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2012 – The Year Mobile Will Rule!

So, do you own a cell phone? Well, if you do and you live in the US, there is almost a 50% chance you own some type of smartphone. For those of you who did make the upgrade in 2011, there is a 29% chance you own an iPhone and about a 50% chance you use an Android phone. About 11% of you still have your Crackberry clinging to your belt holster. And then there are the very few of you out there that have a Windows phone (or other smartphone) in their pocket.

In 2011 there were 130 million smartphone users accessing mobile internet.  Mobile app downloads will reach over 20 billion by the end of 2011. And this is just the beginning.

We are in the first stages of the internet boom all over again, except now it’s on your phone. And the new craze isn’t a website for your business, it’s an app for your business. I guarantee you that if you thought 2011 brought a lot of changes in the mobile world, 2012 will blow your socks off. The technology is improving so quickly and the culture has shifted so much that we are in the ideal environment for the mobile monster to flourish like we’ve never seen. Your phone will soon be the most critical personal possession you own. It will be the key to your car, the key to your house, your wallet, your credit card, (basically the way you pay for everything), your identification, your travel agent, your map to anywhere, your personal shopper, your remote control for everything, your computer,  and more. Oh yeah, and you can call people with it too. If there isn’t an app for all of these things now, there soon will be.

2012 will shed light on even more things that your phone will have the ability to do. The amazing thing is that many of those advances haven’t even been dreamed up yet. I’m curious when we will stop calling it a phone, because even now it would take me too long to tell all the things I do with my smartphone, and every once in a while I even make a phone call with it. It boggles my brain to try an imagine what my 4 month old daughter will see when she is my age! Heck, even by the time she is 10 and probably asks for her own phone!

And I haven’t even started on tablets! Just more fuel for the mobile monster! I don’t care what business or industry you work in, but this will have implications on how you do things. I am doing everything I can to encourage the golf industry to recognize and capitalize on this trend. Not an easy task!

You can choose to ride the wave, or be crushed by it.

Below are some stats and links just to show this isn’t just my opinion, it is happening and next year is the boom, 2011 was just a preview:

  • 79% of smartphone consumers use their phones to help with shopping, from comparing prices, to finding more product info, to locating a retailer.
  • 70% use their smartphones while in a store.
  • 77% have contacted a business via mobile, with 61% calling and 59% visiting the local business.

  • iOS Took 13.4% of Online Sales on Christmas Day
  • 18.3% of all online sessions on retailer’s site were initiated from a mobile device, up from 8.4% on Christmas Day 2010– an increase of 117.8%
  • Sales from mobile devices reached 14.4% versus 5.3% on Christmas Day 2010– an increase of 172.9%


If We’re Not Golfing, What Are We Doing?

So it’s a fact that participation in the game of golf has fallen over the last few years. So where did all of those golfers go? Did they find something else they would rather do, like go fishing? Or are they trying not pull cash out of their wallet and just sitting on their couch twiddling their thumbs? Is this something that has only affected golf, or has this occurred in other recreational activities?

A friend of mine sent me some data on this that might help to shed some light on this question. The data shows the overall trend in recreation participation from 2000 to 2010. It then compares the overall recreation numbers with individual recreational activities, like golf. The recreational activities are broken into 2 categories (as defined by the National Sporting Goods Association): Series I Activities are established sports that have participant bases of at least 10 million annually (this is the category golf falls into), and Series II Activities are sports with smaller participant bases. Activities that fall under Series II could have been around for awhile and are just more niche activities, or could include newer sports that are earlier in their adoption and expansion life-cycles.

Some examples of Series I Activities are Golf, Basketball, Bowling, Hiking, Tennis, Fishing, Camping, and Exercising. Some examples of Series II Activities are Archery, Hunting, Kayaking, Mountain Biking, and Skateboarding.

The report shows that overall recreational participation (Series I + Series II) has increased at just over 1% per year from 2000 to 2010. So overall, people who are participating in recreational activities has gone up over the last decade. Due to primarily population growth over the last decade, the combined Series I & II participant base for grew by almost 87 million participants from 2001 to 2010. Series I participants account for 70 million of that growth, so that is a very significant number of potential new golfers to attract!

The smaller and newer sports that are trending up (like mountain biking and kayaking) are offset by other Series II sports that are declining (like motor boating and hunting). There are some smaller and relatively newer sports that traditionally aren’t considered to part of golf’s “peer group”, like skateboarding, paintball, kayaking, and mountain biking. But I think some of those activities do need to considered as part of golf’s peer group and in competition with golf. They do not have quite the numbers that golf does right now, but if their participant base continues to grow and golf’s continues to decline they will meet somewhere down the line.

Looking at golf’s more traditional peer group, we are definitely losing consumer base much faster. Tennis has grown at an annual rate of 1.4% in the last ten years, downhill skiing has remained relatively flat, bowling has lost .8% per year in participation, and golf has lost over 2% per year in participation. The fact that overall recreational participation has increased at a rate of 1.2% per year since 2000 and golf has declined annually at 2.1% per year shows that golf can’t just chalk this up to a general decline in overall activity. Tennis is the only sport of these 4 examples that has growth, but it’s important to note that in the time leading up to 2001 (at which time tennis had a participant base of almost 11 million), tennis had seen a period of dramatic loss in consumer base that at one point was closer to 20 million. I know golf does not want to experience the same massive decline that tennis saw, so hopefully we can figure out a way to increase participation before we lose another 5 million golfers.

The data can be interpreted in any way you want, but it still shows that more people each year are doing some sort of recreational activity, but less of them each year are going golfing. So how do we turn that around? There is a universal consensus in the industry that the consumers say golf takes too much time to play, is too expensive, and too hard. All of these are very relevant concerns and I completely understand what most of those consumers are saying. We live in an fast paced culture, people have been faced with some real economic challenges recently, and golf is one of the most frustrating (and most rewarding) sports in the world. The problem is what has golf done to address these issues?

There have been numerous initiatives and programs created to try to increase participation and combat these issues. Some courses have created 12 hole rounds to decrease the time it takes to play. Many have shopped out their tee sheets to large discount tee time websites to attract price shoppers. Others have encouraged golfers to play forward tees to make the game a little easier to play. I’ve said in my last post that I don’t believe price is the main barrier here, but some of these other ideas are solid. The tennis industry, after massive decline in participation, started making similar changes and are starting to see some gains.

It seems there have been pockets of success with golf, but nothing cohesive across the industry. There hasn’t been anything that has gone “viral” and shown a dramatic impact. I think there are some really great ideas out there, but they need to be introduced to people on a larger scale. There are ways to do this with the technology that exists today, but it will take an open mind from golf course operators and the willingness to learn new ways to get in front of the 21st century consumer.

There are some golfers out there that feel they need to protect of the game of golf. They want to preserve the tradition and history of the sport by NOT changing anything. The fact is that promoting some of these new ideas on a larger scale will not change how the “traditional” game is played if you don’t want it to. Anyone who wants to can still go play all 18 holes from the tips and nobody will stop you. The US Open or The Masters will not change the format to 12 hole tournaments or let the pros play easier tees. What trying some new things might do though, is introduce more people back to the game and keep them coming back for more. Otherwise the recreational game of golf will die off and there won’t be any tradition to protect.

The Race to the Bottom. There Are No Winners.

When I make the decision that I want to go play golf, how do I choose where I’m going to play? I never really thought about this in depth, but I wanted to take a closer look at my behavior here.

My first thought in choosing a course is to play a course I know and like, or choose a course that a friend has recommended that I haven’t played before. When I come up with the few courses on this list, my next step is deciding when I want to play (what day and what time). After that, I’ll rank this short list of courses in my head from first choice to last, and check out what tee times are available. To do that I’ll go online to the course website or even call the course directly to see what tee times are available. If I call the first course and they have a tee time available close to the time range I was looking for, I’ll book the tee time. Those other courses on my list that I was going to call just got cut.

Isn’t there something missing here? Oh yeah, how much are the green fees?

I realized when I analyzed my personal behavior here, the last factor I considered was price. It is does play a factor in choosing, but it carries less weight than a course I like, or the course I want to play, or the tee time available. I have an idea of what I generally expect to pay for a round (mid-week or weekend) in the region I live, and as long as it is close to that expectation, I won’t spend the extra time to price search. And what are the reasons I like a course? Really, it is the overall experience I had at that course. Was the check-in process easy and the pace of play fairly quick? Was the staff friendly? Was the course in good shape? Overall, if I had fun on the course (and this doesn’t have to do with how I played), I’m going to want to experience it again. And the cost factor drops dramatically.

These days, with multiple discount web sites that aggregate multiple course tee times, the last thing I might do is check those sites, but ONLY to see if the course I want to play has a better deal through that site. So, AFTER I’ve chosen the course I want to play, I am just checking for an additional discount at THAT course. There may even be a course I see on the site that was further down on my short list and a few dollars cheaper. But I’ve already chosen the course I want to play and a few dollars is not going to change my decision. So for the course I originally chose to play, because they offered a better rate on the discount tee time website, they just lost a few dollars that I was willing to pay anyway. (Chances are they see little of that money anyway and is mostly going to the discount website.)

My point here is that so many golf courses have all entered this race to the bottom regarding green fees, and they are focusing on the wrong factors. The golf facility industry has had some real challenges in the last few years and in attempts to get more people out to their courses they are all undercutting each other on price. Well, from what I’ve seen and heard from people in the industry, this is not working to revive the golf industry. They are all just undervaluing their courses and getting paid less for the people who would have already played there.

Any golfer knows that we play the game of golf because we love to play, not because of a cheap rate. It is one of the most addicting games ever created. If you have a bad day on the course, you can’t wait to go again and play better. If you have a great day on the course, you can’t wait to go again and play even better.

To get more people out to courses and get the industry back on it’s feet again, golf courses need to do 2 things. One, they need to stop focusing on the price and more on the product they are providing: a great experience at their course. Provide a well maintained course with a welcoming, friendly, and fun atmosphere that encourages people to come back. Two, they need to get the golfers who play their course to tell their friends about it and bring them back!! This will get you more business than a discount website and earn you more money because you haven’t discounted the value. I’ve said before, golf is a social sport and people want to go play with their friends. As a golf course, provide your golfers a great experience that they will share with their friends, and I guarantee you the next time they think about playing again, they’ll think of your course first. And it will have almost nothing to do with the price they paid.

If my behavior here is unique (I don’t think it is), tell me what your behavior is and how you choose a course to play.

Real Social Marketing

I am a huge fan of golf and there isn’t much that makes me happier than spending the day on the course with friends or family. Even though golf is not a team sport, it is a social sport. It is the type of activity where if one person decides to go golfing, that usually means they are going to invite someone to go with them. Anyone can agree that a foursome with friends is more enjoyable than walking on as a single.

So if golf is such a social sport, why has the game been in such decline? Shouldn’t golf build on itself organically to continue to grow? Of course, we can point to things like a sluggish economy or an over-saturated market that have affected it’s decline, but I believe there are some other contributing factors at play. The good news is they are factors we can leverage to begin to help grow the game again.

We live in a very different, but very social world today. With mediums like Facebook and Twitter, the way people communicate has changed. Unfortunately, golf courses have not adapted very well to these changes. More and more people are constantly “sharing” what they are doing, where they are going, and who they are spending time with on things like Facebook. These “shares” or status updates, whether they know it or not, influence future decisions on what their friends are going to do or how they might spend their time. If you look at almost any person’s Facebook page, people are out doing things, with friends, and spending money doing it. Imagine if a golf course could insert itself into this stream? Golf courses can leverage this new form of social communication to encourage them to spend time doing one of the most social activities out there: golfing at their course. They can do this through real social marketing.

What do I mean by real social marketing for golf courses? Let’s start with what most businesses, including golf courses, think social marketing is. Most golf courses think that having a Facebook page or a Twitter account for their golf course is social marketing, but that is incorrect. Having a Facebook page for your golf course is social advertising. It is just another advertising medium for them to talk about their course, services, and events. It just happens to be on Facebook.

Real social marketing isn’t about getting customers to visit their course’s Facebook page, it’s about getting their customers to talk about their golf course on the customer’s Facebook page, with all of their friends. Real social marketing isn’t the golf course sending everyone who has “liked” their Facebook page an invitation to come play their course, but getting their current customers to recommend or refer their course to their friends. Real social marketing is motivating their golfers to share about their experience and round highlights with all of their friends, and motivate those friends to go play the course too.

To put it simply, imagine if a golf club asked every single golfer who completed a round at their course to go home and call or email over 100 of their friends to share how much they enjoyed their day at the course. That would be great, but the problem is the golf courses won’t take the time to ask them, and the golfer certainly won’t take the time to call 100 of their friends. There is a way to do this given the culture and technology that exists today, and that is through real social marketing. You just have to follow some simple rules to make it successful. To truly incorporate a real social marketing solution for golf courses, it must be: Mobile, Enhance the Golf Experience, Branded, and Comprehensive.

It must be Mobile for a couple of simple reasons. First, smartphone, mobile technology, and mobile app growth is on the rise while the PC, traditional internet, and traditional email growth is slowing down. More and more people are using their smartphones to search and access content every day. And increasingly, smartphones are becoming the primary way people communicate, whether that is through a call, email, or Facebook post. Fewer people are using their PC to search and access content, and to communicate. Second, a person’s smartphone is with them all the time! Another key to real social marketing is the ability to communicate with each other at all times, quickly and easily. You can do this with mobile technology and mobile apps, not through the PC.

It must Enhance the Golf Experience so those golfers will be motivated to be your referral vehicles. For example, if a mobile app isn’t a fun and compelling tool the golfer wants to use, they will delete it. You can pick up almost any person’s smartphone and you will probably find a number of mobile apps that were downloaded and never used, or used only once. Why? They didn’t provide any continual value or a compelling reason to keep using it. Providing the golfer with features that not only allow easy tee time booking, but help improve their game (pro tip & GPS distances), are interactive (digital scorecard), and are truly social (Facebook shares & Leaderboards) will provide them a unique experience that will 1) keep them engaged with your course and 2) motivate them to share about it with their friends.

It must be Branded because a golf course wants to exclusively promote their course, not be lumped in with 30 other courses in the area. They are already sick of having to compete this way through so many discount tee time websites. There are many smartphone apps out there that provide a mobile, quick, and easy way to book a tee time at a certain course, but the user can also book a tee time at 2 dozen other courses within that same app. So what reason do they have to book at one course versus another? Probably, the only reason is price. A golf course loses all the value it is trying to portray in attracting a golfer when it gets lumped in with a bunch of other courses where the only differentiator is price. Having an app that provides that same tee time functionality (plus much more) and exclusively promotes only your course will cut out the “search” for a tee time, and the competition.

Lastly, it must be Comprehensive. There are a number of consumer golf apps out there. Some have pretty pictures and allow you to book tee times, but that’s all. Some may let you order food while on the course, but that’s all. Some may even provide GPS and a scorecard, but that’s all. And almost none of them are branded for the course. Imagine if you had a branded app that did all of that and more? It would complete the cycle of real social marketing.

For example:
I arrive at the course and download their branded app. I use it during the round to give me pro tips on each hole, GPS distances, and to keep score. I join the course leaderboard to compete against my friends. It compliments me on a great hole, or good front 9 score, and shares this on my Facebook page. I use it to pre-order food at the turn which saves me time. I go into the clubhouse after the round and I see I’m in 5th place on the leaderboard. Right then, I receive a Push Notification from the course announcing a new leaderboard contest to join for next week, so I book a tee time. My friend Evan sees my Facebook post from my round, comments on it, and downloads the course app. I reply to his comment on my Facebook post, telling him how great this course is and he’s got to come play it. Evan books a tee time using the app for next week at the course, and invites 3 friends to play. When he plays, he joins the leaderboard to try and beat my score. When he does beat it, he shares about it on his Facebook page through the app. His friend Tim sees the post and asks Evan what this is. He downloads the app,  books a tee time for next week, and invites 3 of his friends to go play with him. And so on and so on…

An app that only books tee times, or only keeps score, or only provides GPS does not complete the cycle of Engage, Reinforce, and Connect for the golfer. What this does for the golf club is Attract new golfers, and help Retain them.

The golfer downloading and using the app on the course Engages them. When the golfer participates in things like the interactive score card, GPS, and leaderboards, it Reinforces why they are playing that course. Competing with their friends on the leaderboards and sharing their round highlights on Facebook Connects their experience with their friends. This connection Attracts new golfers to the course and creates a new social golf experience. This all helps the course Retain those golfers at their golf course. And of course all of this translates into increased play and more revenue for the golf course.

Most other social media or app solutions are focused solely on the revenue transaction. They ask, “How can we make it easy for golfers to book more tee times?”. One, they have 30 courses on their app and don’t care which course the tee time is booked at and two, they ignore the most important question: Why? Why should they book a tee time at course A instead of course B? Real social marketing is the missing puzzle piece here. A golf course can have a great design, the best customer service, delicious food, and a wonderful atmosphere. These are some of the reasons golfers choose a course, but if nobody is sharing those experiences with their friends, how will they ever find out?

As I said in the beginning, today we live in a culture where friends follow each other’s experiences and status updates in almost real-time. This then influences their future decisions on how they might spend their time and where they might spend their money. With such powerful vehicles like Facebook at our fingertips, and the amazing growth of mobile technology, the potential here is extraordinary!