Digital, direct and driven

The launch of iX.co, a digitally native company which unites the strength of Infront’s digital operations and Omnigon, is designed to offer brands and sports bodies an opportunity to talk to consumers directly and in new ways.

Here chief executive Christoph Heimes and chief commercial officer David Nugent discuss the new company’s aims, objectives and ambitions.

What inspired the launch of iX.co?

Christoph Heimes

Christoph Heimes:  In a changing world there a lot of untapped audiences out there that brands want to reach through sport and entertainment. They want to reach them in the best way possible through content end experiences which connect with them through their passion points and engage with them on their terms.

If you look at new age consumers and their consumption habits, they are engaging with media and storytelling in very different ways. They expect personalisation, relevance and timeliness.

Brands and media need to connect with these audiences, but it is becoming increasingly difficult, and we thought that being a technology company and being driven by data insights we could help master that challenge.

So, what’s the new company’s ultimate objective?

CH: The mission is to reach those untapped audiences by bridging the gap between the storytelling part – which I think sports does very well – and brands and audiences through digital content and experiences.  As a digital business we are uniquely positioned to do that by combining product design, data science, technology and storytelling. That’s the void we want to fill.

David Nugent:  One of the trends which has driven our perspective has been the desire and need for brands to speak directly to the consumer. Until now most (communication) has been through linear channels where there is a buffer between a sports property and an audience in the form of broadcast media and cable conglomerates.

Today that conversation needs to be directly between brand and customer which means understanding how to do that and having the ability to personalise experiences around the brand becomes critical.

Why is direct-to-consumer important in sports?

DN: Fifa, adidas and World Rugby are all brands, and all want to have a direct relationship with their consumers. They want a dialogue and an in-depth understanding of those

David Nugent

audiences and the people they want to talk to daily.

All have one thing in common – they all want meaningful relationships. For us this represents a massive opportunity because, as a technology company, we can help to target messaging through passion points.

You have to offer something the consumer cares about. In the past sports bodies may not have thought about the need for a direct relationship and the consumer was miles away for the original storyteller. That gap is now becoming smaller and smaller and that drives a lot of sub-trends in regard to how you produce content and build experiences for the fans. It changes the way you think about data and analytics because, when you are under pressure to build something people will relate to, you need to know who you are talking to.

Is sport behind other sectors when it comes to understanding and using digital technology?

DN: In some ways it has been. In sport the revenue has traditionally depended on media contracts and the media companies have bought rights and had the relationship with the consumer. Because of that, sport may be seen to be behind a bunch of other verticals which have realised for a while that they need to have that direct relationship.

That is changing and the concept of data science – which is the world that we live in – and understanding how to aggregate data about audiences and segment it to reach people in meaningful ways is now a clear trend in the sport business.

CH: Just look where entertainment has already gone. Consumption today is asynchronous and non-scheduled. I think we would all agree we live in a Netflix and Hula world and the days of scheduled consumption are over. The music industry was also disrupted by digitalisation and technology which gave us new formats. Most people wouldn’t want to go back.

Disruption is happening in sport and people shouldn’t underestimate the way this will change sport irrevocably.

Does that mean sports bodies are under threat unless they adapt?

CH:  I am not a futurist, but I see how people behave today and can extrapolate the trends of non-scheduled consumption, short form content and direct to consumer marketing. In sport we tend to talk about rights-holders but if you think about things from the brands’ perspective– and Infront works with more than 700 of them – they want to talk to consumers as much as rights-holders, clubs and leagues.

Brands need to be where the audiences are and if that is on multiple channels with multiple digital experiences and content, it is natural they want to be there too.

It is true that not everyone is fully on board just yet. Sports has been disrupted a little later than other areas.

Right now, some right owners really get it and most understand the disruptive potential. That doesn’t mean they have all embraced it – that’s why we want to help.

We will try to educate the sector and showcase opportunities by demonstrating the value. The more we do that the more likely it is they will jump on the bandwagon.

DN: We have already seen a cultural change. Now that digital has been around a while we have seen a lot of smart digital minds rise through the ranks at various sports organisations. These are guys who understand digital and digital innovation and are now in positions to influence the future of their organisations.

What benefits does the new business bring to Infront?

CH: Over the years Infront has done a lot in digital and then three and a half years ago brought in Omnigon.

Sergey Brin, my former CEO at Google used to talk about ‘letting a thousand flowers bloom.’ That meant doing a lot of things and seeing what worked. That’s a good strategy for a time but now, for us, it is about having a consistent bouquet.

We are trying to unify all things digital which benefits the business and our clients by bringing together the competencies which matter. We are also bringing in new talent to enhance the existing   expertise around audience growth and monetisation and are investing in two relatively new areas.

One is iX Studio which will focus on user-centric design, content and research. The second is the iX Platform which will be integrated marketing stack for sports marketeers from content publishing to mastering the client engagement funnel to creating monetizable, commercial impact.

DN: It’s about putting everything under one umbrella and investing in new capabilities to help our clients master the D2C funnel. We have now aligned the things we are good at across the entire operation.

Will iX.co only service Infront clients?

CH: No. While we hope to work with Infront clients wherever possible – and there are hundreds to work with to work with, we want to add to the portfolio.

Our target market is any brand which wants to connect to consumers in a relatable and targetable fashion – and that’s not only in the sports industry.

DN: The aggregate of all these things creates an opportunity for rights-holders and brands to speak to consumers and start to understand the relationship they can build with consumers in a way they haven’t been able to previously.

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