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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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The Charlotte Bobcats were tasked with the unique challenge of bringing themselves in as the new team to fill the void of the original Charlotte Hornets, only to later rebrand themselves into a new Hornets team. To effectively achieve this goal, the marketing team worked to reposition the Charlotte basketball brand as the Bobcats back into the beloved Hornets, but with a new look and feel.

How was the basketball team brand repositioned during the name change from the Bobcats to Hornets?

The repositioning efforts made sure that the brand of the new Hornets team was clearly

distinct and separate from the Bobcats brand. Yet, the repositioning of the Hornets made sure to tap into the brand identity that fans associated with the original Hornets team. Matthew and his team utilized the social identity theory as one aspect of this repositioning to not only garner support, but to also bring back the excitement and fan base of Charlotte's original beloved Hornets, from the dull perception of the Bobcats (Wear, Collins, and Heere, 2018). The repositioning was able to tap into the current sedentary fan base and reignite it, instead of starting from scratch which is essentially what the Bobcats had to do. (Sims, 2015). The new Hornets were shown to be new but also carried the nostalgia with them of the former Hornets. The marketing team strove for a nostalgic emotional connection, coupled with optimism for the future of the team (Wear, Collins, and Heere, 2018). This was accomplished in part by the association of the nostalgia of the revitalization of Charlotte and the pride of having their very own NBA team when the Hornets first came to town. The ownership of Michael Jordan, also helped to stimulate fans' association with the Hornets as well as the history of collegiate basketball in the city. In all, the repositioning of the new Hornets team took the form of reconnecting dormant fans back to the “traditions and emotions that stem[med] from the original Hornets” (Wear, Collins, and Heere, 2018).

1b. How did the new brand identity reflect this repositioning?

The new Hornets positioning of reconnection was reflected throughout its brand identity   

as illustrated by a brand schematic which combines verbal and visual elements to create a meaningful and relevant story that the consumer can identify with. The main component of the Hornet's new brand identity was in the naming of the team after the original NBA team that called Charlotte home. Not only reviving the old name bring the name home, but it was also the perfect catalyst to reignite fandom and stimulate new excitement within the community that breathed new life into the stale perception of basketball. The second sector of the schematic, picturing, is demonstrated in the Hornet's revamped jerseys. They went back to a design that was still nostalgic of the original Hornets' jerseys, but was different enough to stand on its own. The original jerseys also only had the word “Charlotte” on them, whereas the new home jerseys proudly display the Hornets name. The symbolizing of the Hornets is exemplified through their new logo design. While the logo was entirely redesigned, it still bears similarities to the original logo. The hornet on the new logo appears more intimidating and the focus is on the words Charlotte Hornets, rather than on the basketball graphic. Using this approach, ensures that whoever sees the logo, identifies it with Charlotte first and foremost. Animating of the Hornets team is in the form of Hugo, the mascot for the team. Describing was easier to build upon, since the marketers were able to bring in and utilize previous verbiage. They also incorporated a new slogan that tied together the past to their future as a team. Wording was primarily pushed to fans through the “Bring Back the Buzz” campaign that was used across traditional and digital media channels.

1c. Do you think it was successful and why/why not?

Overall the efforts of repositioning and renewing the brand identity of the Charlotte

Hornets has been and continues to be very successful. This is proven by the fact that the Hornets rose from 25th place with the Bobcats name to 19th in the ranks of attendance under the new Hornets brand. Ticket sales are also at an unprecedented high. These statistics are a testament to the fact that although the team has missed the playoffs and is winning less games than their predecessors, people are still loyal fans, because to them being a fan is more than just watching a game and winning. It's about what the team stands for in and for the community itself.

2. According to the case study, how did the relationship between the franchise and consumers change over the years?

Over the years, the relationship between the franchise and its consumers changed based on varied factors, particularly what the brand identity and name was and who owned the franchise. When the team first came to Charlotte, not only did it revitalize and provide recognition for the city, but it also gave consumers a renewed and shared sense of pride in their city as a major league city and the first to call North Carolina home (Wear, Collins, and Heere, 2018). The ownership of the franchise also ultimately lead to the Bobcats downfall and the new Hornets rise. Despite several successful years, after George Shinn, the original owner, was accused of sexual assault, the fan base grew very unhappy with his leadership (Wear, Collins, and Heere, 2018). Fans were disgusted with his actions, evidenced in ticket sales and attendance rates that plummeted. Due to poor participation and a severe lack of consumer engagement, the team was moved to New Orleans which gave rise to the Bobcats coming to take their place, owned by Robert (Bob) Johnson. The inconsistent branding of the Bobcats under Johnson's leadership left fans disengaged with the team; however, with Michael Jordan becoming the franchise owner in 2010, interest arose from the dormant fan base (Wear, Collins, and Heere, 2018). The respect fans had for Jordan and the bringing back of the Hornets name was enough to spark the relationships between the failing franchise and the disenchanted consumer.

2b. Was the new communication approach more informational or transformational?

The new communication approach sought to stem apathy and instead to generate excitement, interest, and enthusiastic participation. To achieve this goal, a transformational communication approach was used that lead to the Hornet's new brand personality. This approach begins with finding where fans are located on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs so that consistent branding and marketing efforts may be tailored to their needs for the most effective reach. Maslow's level of belongingness was where the Hornets wanted to tap into and maintain. Fans needed to know that the Hornets were a team they could identify with, and more importantly that the community could be identified with. Relationship building is key on this level, therefore the previous relationships built up through the original brand could be utilized to help consumers more readily accept the new brand. Brand value and loyalty stems from relationships and lends itself to longevity of the brand. The “belongingness hypothesis of the innate desire to build relationships” was used through the campaign with Hugo going from door-to-door and literally showing people how they could belong and inviting them to do so. (Kelley and Sheehan, 2017). A transformational communication approach of establishing brand equity and image based on the association of the original team was the key component to this brand message strategy. Marketers were able to use brand insights from the failure of the Bobcats to generate big ideas for use with rebranding the Hornets. By using a transformational strategy, the Hornets marketing team focused on how fans' feelings are transformed when they interact with the brand and through the incorporation of the original Charlotte NBA team's name and literal transformation of the city of Charlotte.

3. If you were working with Matthew on the branding/ promotion team, how would you generate momentum in 2019 to build on past success discussed in the case study?

To continue to build on and sustain the success of current rebranding efforts, a loyal fan base must be maintained, and the brand insights must be followed. Keeping the focus on Charlotte and the NBA history there will continue to promote the longevity of the brand. Staying current to trends and keeping two-way communication open between the brand and its consumers is another crucial aspect of continued marketing efforts. Marketing wants the stakeholder to learn and be informed about the Hornets' team, their history, and their schedule. Stakeholders should also feel pride in their team and in their partnership. This pride stems from being a trustworthy and reliable band that people want to be associated with, despite their successes or failures on the basketball court. Lastly, stakeholders should do or put into action these components by word-of-mouth advertising, e-WOM, and most importantly by supporting and attending games and buying merchandise.  

3b. Identifying at least two important stakeholder groups, provide an outline of an IMC strategy with specific objectives and actions you could take for each group.

 To implement these aspirations, the target market must be narrowed down to specify which audience is being reached so that the best strategy and tactics may be effectively applied. The primary stakeholder typology for the Charlotte Hornets is the established fan base, many of whom are residents of Charlotte. Since Matthew and his team hope to continue the momentum of the previous rebranding efforts, the goal would be to maintain and deepen loyalty within the existing fan base. The fan base is the main target audience as well as the primary stakeholder. They also hold a key influencing position that can be used to generate an increase in the fan base, exemplifying the 80/20 rule. One of the objectives for this stakeholder group, is to increase ticket sales throughout the upcoming season by 45%. This strategy may be implemented by a strong social media presence and campaign due to the strong social media following the team has from its fans (Perez, 2018). Since loyal fans are often very vocal about their favorite team's successes, the Hornets' marketing team can capitalize on this to generate earned media exposure. However, due to the risks involved with earned media, this must be carefully monitored. Contingency plans must also be in place, in the case of a crisis that erupts either on social media or in the physical world, but may be taken to the digital sphere. Buzz marketing efforts should also be continued since people love the nostalgia it brings, especially since the rebranding happened relatively recently and people still may feel the sting from rebranding. Events, giveaways, and opportunities for meet and greets with the players would be other good ways to interact with the fans. Guerilla marketing tactics would be another memorable way reach fan stakeholders. Not only would guerilla marketing create a lasting impression, but it would also serve to create the buzz that the Hornets' want to see among their loyal fans. The buzz it generates could lead to more exposure and possibly trending or viral posts on earned social media. Owned media would also be a prime platform from which to generate and stimulate buzz. This could be done through a takeover of the social media channel(s) by one of the players or even Michael Jordan, to hype up the fans and also to offer an incentive for purchasing additional tickets. Social media not only is the new way to reach your followers, but is also how many of them choose to interact with the brand. By promoting these channels, two-way communication will begin to develop and a stronger relationship will be maintained throughout a multi-pronged approach.

The other main stakeholder group are the businesses and corporations in the surrounding area. Direct corporate sponsorships is the key component to this stakeholder group and is a major component for the team's success in the community through the use of goodwill and ROI it facilitates (Wear, Collins, and Heere, 2018).  An objective for the business and corporate stakeholders, would be to increase brand awareness by 25% through sponsorships throughout the course of the basketball season. These sponsorships would not only be utilized during the season, but would be promoted throughout the off-season too by displaying the corporate partner's logos on advertisements to maintain brand equity. Corporate sponsorships also act as a two-street since the Hornets' would gain sponsorship funding and the partner businesses gain brand exposure outside of what they normally would seek to target. Sponsorships also act as a form of legitimacy for the business as well as to the team since it is credibility from another source. Paid media in the form of business-to-business marketing would be a wise choice for reaching this stakeholder group to set up sponsorships and could also be used for promotional items for both the team to give out as well as the business to distribute. Sponsorships also serve to enhance the brand's image that is something bigger than just a basketball team. It shows their connection and investment within the community as a good corporate citizen which subsequently helps to shape consumer attitudes, builds awareness beyond the reach of the brand, and may increase sales for both parties (Friedman, 2018).

Overall, from the success of the original Hornets brand to the rocky duration of the Bobcats and the return home of the Hornets, the team has experienced successes and failures and seen what it takes to rebuild itself to come back stronger than ever. Building upon the momentum of past branding and promotions and maintaining a strong connection to Charlotte and the team's roots will carry the team into 2019 and beyond.

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