In Search of the Holy Grail of Marketing: Marketing Lessons and Tips from the 2007 AFL Grand Final

By Thomas Murrell,MBA CSP - International Business Speaker

Many businesses, corporates and professionals go in search of the holy grail of marketing; a holy grail that will deliver more revenue, more clients, more profits and therefore more growth.

In my quest to find the holy grail of marketing, I travelled from Subiaco in Western Australia to the hallowed grounds of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds in Melbourne, Victoria on the last Saturday in September.

You see for marketers there’s a saying that half of your marketing efforts are wasted, but working out which half is a real challenge.

What took me to the hallowed grounds of the __Melbourne Cricket Ground__ (__MCG__)? I was in search of the holy grail of marketing. What I found was that this quest took me to a mega event, a mega sporting event, in fact a hallmark event. A hallmark event refers to an event that becomes so identified with the spirit or the ethos of a town, city or region that it becomes synonymous with the name of the place and gains widespread recognition.

The event I'm talking about is of course, the Grand Final of the Australian Football League or AFL.

My quest was to follow the fortunes of the AFL team called Geelong and its aspirations to win their first premiership since 1963. I was one year-old in 1963 so it was a long time ago.

The football team, Geelong holds a special place for me personally, my grandfather Jack Murrell played three seasons for Geelong; 1920, 1921 and 1922. He played on the wing.

Sometimes these events become really huge and they become known as a mega event. My experiences at the MCG in the final Saturday in September showed me what a mega event the AFL grand final is. I learnt some important and serious marketing lessons from that major event.

I bought a premium package for the MCG known as the ‘centre square package’.

It included pre-game entertainment in special marquees, food, beverages and live TV screens and then after the event more food, more beverages and more entertainment. It also included premium seating at the actual game itself.

The corporate marquees were about a ten minute walk from the venue and it was very interesting to look at the lessons of that event. And why is it a marketing holy grail?

Like the holy grail, like the premiership cup that Geelong were chasing since 1963, what I learnt was that a number of factors are important for marketing and events marketing and events management is one of the fastest growing forms of marketing and I believe it is one of the holy grails of marketing.

So if you are considering growing your business, one of the best business growth tools you can have is to host an event. Now if you are in investor relations, that could involve hosting your annual general meeting for your publicly listed company.

If you are a consultancy, such as a financial planner, it could be hosting a financial planning or investment information seminar for your clients. Or, it could be taking your clients to a big corporate event like the MCG and like the AFL Grand Final.

But, here are some of the key learnings that I discovered in my quest to join Geelong in search of the AFL Premiership Cup and also my personal quest in search of the holy grail of marketing.

1. The Importance of Integrated Marketing Communications

Everything was marketed outstandingly. There was a theme for the AFL finals, it was called ‘Septopia’ and that themeing in terms of marketing communications in terms of cut-through was really, really, really well done.

2. Premium Pricing

Certainly for my Centre Square Package, it was positioned as a premium experience and it was priced to reflect that premium. It was elite, it was exclusive, it was upmarket and the experience delivered on the brand promise. So it was really, really well branded and the execution of the brand strategy and brand promise was outstanding.

3. Word-of-Mouth Recommendation

It has been a personal goal of mine to attend an AFL Grand Final, a goal I’ve had all my life and it was good to fulfill this goal. That goal was consolidated, motivated and added to by word-of-mouth recommendations from other people that had attended an AFL Grand Final or Victorian Football League (VFL) Grand Final as it was before it became the AFL.

Ever since I can remember people have been recommending the event as a 'must attend event' and that word-of-mouth recommendation to go overcame any buyers resistance.

4. The Personal Experience

Well, they talk about the quality gap with an event; does the expectation meet your perceptions?

Yes, it certainly did. The personal experience was outstanding; from the level of service to the quality of food and the quality of beverages. I guess I felt special because I bumped into special people, like triple AFL Premiership player with the Brisbane Lions and Brownlow Medalist Simon Black. I saw other TV personalities there and it was really, really good to be in that level. Just to be with other people that you know had paid the same amount of money to get that premium level personal experience was really good.

5. External Factors

External factors are important in running a mega or hallmark event. For example, for inclement weather conditions at the event there were marquees. The entertainment area, the common entertainment area, was under cover so no matter what the external factors were, like rain, that was very well covered.

6. The Tangible Elements of the Event

These are sometimes called technical qualities; the quality of the food, the quality of the entertainment,

The band, Jet who was the opening act at the main Grand Final played following the event that was a great experience. The level of expertise in event management was high and it was done particularly well.

7. The Emotional and Personal Connection

The attitude and appearance and atmosphere, responsiveness of staff, empathy of staff was all outstanding and the personal factors in terms of making it a memorable experience were fantastic. I mean just being in Melbourne during a mega event was special.

For example, as soon as I woke up from where I was staying, I jumped in a cab to go to the function, the pre-game function that started at 10:30, the first person I saw was a high-profile, former AFL coach Denis Pagan just walking down the street.

I bumped into personalities, I bumped into star players, the whole of Melbourne had a real buzz about it.

The next day I went for a run along the Yarra River, I was just jogging along a single track and who should walk towards me but Brownlow Medalist and just retired champion footballer James Hird and his wife and I said ‘hello, congratulations on a great career?’ and he replies "thanks mate!" and I kept jogging in one direction and he keeps walking in the other. Just that sort of personal interaction with a superstar of the game was very memorable.

8. The Media

In terms of the media as another factor, media were part of the pre-game entertainment in the event. Even walking towards the MCG there were outside broadcasts by a lot of radio stations and everywhere you looked you saw media personalities. It was really well done in terms of media.

9. Sponsors

Toyota is the major sponsor and again that was really well branded and very prominent.

Although there was an initial conflict because a rival car company, Ford sponsors the Geelong Football Club, it was sorted out.

10. Follow-Up

The final thing is that their post event follow-up, or survey was outstanding.

When I arrived, people with clip-boards were there to ask you permission to take your email address and send you a survey. The email came within a day of the event, I was overseas at the time and couldn’t respond, but they had another follow-up email, and I responded.

The motivation to complete the online survey, which was just a click through, very comprehensive survey, easy to do, was to win another ticket to next years event in the center square.

In summary, I found in terms of marketing, satisfaction, the whole 48 hours was outstanding, a once in a lifetime experience, a real mega event, a real must do and really, really outstanding. Again, just the media coverage, the profile, a once in a lifetime opportunity and Geelong won the AFL Grand Final for the first time since 1963 and I did discover some insights in my quest and in my search for the holy grail of marketing.

Listen to my podcast live from the 2007 AFL Grand Final.

Want more marketing tips? Visit my website.

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