The Wichita State University marketing team made its way to Dallas in the summer of 2012 for the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators convention.
There were heavy hitters at the NACMA conference – big-money teams of marketers from the big-money conferences like the Big 12 and Pac-12.
So the WSU team watched. And it listened. And it learned.
And when the team left, it had a vision for the future – a grand one, at that.
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“Iowa State won the marketing team of the year (in 2012) and when we left, we looked at each other and said, ‘Next year, that’s going to be us,’ ” said John Brewer, WSU’s associate athletic director of marketing and strategic communications. “We challenged each other to make that happen, whatever we had to do.”
A brainstorming meeting not long after – along with the WSU men’s basketball team reaching its first Final Four since 1965 – proved more fruitful than anyone could have imagined.
“We just went in a room and started throwing ideas around,” Brewer said. “And that’s where we came up with the idea that blew up for us.”
That idea – the #watchus hashtag – has become the biggest marketing coup in recent memory for WSU. If you’ve been on social media before a WSU game, you’ve probably seen it somewhere.
“We were subtle at first; we’d mention it on social media, in alumni letters, kind of exploring how people would react,” Brewer said. “Then we started putting it on the video board at games, where people could tweet at us and if they wanted the tweet on the video board they had to use #watchus.
“Then, when we went on the run at the NCAA Tournament, it just blew up.”
It’s a campaign so popular it seems to have overshadowed a new one WSU rolled out this year around another hashtag – #mystate – although WSU’s marketing team says that’s not the case.
“The idea for #mystate was to be a mini-campaign,” Brewer said. “With #watchus, it’s kind of a blunt object. It applies to everything. The idea for #mystate is more specific, it’s to let people tell their own story.”
The impact of #watchus has been clear – in the 2012-2013 school year, WSU’s numbers on social media blew up, going from 2,700 to over 41,000 likes on its Facebook page, “Go Shockers,” and from 1,000 to almost 13,000 followers on its Twitter account, @GoShockers.
That implementation and ultimate success garnered WSU the hardware it so desired. The Shockers’ marketing team went back to the NACMA convention in June in Orlando, Fla., and came away with the marketing team of the year award, beating out finalists Kansas State and Iowa State.
“Leave it to marketers to not do anything small. … That trophy was like 80 pounds,” said Jason Malay, WSU assistant director of marketing and game operations. “And it was the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people.
“I can’t count how many times we were all up until midnight, sending e-mails back and forth about what our plan was for the next day, who was going to do what. No one ever said ‘I’m done, I can’t work anymore’ throughout the whole process. We all kept after it.”
And their work’s impact is felt every Shocker game day.
“Part of this has been John and his leadership, and part of it has been a group of folks who just decided to dream big, to aim big,” WSU athletic director Eric Sexton said.
“Their idea was to go after it, to be the ones who maybe asked for forgiveness later instead of asking for permission to begin with. Sometimes, that’s how you get things done.”