The summer of 2019 will be remembered as the time that women’s sport came of age. And it couldn’t have come soon enough. Finally, the press was covering more female sports that mass audiences were engaging within their millions. Joining the cricket and football World Cups were other elite sports, fighting outdated stereotypes and upsetting the status quo. One of the boldest to hit the tracks this year was W Series, a new but truly international all-female motor racing series, moving from concept to the track in little more than a year.
However, with increased attention comes the pressure of ensuring that the online experience of emerging sports lives up to the promise of the sports themselves. Without the legacy of sporting history, how do you build a sport, from scratch, that delivers a positive digital experience to equal our expectations?
The honest answer is, you don’t. Well, at least not in the first season. But there are things you can do to progress quickly.
Engaged at the beginning of W Series’ inaugural season to build their digital presence, we formed a real partnership with the racing pioneers. But there has been a steep learning curve for all concerned – so what have we discovered?
Firstly, everything is in beta. There is a real sense from most start-up clients that they’re building something from nothing. In W Series’ case, this is extreme; they were inventing the rules of the sport as we went. It’s important this same pioneering spirit is embraced by the agency because without it you’re constantly out of step and that’s a precarious place for agencies to be. In a past life, working at an agency with a national newspaper as a client, the editor of the newspaper was consistently underwhelmed by the agency, taking days to amend the headline of a proposed press ad – during which time he should have published two days’ worth of news. If you want to work with fast-moving clients, you’ve got to move fast too. Synchronicity is key.
Secondly, collaboration is fine, but sometimes the agency just needs to work it out for itself. The idea of ‘doing first and seeking permission later’ doesn’t sit well with a lot of agency processes or their people. And quite rightly, because for some clients it’s seen as high treason and grounds for the chop. But for clients who are genuinely breaking new ground, it’s a vital component of the relationship, because quite often the answers simply aren’t there yet. Patience and a bit of give and take is key.
Thirdly, ‘small data’ over ‘big data’. Sometimes there isn’t a huge amount of wholly relevant information available when you start something completely new. Sure, there are reference points, but this isn’t the fabled world of ‘marginal gains’ off the back of lots of experience and in-depth knowledge. This is about building a minimum viable product (MVP) and making iterative improvements on the hoof. W Series was born with a purpose in mind but there wasn’t a ‘consumer need’ as such, and there wasn’t a clear audience in mind for the product either. In fact, the Series itself morphed as we got closer to the first race, meaning we started with our best hunch, based on limited data, and refined as we went.
Price, speed, quality
It is often said that you can’t have more than two of the three, so if you want quality at pace, it’ll be expensive. Obviously, this is still largely true, but increasingly there are ways to mitigate against this notion in the digital world – a way to have your cake and eat a little bit, too.
Select the best platforms and entertain the idea of templates. There was once a time where templated websites looked atrocious, a time when limits on design and functionality signaled look-alike and feel-alike sites, meaning any self-respecting brand would steer well clear of ‘wearing someone else’s clothes’. At the very top end that’s still the case, but for fledgling brands with seriously tight budgets and a need for fast-evolving functionality on a stable platform, simple plug-ins and composite construction are valid options.
Set your velocity to ‘fast’ and learn as you go. To make the most of the above, you need to have a team that know how to build great things from simple stuff – much like the way origami masters create a scale replica of the Houses of Parliament from a sheet of A4 paper. A talented team not only moves quickly, they enable you to iterate quickly and stay in step with the start-up mindset. In our case, it’s also important to have seasoned practitioners with the right temperaments and the ability to work in tight-knit groups.
Then there’s the matter of quickly assembling an audience. At Organic, we fuse a deep understanding of technology with a clear understanding of the needs of the users. In most cases, that means devoting time to getting to know the audience well before we create and build. However, when you’re dealing with genuinely new or ground-breaking products and services, that’s not always feasible. In these cases, we learn and learn quickly. We learn from other sectors, categories and from impromptu UX testing, the creation of iterative cohorts, helping to establish fluid A/B and MVT programs – all meaning we build at speed and iterate quicker.
Agile, well, sort of
Adopting an ‘agile methodology’ has become a hackneyed and clichéd expression across the industry, as well as being increasingly used to simply mean a flexibility in your way of working. For Organic, agile in its purest form is a lot more than this, but it’s also not ideal for most client projects because it can be too restrictive.
However, what is fundamental to the premise of agile, is a method that gives focus to projects that are constantly evolving, without suffering loss of momentum or valuable time en route.
Adhering to the right principles allows us to quickly build sites that are fit for purpose. In the case of W Series, as with a lot of start-up MVPs, the requirements and functionality evolve on an almost daily basis, in line with changes in the product itself. We, therefore, build with an end goal in mind, while adapting to an emerging audience with previously undefined needs.