was such a great example by you, Rob.
Rob Cressy: (21:48)
Wow. And I absolutely loved that. You said some things that are so good. The DJ example, I have never heard that. And it is so true because to be a good community manager on social you need to have your pulse on what’s going on in the world and you need to have a mixture of real-time and evergreen. You’re going to have the evergreen stuff that supports your brand and gives people the opportunity to dig deeper. But at the same time, when something big happens in the world, you want to be nimble enough to be able to engage with it. And I think that’s one of the big areas where a lot of companies and brands fail or miss the boat is because they’re so rigid. They’re not fluid. Imagine, I love the way you framed that, Imagine if everyone said we’re hiring a social DJ instead of we’re just doing social media management. The difference in mindset, if your feed was fun and engaging and you looked forward to it because here’s the next thing you said, build a fan for life one by one.
It is something that I have believed from the second I’ve started creating content because so often everyone wants to become Joe Rogan when they create a podcast. Oh, how do I get to 10 million? Well, they fail to realize Joe Rogan was on freaking Fear Factor like 10 years ago. He’s been in standup comedy clubs for so many years. The Joe Rogan we see here, let’s talk to that guy from 20 years ago, but guess what? He gained a fan one at a time because that’s how you build a community. And I always like to think every opportunity is one to create a positive brand interaction, every single tweet. So, it goes back to my intention comment from earlier, how do you be good at social? It is actually by being intentional about every single thing because every one of those is a touchpoint. Cause you never know when the New York Giants are going to see a Washington Football fan and retweet them. And all of a sudden it changes your mind. And on my end, I was up at Wrigley and I took a picture of the Budweiser bleachers and I tagged Budweiser. And then Budweiser responded back to me and my mind was blown. Amazingly, they responded back to me two more times to the point where I use them as the example on podcasts, because freaking Budweiser has responded back to me. And it’s something that so few brands do.
Amir Zonozi: (24:24)
Yeah. It’s important for these brands to talk and act like humans. One person I’ll give a shout out to is Statia Williams. She is the social media manager behind the Washington Football Team which right now has not been an easy job, right? It’s not her role for the name and all that kind of stuff. But like the fact that like look at the type of content that she shares. Look at how she talks and controls the voice of the team. Not only do you know it’s a new team in a new season, right? And it’s a new energy that’s coming out there, but she’s talking like she’s text messaging her friend and people connect to that more than you can ever, as far as understanding knowing who these brands are. People have these personifications that they attach to it. Just like you with Budweiser, just like me with the Giants and connecting with that relationship where people can talk to an account they’re going to put their own mind to it.
They don’t know if it’s a male or if it’s a female or they don’t think about that. They’re just connecting on what they’re passionate about. That’s why I love social media right now because, I guess it’s everywhere except for Facebook, Facebook’s where you go to hate your friends, But like but Instagram is on Twitter you can go and meet strangers and just connect on things that you’re passionate about. There’s negative stuff there’s positive stuff, I get it. But these people are out there expressing themselves. They’re putting their information out there, how they feel. If you’re not picking up and listening to it, shame on you because they’re giving you the blueprint to their heart. They’re telling you exactly what they’re looking to do.
I can’t name the team, right? But one of their athletes demanded a trade. When does that not happen in the NFL? But it got sensationalized. There’s a lot of media around it. And they were having a tough time trying to understand what does our fan base care about? And I loved what their thought point was in the middle of all this disarray, they’re focused on their fan base. And so what they did is, we helped them identify, look at their followers. Look at people that follow certain accounts that indicate that these are super fans of the team. And we took away everything else. We filtered it out. And then they looked at what they cared about. And they went to the podium for PR and they addressed the questions that their fan base had in aggregate. So, that fan base felt like they were talking directly to them. And you know what? There’s somebody on the other side of that TV, listening from the radio. See, they get me. See, that’s why we’re the best team, right? That is exactly what you said there, Rob, it’s intent. They knew who mattered. They knew. Why did they understand? Why does it matter to that person? And how do we tell them that we’re listening and we care about them?
Rob Cressy: (27:10)
And Amir, here’s how we’re going to end this. You and I, and FanFood practice what we preach. This podcast right here is a perfect example of this because FanFood wanted an opportunity to be able to provide value for their audience and connect with their audience. When we look at content creation, we can start with, Oh, we can send out a tweet and we can create an Instagram image, but guess what? We can generate so much more emotion and relationships, and value by doing the things that are a little bit harder. By creating podcasts, by creating videos, by creating live streams, because guess what? These are the things that are going to allow you to build a deeper connection. And there’s a quote that I always like to use. I believe it takes between 7 and 11 times for someone to see a brand for them to be able to engage with them. Imagine being able to engage with someone via audio like this. So, with everything that we’re talking about here, remember success leaves breadcrumbs. So, what Amir is talking about and what I’m talking about, and what FanFood is doing. Follow all of these different accounts and just become a student of the game and say, wait a second. Are we doing some of these things? If not, what’s one thing that we’re not currently doing that we could do and then rinse and repeat and slowly get better. But that’s almost the best advice that I can say is because I’m so passionate about it because I live this. This is what I do for a living and I love it. I love meeting people like you, Amir because you and I did not know each other 35 minutes ago. And I feel like I could do business with you for the rest of my life.
Amir Zonozi: (28:53)
No, a hundred percent, man. You absolutely nailed it. One thing I’ll kind of add to what you were just saying is there’s a quote that internally that we say here is comfort is the enemy of greatness. And if you’re not pushing yourself and making yourself uncomfortable by learning and doing new things, well you’re just going to be associated with the everyday things that no one else is. I mean like content creators is probably like 1% of the internet, 99% consuming. Like getting out there and creating content you’re already getting through to the noise of other people. So, this is really great advice. And the bread crumbs thing, I’m going to have to steal that from you.
Rob Cressy: (29:31)
Amir really enjoyed this conversation. Where can everybody connect with you?
Amir Zonozi: (29:36)
Yeah, I appreciate it. @Zonozi or @Zoomph on all things social. This has been a pleasure, Rob,
Rob Cressy: (29:42)
Thank you. And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. You know what I want to know. I want you to tell me one brand that has engaged back with you. Whether it was a retweet, alike, something like my Budweiser or something like Amir’s Giants, do you have even one example? Because I don’t think I have more than five examples to be able to give, but I would love to hear from you, what is that brand? You can hit up FanFood on Twitter @FanFoodondemand. On Instagram @FanFoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms @Rob Cressy.