Augusta – the Masters of Marketing Simplicity

As the dust settles after an enthralling 2018 Masters golf tournament is it time for marketing executives to reflect on a golfing – and Augusta – truism: that less is more?

Every year, an exclusive field of the world’s finest golfers compete on Augusta’s beautifully manicured course to use fewer shots than the competition in a bid to win a green jacket. The prize money? No-one mentions it. This is the Masters and – dazzling azaleas, verdant fairways and super-blue lakes aside – understatement rules.

But it is not just on the course that less is more. At Augusta, the less the merrier is also true when it comes to the sensitive process of choosing sponsors. At most leading golf tournaments around the world, the target is to collect a long list of big brand names – it’s easy to find space for another logo on a sprawling 18-hole golf course.

Sponsorship – compatibility counts

For the leadership at Augusta, however, choosing sponsors is not a grubby drive to maximise revenues streams. It is about making the right choice for one of the sport’s most valuable properties – no other course in the world has a Major tournament every year. It is about heritage, style, perceptions – both customer and player, and if such a word is allowed to be mentioned within the old clubhouse walls, branding.

This year, there were a mere six sponsors. AT&T, IBM, and Mercedes-Benz are the Masters’ global sponsors while UPS, Rolex and Delta are the so-called international partners. Delta joined the exclusive club this year after a protracted and clandestine process.

“The business relationships we cultivate assist in our efforts to meet the unique and high expectations of quality established by our founders many decades ago,” declared Billy Payne, the Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, who retired last October. “Delta Air Lines is a welcome addition to our family of partners, and I know their enthusiasm for the tournament will greatly enhance the Masters.”

It is an exclusive family. Each sponsor is estimated to pay at least $6 million a year and for that, they get zero signage in view on the property and have to follow extremely stringent rules about how their association with the tournament can be promoted. They do, however, share a combined four minutes of ads per broadcast hour.

And, no doubt, it is worth every dime.

Paying to play on the perfect stage

Take IBM, for example, the New York-based computing operation responsible for developing and maintaining the Masters official website, its mobile and iPad apps, as well as providing data services and analysis the broadcasters rely on throughout the event. It’s reward? You may have seen it… a small IBM logo at the top right-hand corner of each digital display.

In Augusta terms, it’s a glitzy neon billboard. In marketing terms, it’s a crisply struck hole in one.

IBM does not swap its technology services for an all-bells-and-whistles sponsorship platform. IBM pays millions of dollars each year to provide the service because IBM wants to bid farewell to its fusty image as a bulky old-school computing business. It wants to be a cool and contemporary digital player. As Forbes noted: “The digital platforms provided to the Masters as part of IBM’s robust sponsorship of the event serve to show potential business partners the capacity of the 21st century IBM.”

The objective is simple. The Masters – and the US Open, which it also sponsors – is a fantastic way of hitting its target demographic: business owners and executives.

Simplicity – a golden rule of marketing

It is tough to rely on simplicity when the world of marketing now offers such a bewildering – and often compelling – complexity. Today there is an ever increasing variety of tools for marketing managers to play with – from the use of multifarious social media platforms and augmented reality mobile apps to the growing use of voice and 3D projection mapping. Add in the power of Artificial Intelligence and new levels of personalization and the marketing guru is fully armed to communicate, sell, persuade and do whatever they want.

On the other hand, all the possibilities created by the platforms, data, screens and algorithms can lead to confusion. Should we be more vigilant about the creep of technology push? We may be using every tool in the marketing box, but perhaps it is time to reflect and ensure our content marketing strategy is effective? Is it right for us? Is it right for us right now? Are we in danger of overkill and bombarding the customer?

What does the customer really want?

And there’s more. Looking ahead, especially in the light of the Facebook scandal and Mark Zuckerberg’s uncomfortable appearance in front of the House, it’s distinctly possible the customer will want less media. The zeitgeist is shifting towards more simplicity. Minimalism is in. Decluttering is a lifestyle. Maybe we should do the same with our marketing strategies.

In a world of growing complexity, it’s time to think simple. As Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute declared: “Somewhere along the line, we marketers became infatuated with the tools and less concerned about what we put inside them. This, my friends, has got to change.”

At Augusta, of course, no change is required. Patrick Read, the winner of the 2018 tournament, is now the proud owner of the famous green jacket after shooting 15 under par. IBM has made its subtle mark on an audience of hard-to-impress business leaders with a tiny logo. Less, in a traditional part of Georgia, US, is always more.

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