Looking to the Future

2015 was Gatorade’s 50th anniversary. The company marked the year with a nostalgic look back at its storied history of powering athletes, but also used the opportunity to consider the future of the company. Gatorade recently repositioned itself not just as brand that provides drinks to athletes, but as the preferred brand to fuel athletes. Gatorade believes this new definition will allow it to grow in many more new, interesting ways.

Morgan Flatley, the CMO of Gatorade and Propel, shared with Prophet how Gatorade plans to use this new positioning and introduce a digital growth strategy to drive another 50 years of strong growth.

Athletes Are Getting Online

Gatorade has distinguished itself from other beverage brands by having an extremely specific core target, while simultaneously attracting tens of millions more. Gatorade calls its core target the “competitive athlete,” the user who exercises 4-6 times a week, wins on the field and attributes a large part of his or her identity to playing sports.

While this group may only account for 14% of the U.S. and less than half of Gatorade’s total sales, it has a remarkably large halo effect because it’s a group that so many people aspire to be a part of. While it may seem misguided to tailor content and campaigns to such a small group, Flatley suggests this sharp focus has allowed Gatorade to learn and best target this specific customer segment.

Gatorade learns about its core audiences by actually going into the field and spending time with them. Gatorade wants to grow with the athletes; the problems its employees witness on real fields around the world are the problems Gatorade sets its scientists to solving. But it’s not all happening on the field. Recently Gatorade learned that 75% of competitive athletes will go online to learn something about their sport.

Gatorade’s business growth strategy has always been centered on providing what the athletes want and where they want it. So, now that athletes are spending time online, Gatorade’s growth strategy is more digital than ever.

Digital Engagement Must Add Value

Before Gatorade fully entered the digital sphere, it made one crucial promise to its customers: its digital content would always add value for the athlete. Flatley emphasized that whether its information, education, access or entertainment, Gatorade’s digital content must always provide something of value to the user. With this promise at the core, Gatorade ensures that a digital focus will further enhance the business growth strategy, rather than hurt it.

However, in order to keep this promise, Gatorade had to develop ways to measure whether the content the company was generating online was really adding any value. So Gatorade created a team that constantly monitors conversations on social media channels. Last year alone this team analyzed over 1 million posts and social interactions, making sure that they used the intelligence gathered to inform better business and digital growth strategies.

Gatorade needs a strong strategy to guide its online presence; if only for the sake of managing and making cohesive the massive volume of content it churns out. Just last year alone Gatorade published over 1,000 pieces of content. Gatorade has also invested in a mission control center which allows it to adjust its social media investments in real time, so that the thousands of digital interactions the company is having remain relevant and valuable.

Measuring Media: The Crux of Growth

With an established reputation for engaging its consumers online, it’s easy to think that Gatorade may have reached its digital peak. For example, Gatorade’s Youtube videos in which real people attempting to buy Gatorade who didn’t appear to be sweating were told they weren’t eligible to purchase the drink garnered millions of social media interactions; and that’s just one example of many that shows how excited Gatorade consumers get over some of the product’s digital content. However, Flatley and her coworkers have created and instituted a plan to improve Gatorade’s digital experience even more by using effective measurement.

In past years, Gatorade tended to over or under measure digital metrics, never really getting the actionable numbers it needed. Now, when Gatorade’s marketing team creates a campaign, they make sure there is clarity about the goal of the campaign. They also talk beforehand about what metrics they will use to measure success so that they can know if they’ve delivered on their objectives.

The team is regularly focuses on two metrics: Brand Building and Volume Driving. When content performs well on the brand building metric, it proves that digital content can have measurable impact on Gatorade’s brand equity and gives the team actionable guidance on which content is capable of driving that equity. Although this metric is in much more preliminary stages, if Gatorade can measure which digital content is directly driving sales volume, the possibilities for utilizing digital to drive growth would be unparalleled.

What’s Next for Gatorade

Gatorade has fully taken on digital as a lever to accelerate growth. It’s a plan for a future that is already being employed to connect and engage with consumers. When Flatley looks further into the future, into uncharted territory for Gatorade and the evolution of their digital growth strategy, she sees personalization as the next way to grow.

Technology will change how athletes think about fueling; and with better technology, there are more chances for personalization. Athletes won’t just want individualized equipment or training programs… athletes want personalized content, stories and experiences with athletic fuel products. Flatley asserts that Gatorade will grow to meet these needs, and continue to grow its business of fueling athletic performance and motivating the competitive athlete.