Turning Sports Fans into BancorpSouth Fans

How Knight Eady helped a southeast bank looking for direction achieve their biggest season yet

A Trusted, Hometown Brand

In late 19th century Verona, Mississippi, a modest mercantile operation received a perpetual charter to set up a bank in its store. Fast forward 142 years to the present day, and that company is now known as BancorpSouth, a bank holding company headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi with operations in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, and Illinois.

Like many old banks, BancorpSouth cares about community, particularly about serving customers responsibly with “uncompromising honesty and integrity” through relationship-focused financial services.

However, BancorpSouth’s true differentiation point is their location – the southeast. Its Mississippi history reinforces the association that BancorpSouth was built in the south for the south. Despite having the resources of over 300 locations in nine states and literally hundreds of years of experience, they maintain the brand identity of a trusted mom and pop shop that is part of the community. And in the southeast, being a part of that community means being a college sports fan.

The Missing Piece: Strategy

Sports marketing is not new to BancorpSouth. As a bank that has existed in the southeast for over 150 years and has developed long standing relationships with southeastern sports properties, they’ve understood the value in creating a foothold in the collegiate sports space. However, after bringing in new leadership to assess their past marketing efforts, they discovered a major problem. Despite plenty of invested dollars in much sought-after inventory, BancorpSouth found that their existing efforts lacked strategy, creative direction, a sustainable activation and even a way to evaluate and measure the success of their efforts.

In short, a brand can buy all the sports marketing inventory in the world, but without the proper market research and strategic creative direction for how to use the inventory, they may as well have been throwing their dollars to the wind.

For BancorpSouth, their fundamental problem lied in focusing too heavily on awareness with no strategy for engagement – on buying up as much land as possible without a plan for what to put on it. Thus, in a particularly crowded market space, attempts to generate awareness had reached a breaking point.The ubiquitous presence of competing banks in the same space quickly nullified BancorpSouth’s efforts built on name recall and logo recognition. These competitors were also finding new ways to generate engagement, drowning out BancorpSouth’s existing inventory. In addition, while BancorpSouth recognized the need to shift its strategy toward engagement-driven branding, it lacked the staffing resources to maintain sustainable, labor-intensive activations. Finally, BancorpSouth was facing the end of their contract terms with many of their partners., and the brand faced the decision to either renew existing agreements that were misaligned with BancorpSouth’s goal to shift efforts toward engagement or negotiate these contracts from the ground up with a new strategy in mind.

In summary, BancorpSouth was in need of a sports marketing strategy overhaul. They needed someone with experience in sports marketing research and strategy to build target audiences and targeted messaging for DMA’s in the southeast, with creative experience to turn strategy into memorable and compelling storytelling in the form of a larger campaign, with event operations experience to translate creative direction into an effective turn-key activation, and finally, with sponsorship and sports contract negotiation experience needed to redefine the inventory so that it supports the overall strategy.

Luckily, Knight Eady had a diverse team who could assist in all of those categories.

A Winning Game Plan for Reaching Fans

The first piece for a developing a successful use of collegiate sports partnerships and developing an effective activation-driven campaign for BancorpSouth was understanding who they are, who they want to be, who they need to target, the channels and messaging most effective for reaching that audience, and finally, the trends in fan experience and sports marketing activation.

While we wanted to innovate BancorpSouth’s sports marketing strategy, it was critical to fully understand their brand, down to what’s working, what’s not and the brand perception.Additionally, collegiate partnerships often involve local representatives from BancorpSouth’s branches, so their perspective on the past years of sports marketing activation would prove valuable. In order to achieve this, Knight Eady created an eighteen-question survey that was distributed to 26 Bancorpsouth branches. From the responses, our team was able to draw conclusions pertaining to brand association, how to measure effectiveness, ideal marketing channels and brand communication tactics. These would be important in informing our overall strategy, as they would impact the delivery of the campaign in each college market.

Our team augmented the primary research with secondary research to drive the engagement strategy for targeting new and existing audiences. Knight Eady analyzed market trends and southeast sports enthusiast indexes to create four target audiences profiles. Within these audiences, we identified the most effective communication channels, fan consumption habits and community engagement tactics that would drive the most return.

Those conclusions revealed the new sports marketing creative positioning – BancorpSouth would Meet Fans Right Where They Are. This meant shifting the point of view from out and above to face to face. The campaign would bring the brand touchpoints where fans are on the ground, in the concourse, in their seats, etc. BancorpSouth would establish itself among fans as a reliable physical presence when needed while also creating a positive, lasting brand impact. BancorpSouth would make fans gamedays stress-free and full of joy, paralleling the benefits of a financially secure life.Through this campaign, BancorpSouth would leverage its inventory at sports properties to present and prove the promises of its brand first-hand, as well as create associations with the bank portrayed as a friendly, helpful, reliable, convenient and knowledgeable neighbor. Finally, the nature of the activation pieces that accompanied the campaign were constructed to be memorable, interactive, engaging and spark cross-platform interest across audiences.

With the strategy and creative direction in place, the gameday activation was the next area of focus with the requirement that the activation be turn-key and focused on driving engaging content on a sustainable level. It would need to fit “Meeting Fans Right Where They Are,” capture authentic, emotional, joyful content to position BancorpSouth as a bank that is physically convenient and proven to be a reliable, knowledgeable source in improving lives through financial security. This activation would be the source and center of the creative direction that would align all marketing tactics and channels.

It was these elements that led to the creation of the BancorpSouth Game Day Surprise, centered around staging an authentic, surprise giveaway wrought with emotion, kindness and support. On the games that BancorpSouth owned, a “banker” visited key touchpoints of the stadium with a camera crew documenting the journey. Throughout the game, the banker was to surprise fans with acts of kindness and assistance. Reactions were to be real, raw and bursting with positivity, as BancorpSouth provides in-person touchpoints to meet fans where they are and make their lives easier, no matter their needs. The only thing better than a payday is repeated paydays, or a life of rewarding security that BancorpSouth provides. This campaign was to be an action-oriented celebration of meeting fans right where they are wherever life takes them.

In order to implement an additional, lower-effort engagement piece, Knight Eady negotiated a partnership with Blakeway 360 Gigapixel to take a billion-pixel image of the fans during BancorpSouth’s title game, encouraging fans to take action and tag Right Where They Are, through the service of BancorpSouth. The goal was to create synergy across efforts through a piece that BancorpSouth could fully own in the gameday space with no additional staffing required.

While creative positioning was coming together, Knight Eady negotiated five contracts with sports properties across the southeast to support the campaign. In line with research results, negotiation ensured additional high-value inventory elements were implemented with an emphasis on driving engagement and effectively supporting the necessary activation elements.

With a new, engagement-focused campaign in place, Knight Eady delivered promotional creative to BancorpSouth to generate buzz for the upcoming activations. As for the activations themselves, we sent a crew of five (plus hired talent to play our banker) to five properties across the southeast for the 2019 football season. Each activation brought edited video spots and additional social clips of real, exciting giveaways and gameday content starring BancorpSouth as the go-to-source for making fans’ gamedays a little bit better. Each element of the creative was designed to create a story around BancorpSouth’s sports marketing partnerships that had a purpose before, during and after the big activation on campus.

BancorpSouth reported that the content used from the “Meeting Fans Right Where They Are” campaign generated the highest online engagement numbers in the company’s recent history, particularly on social media. They were also able to drive traffic to a specific landing page with a clear call to action and gain consumer insights from those engaging with all online components of the campaign (including the Gigapixel tags). Since the implementation of the activations and the release of their videos, they’ve received many inquiries asking where they can find the campaign in more places, effectively turning sports fans into BancorpSouth followers. One of the properties was so excited by the new, dynamic activations, that they crafted a press release to local news outlets at no additional cost to BancorpSouth.

As a result of Knight Eady’s services, five collegiate partnerships have been negotiated to support the campaign for the next three years, reflecting the sustainability of the new campaign. This campaign not only yielded high results in its first year, but is designed to continue to engage with new customers through the design of these three-year agreements.

Post-Game Notes

Today, BancorpSouth plans to implement the campaign across four additional sports properties (bringing them to nine total), further positioning the bank as helpful, exciting, neighborly and a true part of the gameday experience for thousands of more fans. They are continuing to use the research provided at the start of this process to inform other facets of their marketing and are now operating with a vast creative inventory for future sports marketing efforts. Had BancorpSouth not partnered with Knight Eady, they would have continued to spend on expensive sponsorship inventory with no return, operating in the sports marketing space with little to no research or targeted strategy. Instead, they have and are continuing to stand out to the sports fans in their footprints as an exciting, engaging and innovative brand equipped with the tools to measure their efforts so they may adapt moving forward.

Through this partnership, Knight Eady utilized the unique blend of our events, strategy and creative services offering to research, conceptualize and execute a full-scale, multi-platform sports marketing campaign. When it comes to sports marketing, Knight Eady not only knows industry but understands it’s a crowded space that requires research-backed strategy and unique creative to cut through the clutter and resonate with fans. Those fans and their game day experiences must always be taken into account when building messaging, as compelling content will always create a much deeper connection than signage and PA reads. “Meeting Fans Right Where They Are” is a campaign that demands commitment and plenty of energy. Knight Eady’s dynamic team was there with BancorpSouth every step of the way to ensure each element of the campaign came to life with the same level of magic and excitement at the start of the 2019 football season to the very last play. It’s through this process that Knight Eady has and will continue to use our belief in sports to turn sports fans into lasting brand fans.