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.


Christopher Aumueller, CEO at FanWord, joins Rob Cressy to talk about how to tell better stories to engage fans. What is the value in storytelling and how can you get the most out of them? Why is developing your creative process so important? How can storytelling be simplified to make it easier to execute?

To see how your facility or venue can benefit from FanFood’s platform please get in touch here.

Listen to the Gameday Playbook on:

  • Ep. 73: Telling Better Stories To Engage Fans with Christopher Aumueller
  • Ep. 73: Telling Better Stories To Engage Fans with Christopher Aumueller
  • Ep. 73: Telling Better Stories To Engage Fans with Christopher Aumueller
  • Ep. 73: Telling Better Stories To Engage Fans with Christopher Aumueller
  • Ep. 73: Telling Better Stories To Engage Fans with Christopher Aumueller


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 Christopher Aumueller, CEO and founder at FanWord. Christopher, great to have you on the show.

Christopher Aumueller: (00:31)

Thanks a lot for having me, Rob. Looking forward to this.

Rob Cressy: (00:35)

Can you give a quick overview of who you are and what you do?

Christopher Aumueller: (00:38)

Sure, I’m more than happy to. Chris Aumeuller, you already got my name right which is half the battle usually in my world because I’m originally from Germany and people struggle with my last name. But I was a tennis player for the Huskers. So, that’s kind of what brought me over back in 2008 and started the company, started FanWord after I graduated with my MBA from the University of Nebraska. And here we are today.

Rob Cressy: (01:08)

All right. So, what we’re going to talk about is one of the things that you guys specialize in. creating a storytelling platform for athletic departments, sports teams, and brands, and what I like so much about this is actually the word storytelling and then the word platform because so many companies, brands, teams have an opportunity to tell stories better. And oftentimes when we look at customer experience or fan engagement or social media marketing, it’s how do you get this message out? But messages to me sometimes can be seen as a, we have to do. And storytelling to me is what we get to do. Storytelling is why we go to the movies. It’s why we listen to podcasts and I believe there needs to be more of that. And it’s something that needs to be intentional. And it’s something that’ll get people looking forward to hearing back from you again. So, let’s start at the beginning of this and tell me sort of a little bit more about how you got to that point of seeing the need in this market.

Christopher Aumueller: (02:15)

Yeah, more than happy to. I think the idea for the business actually came from my time as a student-athlete. I just always felt like that there were so many amazing athletes or athletes stories, I guess that that went unnoticed and that I felt like that there were a lot of schools and teams and again, athletes that deserved a little bit more of the spotlight, but just didn’t get it. And completely obviously understood why the vast majority of content and exposure really was geared towards the teams of football and men’s basketball for instance, in college sports. But nonetheless, again I just felt like there was a lot of value in these stories that no one knew about. And it was also during a time when the Players Tribune became more and more popular and companies like that, media companies like that kinda emerged, I guess. And I just wanted to do something very similar to that in the collegiate space and help athletic departments in this case, get these stories told because I knew that there was a little bit of a challenge doing that from a resource perspective. As you said, it’s not often the type of content that you have to produce or how to produce it was something that you wanted to do, but didn’t always have the resources, the time or the labor to do so. And that’s just kind of where we saw a need and a fit and I guess that’s how the whole adventure started.

Rob Cressy: (03:48)

And when looking at the challenges, so you mentioned resources. So, does that mean you’re actually filming or creating, or are you strategizing or how are you helping the athletic department tell these stories?

Christopher Aumueller: (04:03)

Yeah. And really whatever works for them, to be honest with you. We’re very custom in our approach, but for the most part, it’s always consisting of four parts. It always starts with a strategy session. The second piece is we built these Players Tribune-like storytelling platforms for individuals against schools or sports teams or brands. And then we populate those. So the storytelling content is, the story creation I should say, is usually a part of the service and then we also help with the distribution of the content. And sometimes you have schools that only need help with the content production. Sometimes you have schools that only need help with the content distribution. They want to have a platform dedicated to all the stories that they want to tell internally. It’s really a matter of client fit to be honest with you.

Rob Cressy: (04:55)

One thing that you mentioned that I wrote down is the value of the stories. And then you mentioned that no one knows about, but let’s just talk about the value in the stories. Because I think it’s when you’re a creator in a community builder and a brand builder, you understand the value in stories. But so often we live in this ROI data-driven world where you say, let me see the one to one ratio that I’m getting, but that exactly doesn’t fly because we’ve seen over the course of the last six-plus months in the pandemic for the company’s brands teams that did not invest in digital if you are only looking at the one-to-one ratio from an ad spend then all of a sudden you don’t really have a brand because you’re just transactional. And right now you can buy anything from anywhere at any time. So, what’s really the value proposition of what separates one from another. So, can you talk about the value of a story?

Christopher Aumueller: (05:58)

Absolutely, more than happy to. Numbers and data still matter, obviously. And usually, on average the content that we produce for schools over the years, we’ve seen like a five to six X as far as engagement goes compared to traditional content that they produce. So, that is always a value prop or a selling point, I guess as far as showcasing engagement when it comes to social engagement, shares, clicks, comments. Whatever you want to measure there, but there is a ton of intangible value. That’s very hard to measure whether it’s a brand affinity or a fan loyalty or these kinds of metrics that by default get pushed because of the engagement that we do see from, let’s say fans. When we produce a piece of content and 80 people comment on it and say, man, this story was amazing, I had no idea. And then I love that you’re opening up about this etc. It just connects with fans in ways that I believe, and granted I’m a bit biased, but I don’t think any other piece of content can do that other than a compelling story. 

And obviously, it’s a big piece to this is the type of story that you tell how you’re presenting the story, all of these things matter, which we learned over the years the hard way, to be honest with you. Once you do that, you do see the value in direct ROI I guess if you want to measure the engagement and if that’s something that data point that you care about. But again, there are these intangibles that our partners get and understand of building this closer community and connecting with their fans on a more personal and emotional level. But, that’s often hard to measure, certainly in the short term, but maybe in the long-term, you have some more impact on that.

Rob Cressy: (07:57)

And one thing that can be done is if you take a page from Gary V’s jab, jab, jab, right hook. So often everyone wants to right hook all the time. Buy what we’re selling. Buy what we’re selling. But what if these stories were actually opportunities for you to jab and what you get is people who like, comment, share, watch a certain amount of the video. Well, guess what? What you’re doing now is building up not only a relationship and a connection but the ability to retarget because now these people are saying, listen, I’m an engaged user. And now they’ve just qualified themselves as someone who is more likely to purchase, or at least consider a purchase when the time comes. So, all we’ve got to do is rinse and repeat. So, if somebody watches one minute of the video well, guess what? When we create this storytelling piece of content, now let’s do some paid social and run the next one to them. And all of a sudden they watch another one minute in what you start to build now is a community of superfans or at least a targeting of that. So, now when it is time for you to actually do something on the paid side, you’ve got a significantly better group of people to target than just throwing stuff out into the wild.

Christopher Aumueller: (09:14)

Totally. Couldn’t agree more. Honestly, that sounds a little bit weird right now that yesterday morning we had a team meeting and literally talked about a lot of these things that you just talked about because it does obviously come up in these conversations with our clients of how can we maximize value and go beyond producing content and putting it on a platform. And these things, we talk about often. It’s almost like you hacked into our team meeting, but I hoped it didn’t.

Rob Cressy: (09:42)

Well, this is called The Playbook and really this is a playbook. So, let’s actually dig a little bit deeper into that because I think it’s important. You said, how do we maximize the value? So, let’s think of this as one piece of storytelling content, how do we deliver more value out of this? So, certainly, there’s version 1.0, boom. Here’s the piece of content that our community gets to engage with. One, it’s a positive brand interaction because here’s a piece of valuable content. Number two, you’re building the connection with the audience. Three, that’s going to deepen the relationship for the value can be on the entertainment side of things. Maybe you inspire them, or maybe this also causes them to take action because there is nothing that says that in this storytelling there can’t be a hook at the end. Maybe that’s not to go buy tickets, but maybe there’s something elsewhere, Hey, be part of our community or, Hey, we’ve got this cause. There’s something there where you’ve given a narrative that really helps them understand. So, what other ways can someone maximize value? Because I think someone who’s listening right now may believe in what we’re doing but haven’t done it yet for a myriad of reasons, but let’s sort of keep going on this train.

Christopher Aumueller: (10:58)

Yeah, I think you’re hitting on a very, very good point. At the end of the day for us, the most important piece to all of what we do is that it has strategic value, right? Producing a piece of content or multiple pieces of content has no value in my opinion unless you have an objective behind that piece of content. I mean, with any content marketing strategy you need to have an overarching goal. And that’s really where these platforms come into play. They are custom-built, right? So, depending on whatever strategic goals someone is trying to accomplish, we can customize these platforms to maximize, and whether it’s fundraising or sales activity or whatever else we can kind of integrate that into the stories. Whether it’s through basic calls to action at the bottom of a story or on the top right corner of your screen or whatever else.

And speaking of that, we did launch a fundraising campaign with the college gymnastics association. And we did a series of stories for them and we saw over, the numbers were unbelievable. I mean, granted they did a fantastic job of integrating other messages into that whole campaign. And it is a very timely thing was with a couple of managed gymnastics programs getting cut in the country. But nonetheless, I mean the traffic that we saw on those stories and the clicks that we saw to their donation page and the actual donations, I mean was really inspiring. And something that is great for us to see that it works right. I mean, at the end of the day, what it really comes down to. But, also when we speak of value, Rob, I mean there’s not just value in what we do for, let’s say the audience that are seeing those stories or reading those stories or hearing those stories. It’s also for, you help these individual athletes for instance, right? You give them a voice, you give them a platform to share something that traditional media might not allow them to, or the neighborhood newspaper or the local newspaper isn’t interested in covering. But you help them kind of build their personal brands which is something that we’re really, really big on for athletic departments. It’s recruiting value as well, right? You showcase recruits kind of what it’s like for instance at your school behind closed doors and hear from actual athletes, talk about whatever the story is, again, depends on the overarching goals.

But whether the goal is to drive fan engagement, raise funds, or gain a recruiting advantage or reconnect with alumni, or whatever else. That’s really kind of directing who the storytellers are, what the stories are about, and which formats we produce those stories of how and where the content is distributed. So, all of these pieces are part of the bigger goal, but that’s something that’s really important to keep in mind when we start having these conversations.

Rob Cressy: (14:12)

I want to break down the content creation barrier because you mentioned challenges, one of them being resources. And my spider sentence says there is someone who’s listening to this right now who says, this sounds awesome, but it doesn’t apply to us because dot dot dot and there they’re creating an excuse. And when I think about content creation, you’ve got a lack of time, a lack of resources, or a lack of knowledge for reasons why a team or an athletic department, or a personal brand, or a company would not do something. But guess what? When I started content seven-plus years ago, you know how much experience I had in doing this? Zero. Do you know how many people knew me? Zero. Do you know how I knew how to do this? I didn’t. I taught myself how to do it. So, everybody starts at zero. So there was the excuse of, I don’t know what I’m doing.

The option is one, learn it yourself. Two, find someone who can be your coach and help you. Or three find someone who can create it for you. Those are the only three options that you need to do once you do that you can create it. But guess what? I really like how you talked about how you need to be strategic about all of this, this content that you’re creating. This doesn’t mean we need super expensive cameras in high production in order to make this work. Someone listening to this can take action and do everything that we’re talking about just by simply staying. All right, what’s the story you want to tell? What are we hoping to accomplish with this? Where are we going to distribute it? Can you talk a little bit more about breaking down the content barriers? Let’s assume someone does not have the resources. Let’s give them some encouragement.

Christopher Aumueller: (16:00)

Yeah, happy to, Rob. I think you’re so right about everything that you just addressed. When it comes to the content creation process for us, the most important piece that we like to communicate and that we want our partners to know about is that we’re flexible and this is customizable. Meaning whatever your budget, whatever your goals, there’s a way to make that happen. We for instance do a ton of written content, right? Which from an operations perspective, obviously is a lot more affordable and easier to do then maybe flying out somewhere and shooting some cinematic video, right? Which we do as well, but again, for instance when we’d write stories, we’d write them from an athlete’s perspective, from a first-person perspective to give stories more authenticity, more personality. Make them different than your average newspaper story.

Christopher Aumueller: (17:04)

So, the way you tell stories or create content in this case makes a huge difference. And there’s always a way to appeal to your audience and this creative strategy piece behind the content creation process is something that we’re super excited about. And again, sometimes you have a partner that says Hey, we want to, I mean we’re big fans of, look if a brand or so comes to us and says, Hey, can you create a brand video about our story? Sure, we can do that, right? I mean there’s not a problem with that, but we’re big fans of long-term engagements not just for our own sake, but we feel like that’s when we can maximize value. So, sometimes you have somebody that says, Hey, we want to produce 40 stories over the next year. We want them in a variety of different formats, all published on this platform. This is our budget. This is our goal. What can you do?

And then we can come up with a strategy to make that happen, right? And again, the variety and producing content in the right format is so, so important, and also displaying the content the right way. Those are all elements that are sometimes disregarded and you’re absolutely right. It doesn’t matter if you have the newest camera equipment or whatever else. The Players Tribune, launched a campaign not too long ago where they essentially, and I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s essentially a text message series, right? Where they essentially showcase a video of a text message conversation it’s super simple to do. And something that we’ve already talked to with a few people as well.

You can be so creative. You can create graphics that just capture a short story of somebody, or you can do audio recordings or something like this, a zoom call and software that’s out there to make this whole thing a little bit more and more sophisticated. But there are so many ways to produce content and people that see value in this and want to explore this further, they shouldn’t be giving up on it just for the sake of, yeah well, we don’t have the budget to create 10 videos. This isn’t what it has to come down to. So, long answer to your question, it’s really a matter of the creative process and really figuring out what is it that you’re trying to accomplish? What is your budget? What type of engagement are you looking for long-term, short-term, etc, etc?. And once all of these questions are answered, there’s always a way to make things happen.

Rob Cressy: (19:51)

Yeah, because the real answer is this cost $0 because 99.9% of us have a phone right next to us right now. And how did I start by using my phone? And by purchasing a $90 microphone in podcasting Zoom, it cost $0 to do this. So, there are so many tools at our disposal to help us be resourceful. And you mentioned the strategy side of things. I love the strategy side of things for me, that is where among other things It’s one of my favorite things that I get to do is strategize with companies and teams and leagues and brands about this content side of things. I want to give even something more specific to someone. So, there are zero excuses on the content side. So you mentioned, produced 40 stories. How are we going to do it? Different platforms, all of that stuff. How in the world do you actually make that happen? Do you know what I want you to do? I want you to set a timer on your phone for 30 minutes or one hour. And the goal of this is one thing, you are going to brainstorm as many ideas as you possibly can because if you want to produce 40 stories, guess what? I would actually hope that you’d have 400 ideas. Wait, 400 ideas, why in the world would you want that? And this is something that I learned when I learned about comedy writing, and it is essentially 90% of the ideas you create are crap. You’ve got to create 90 ideas to hope to get 10 good ones. So, of course, it’s going to be a little bit different comedy versus telling the story of your brand. But the moral of this story is you can just sit there and write as many different ideas as you possibly can.

And then when that timer goes off, you go and say, all right well, tomorrow what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna set the timer again for 30 minutes. And then we’re going to go back through and we’re going to rank these and say, what are the best ones? Cool, we did that. And the next day we’re going to set the timer for 30 minutes again, and we’re gonna go, all right. Now let’s pick and choose which of these we’re going to do this week, done. Literally, that is how simple the creative process is. That’s the process that I use for generating ideas because what is one of the number one excuses, Rob, I don’t know what to talk about. Rob, I don’t know what to create. Well, all that is, is a lack of strategic thinking saying, well let’s just create the list. All you gotta do is go on there and go, Oh, I’m going to create this piece of content, boom. Rinse and repeat.

Christopher Aumueller: (22:26)

Great point. I’m a fan of the content you produce anyway. This is not something you asked me to say by the way for all listeners and for the audience to know off. I think you’re absolutely right. And whatever your creative process is. Look, we get that a lot too when we work with a sports team or a company, they have a hard time finding the type of stories that they want to tell. But that’s okay. That is then the next step, but you should have a decent understanding of what kind of stories you want to tell and not necessarily, let’s say you wanna launch a series about, let’s be very timely here about racial injustice and you want your athletes to kind of talk about their experiences and so forth. You should have an idea of, this is the direction we want to go. You may not know which athletes in this case might have a compelling story to talk about when it comes to that. But that’s something you can figure out. It has to start with having a general direction, a general idea of what you’re trying to get across, for sure.

Rob Cressy: (23:48)

Yeah. And what I really liked that you said is the creative process. How many people listening right now do not have a creative process. And you know why that’s a challenge because social media is easy. We can all hire an intern and have them tweet something and call that a day. There’s not a process to that. But one of the biggest things that I teach in almost every area of my life is the process. The thing that you do over and over again to get the desired result that you want. So, storytelling, fan engagement, improving customer experience. If you follow the same process over and over again, you are going to get the desired result. And Chris I’m curious, is there any part of the creative process that we haven’t talked about or that you currently use that might be valuable for someone to know?

Christopher Aumueller: (24:46)

I’m not sure. So, we do have certainly a creative process in place, but for us, it’s more of an iterative process with the client. Meaning it usually always starts with us talking about the bigger objective, like the primary objective. What are we trying to accomplish here? Then we usually talk about secondary objectives. And then we already started some sort of a brainstorming session of who the storytellers should be. What the stories should be about. What the format should be about. So, we have these steps that we always talk to our clients about, and then based on the responses, it might change how we address the next step. It might change how we proceed forward, but we have these general steps that need to be talked about before we ever start producing content. Because you have to have this in place to know where you’re going.

Very similar to what you just talked about with hiring the intern for your social presence. Producing a piece of content is one thing, but producing strategic content and valuable content is a whole different beast. So, that’s kind of how our process works. And I know those are, it’s a little bit vaguer maybe than what you just described as far as that block of 30 minutes, write down all the ideas, which is kind of integrated into one of those steps that we do. But for the most part, it’s a collaborative effort where we talk with a client to really ensure this is what you’re trying to accomplish. This is what we will propose to do that. Yes. No. What do you want to see differently? What is lacking? This is something that we think should be added, etc, etc. And that’s how we essentially narrow it down until we get to exactly what we’re trying to do here.

Rob Cressy: (26:35)

No, I think you completely answered my question because you gave the beginning parts of the process. Someone listening to this now can go back. If they were taking notes, write this down and go to their team and say, listen. We have just been given the playbook for how we can create storytelling and content and how we can use this to drive fan engagement and/or the desired result further on down the road when we loop in our paid social side of things. So, Chris really enjoyed jamming you and your mindset about all of this. Where can everybody connect with you?

Christopher Aumueller: (27:12)

No, I appreciate you having me, Rob. I really enjoyed this as well. The easiest way to connect with me is via LinkedIn. Just my name should pop up somewhere. I’m also on Twitter. Don’t judge me on my handle. Aui is my nickname from Germany, which I know doesn’t translate as well in the US but that was before I ever came over here. So, I kind of stuck with it and continue to stick with it, I guess. But yeah, LinkedIn and Twitter are probably the two best channels to get a hold of me.

Rob Cressy: (27:49)

And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. And we want to hear about your creative process. Is there a step in your creative process that is unique to you or does what we say right now resonate? Let us know how you’re getting down on the creative process and storytelling side of things. 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 @RobCressy.