Digital Campaign Case Study: Hockey Family of the Year

When I entered the 2015 Toyota Hockey Family of the Year contest last fall, I had no idea I'd be blogging about it today. The only thought I had at the time was:

"Wow, my kids will think this is so cool if we win!"

But this contest morphed from something personal to something practical. I work with clients every day on digital content campaigns. And at the core, that's what this contest really required. I put the tools we use at Idea Decanter to work for #TeamGarfield and (spoiler alert) in the end we won the title of Hockey Family of the Year and a pretty sweet $60,000 truck. Pay attention here and you might find some tips for your next digital campaign.

The Power of Telling a Story

Initially I disregarded the emails about entering the contest. My son plays hockey and that's how I got on the list I guess. But nobody wins that kind of thing. I'd be wasting my time. It must have been something about that final, deadline-is-almost-here message that hooked me though, and I clicked through. When I saw there were only 3 fields to enter, I decided it was worth a few minutes of my time. The third question was the only one that required any thought. It asked why we deserved to be the Hockey Family of the Year in something like 100 words or less. I never pass up an opportunity to weave a story so this is what I wrote:

"When you watch great hockey — whether it’s the Winterhawks or our favorite Drunken Masters — there’s one thing you don’t think about. Why did nobody tell me how much hockey gear stinks? My 7-year-old Charlie is new to the sport — in his first season as a Jr. Winterhawks Mite! By the second weekend, I started noticing a strange odor drifting from his gear bag. Now, a few months into the season, I'm getting the hang of washing ALL the gear except the stick. But it sure would be great to have a big Toyota Tundra to throw that bag in the waaaaay back and not have to smell it all the way home!"

In all fairness, this story has more than a whiff of exaggeration. At age 7, the only thing that really stinks about Charlie are his feet. But I know the stench of grown hockey players and this inspired my story. When you're using the written word to communicate with your reader, painting a picture with words and making it relatable is how you make it memorable too. I guess the stinky car was memorable enough because not long after I entered I got a message that read: Congratulations! You've been picked as a finalist!

The Punch of Using Video

There was a lot I didn't know when I entered the contest on a whim. Some of the "rules" of how the contest was conducted came as unpleasant surprises. But I've got to say, the moment I found out the contest people wanted us to submit a 30 second video, I had that "We've got this in the bag" feeling. With 20 years of video production experience, I was pretty confident we'd have the best video in the contest. But I didn't call in the big guns (i.e. my partner Sharon who is the master behind the Idea Decanter camera). I just grabbed my iPhone and stuck to the best practices we share with our clients who shoot their own stuff (you can find those tips here). I did consider having Sharon build me some fancy graphics, but since I already felt like an NHL star in a Mites league, I decided to just build what I could in iMovie. Keep the arena as level as possible, if you will. For a theme, I stuck to the story that got us in the contest. Here's what I came up with:

Did it help that we weren't begging for votes? That we told a story? That we had fun with it? From the view way up here in the Toyota Tundra, I've got to think it didn't hurt.

The Best Way to Reach Your People

I mentioned some unpleasant surprises in the contest. The worst was when I found out how they were conducting the voting. Silly me had assumed everyone got one vote. Instead, they set it up so everyone could cast one vote every 24 hours ... for a month! Instead of asking my network of friends and family to give us one vote, I was suddenly faced with motivating them all 30 times. Once I got over being pissed about it, I realized I needed to launch an all-out campaign packed with new content through the month. And I had to use the best channels possible to reach my voters. Here's what worked (and what didn't):

Facebook: Initially I thought my Facebook account was going to be the best avenue to reach people. But the Facebook algorithm doesn't deliver everything you post to everyone you know. Your posts can be like the proverbial tree falling in the woods with nobody around to hear it. On day 2 of the contest, we were in 2nd place and I knew I had to find a way to use Facebook more efficiently. I launched a Facebook Group called #TakeTheToyota and invited everyone I knew. The group gave me a much better way to talk to our voters and I instantly saw a huge increase in interaction with everything I posted there.

Direct Email: When it comes to talking to your customers (or voters in this case), your email contacts are your true goldmine. According to Exact Target:

91% of consumers use email at least once a day -- making it the number one digital channel

Just think about it, how often do you check your email? Each day of the contest I tried to send out an email reminder with a clickable link to make voting easy. And I tried to come up with fresh, entertaining content for those emails so my voters wouldn't get bored. Coming up with 30 ways to ask for the same thing isn't easy. But on the few days when I slacked and didn't send emails, people I knew would reach out and ask why I wasn't doing a better job reminding them. I have no doubt these emails worked wonders.

The Rest: The first few days I dabbled in Twitter. I quickly lost interest there. Twitter is such a ticker-tape of a social platform that messages come and go in the blink of an eye. Most of my Twitter connections don't know me well and it just wasn't the right audience for this campaign. I probably could've used Instagram more effectively, but I didn't invest much time in this social platform either. My network is small on Instagram and I needed more bang for my truck -- I mean buck. The contest people also offered us the chance to ask for votes in person at Winterhawks games. As I evaluated our resources (my limited time around Thanksgiving and Christmas) I decided sticking digital was my best bet.

The Purpose of Getting Personal

One of the things I'm constantly talking to clients about is having the courage to get personal. Instead of just talking about things or concepts -- whether it's social security, grape processing, or getting an MRI -- bringing in real people helps get your message across more effectively. I decided to dole out my personal ace at about the 16 mile marker in this competition. Just when the marathon of a contest was feeling most painful, I unleashed my wedding picture. You see, the winners were to be announced on December 31st, down on the rink during the 2nd period break of the Winterhawks game. Here's what I shared with voters:

#TeamGarfield supporters-

Do you know when the big reveal is in this competition? 

When we find out which of 11 families will be the 2016 Hockey Family of the Year?

And when your votes will all be worth it?

It all happens on New Years Eve friends. Which, as many of you know, just happens to be our 11th wedding anniversary. Imagine us, sitting ice-side at the 7:30pm Winterhawks game. The zamboni comes out to clear the ice and then the Toyota Tundra is rolled to center rink. When I am 90 (and Chuck is 91), I imagine thinking back over our many anniversaries together. I bet it will always be the 11th that will stand out. Will it be the night that we won or lost? It is up to you.

Vote daily. Just 10 to go!



How Tenacity Pays Off

In the end, I don't know who was more sick of this contest. Was it me, having to bug people daily for their votes? Was it the people I was bugging? I guess it doesn't matter because we are now making room in our garage for one big-a## truck. And boy were the kids excited when the announcer called out "Garfield" as the winning family. I do have new respect for what we all go through with digital campaigns. I know it is a personal battle. I know that it helps to have a plan. And I know what it feels like to make it to the end and win. So if you need any help with your next campaign (or you need any topsoil hauled -- my favorite request from one of our big supporters) I have some personal experience that could pay off for you!