Forget Brackets. March Madness Predictive Analytics Are Most Useful For Marketers

There’s never more interest in predictive analytics than around March Madness, when fans are looking for whatever edge they can get in filling out the perfect bracket. There are also few uses of predictive analytics that are more Sisyphean; according to DePaul University professor Jeff Bergen, the odds of having a perfect March Madness bracket are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.

However, while the tournament is far too volatile for analytics to be much help in gaming the office pool, there are much better odds in marketers being able to predict what strategies will be successful around March Madness campaigns. A deeper understanding of audience behavior is a huge advantage for brands looking for a big win around the annual event. 

Here are four big data-generated insights into how brand marketers can run more effective campaigns during March Madness:



An Agile Strategy Is Required As their teams either advance or get eliminated, which fanbases are most enthusiastic and relevant to target is, for many brands, fluid and brands must be able to adjust in real-time to optimize. For instance, Lids in 2015 utilized a March Madness strategy whereby they created script logic that interpreted an RSS score feed and then automatically increased bids around winning teams, lifting Lids campaign revenue +469% year over year. Programmatic advertising can be especially impactful for brands using custom creative that targets 64 different fan bases at once. 

Leading with Digital Early is Really Important The outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas projected that employers would lose nearly $4 billion in worker productivity during the opening week of the 2016 annual men’s college basketball tournament, meaning a lot of eyeballs will be watching the action of the opening few days from the computers at work. Heavily focusing on digital between Selection Sunday through the first Friday of the tournament will better align brands with audience engagement habits. 

Audience Checks Scores On Phones According to a 2017 survey by Tech Armor, 62% of basketball fans plan to watch NCAA tournament games on TV compared to just 15% watching the games on their smartphones. However, in the same survey, 7 out of 10 tournament fans said they’d primarily check their phones for NCAA tournament news with less than 1 in 10 saying they’d primarily seek out tournament news on TV.  For brands like Pizza Hut that get 70% of their online sales from mobile phones, specifically targeting sports scores content on cell phones offers a significant advantage in reaching their March Madness campaign goals.     

Additional Opportunity Around Affinities Did you know Villanova Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels fans love the TV show Jane the Virgin? Last year the ad-tech company Dstillery anonymously matched mobile data from the home arenas of the Final Four teams to online behavioral data to identify unexpected affinities. By gaining a fuller picture of the non-basketball related interests of basketball fans, marketers can gain a fuller picture of the type of messaging that appeals to their audience and use more cost-efficient and focused subjects to target them. 

The lure of March Madness for fans is that it is unpredictable, but for marketers, the unpredictable is not nearly as entertaining. Brands can neutralize that risk by using big-data analytics to gain more understanding about audience behavior around the basketball tournament, leading to actionable insights such as the importance of programmatic when utilizing multiple creatives, heavily targeting digital during the first week of play, focusing on game recap content on mobile, and the value of identifying audience affinities.

I wish I could tell you the secret to nailing the perfect March Madness bracket through analytics, but in the absence of being able to retire off that information, hopefully, you’ll find the formula for running a better March Madness brand campaign a more than a satisfactory consolation prize.

1 comment about "Forget Brackets. March Madness Predictive Analytics Are Most Useful For Marketers ".
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  1. Nico Cabral from Tech Armor, March 17, 2017 at 11:05 a.m.

    Jonathan, great piece and thanks for the mention in your article! For some reason, the link you included to our survey is not redirecting properly. Would you be able to change it to this: ?

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