CMO of the Week: NBA's Tammy Henault

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Tammy Henault is all about innovation and developing fan experiences. Ever since she took the reins as chief marketing officer at the NBA eight months ago, she is using her marketing chops to help refine the NBA’s marketing strategy.

Tammy Henault is all about innovation and developing fan experiences. Ever since she took the reins as chief marketing officer at the NBA eight months ago, she is using her marketing chops to help refine the NBA’s marketing strategy.

Her vision for the role comprises four main components –targeting different audiences, using data-driven marketing, being innovative and developing the League’s direct-to-consumer marketing strategy.

“We have an opportunity to speak in a more targeted way to different consumers and create more personalized campaigns to speak to our overall core fan, but also dive into these really passionate segments in more detail,” she says.

Some of these segments include the sneakerhead audience, the fashion audience, as well as the gaming audience. “We are drawing more of our know-how and really going deep into various segments and cohorts,” explains Henault.

Her second goal is to ensure that the brand is making data-driven decisions and using these insights throughout everything including identifying strategic players to feature in the creative, says Henault. 

Being at the forefront of innovation is another core element of Henault’s vision as CMO. “Innovation is one of our brand values and it's really ingrained in our DNA at the League,” reflects Henault. “I push the envelope because it's what our fans expect of us. It’s something that's central to the way we think about how we approach our campaigns in general.” 

Finally, there's a big focus around direct-to-consumer products. “We've made a lot of headway over this past season, launching new products, a new app, a  new member ID rewards program,” says Henault. “I see an opportunity for us to really deepen our relationship across the whole customer journey for our broader viewers and how they're engaging with our direct-to-consumer products. It's really focusing on the end-to-end journey and how we move people along the lifecycle with us.”

Prior to joining the NBA, Henault held senior marketing roles at Paramount+, CBS Interactive, The New York Times and Time Inc. Brand Innovators caught up with ​​Henault to talk about fan experience, Gen Z and showing up in culture. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What does innovation mean to the NBA?

Whenever we think about innovation, it's how do we put the fan at the center? How do we make the experience better for them? Whether that's a more customized personalized tailored messaging or content experience on our products to the live game experience. We're often an innovator at the forefront of trying new things. 

We launched our new app this past year with a new content development, as well as a recent announcement at Summer League, our new In-Season Tournament that is just going to add a whole new format and competitiveness earlier in the season for our games. We've done alternate telecasts testing out different types of commentators and enhanced audio and recently expanded our deal with Meta’s Horizon Worlds. We are just continuing to test and try new things, reaching into different audiences. This is how I view innovating at the NBA. 

Can you talk about how you're showing up in culture? 

Someone asked me recently, if I had to describe our brand in a couple of words, what would sum it up. It's a cultural force. We're really lucky as a brand to be naturally integrated with culture day-to-day. We are intertwined with music, fashion and pop culture. A lot of this, of course, is because we have 450 of the best influencers in the world on our platforms and in our players. Athletes are among the most followed people on social media, and for us, it's an avenue for our fans to be able to authentically connect with us and our brand. 

When I think about how we show up in culture, when we're already intertwined, it's being more intentional about the places we show up, how do we make our fan activations feel really authentic on the ground regardless of what the moment is.

Can you share in more detail how you work with the teams and the athletes? 

We're constantly looking at how we connect our stories and amplify across the League and the team and the player worlds. What are the story upselling opportunities that we all want to come together and prioritize and make sure that we're lifting that for our overall audience? We just had as a really great example, where we had a couple of smaller market teams, and it was really important for us across the League and the teams themselves in the players to ensure that the stories that are going to be coming out of those markets will be relevant to a broader audience. How do we draw people in? How do we lift the awareness and familiarity of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray so that when we have them in our campaigns and we're really chatting up the next game, people are feeling like they know who we're talking about. 

The goal there was really to work together to say, how do we ensure that both our core fans or fans of the teams and the players themselves, but also our overall casual audience, has felt familiar enough already through the stories we are putting out to make them aware that these are going to be really exciting games that are worth their time. It's constant communication and sharing on what are the best opportunities to have the most impact.

Can you talk about the key trends you're seeing in the marketing business at large? 

The biggest trend right now is really figuring out how we are bringing new opportunities with AR and AI. The recent creative at the Women's World Cup, of course, was a really fun conversation point. You're going to see more of what people are doing to apply the application across campaigns and creative and really showcasing and displaying what it can do. 

Also as it relates to tools and capabilities, like how are you just working smarter, faster and more efficiently across the board, whether that's in translation capabilities or creating more personalized messaging? Then more broadly, looking at we are growing new audiences and reaching younger viewers. A lot of those are the key things that are always top of mind. And figuring out how you are being authentic, in terms of how you're incorporating the content creators that feel more authentic to your brand? How do you customize and tailor your messaging? It's going to be more of that, but with exciting new tools to apply to that across the board.

You mentioned this younger audience, are you doing anything special specifically to reach Gen Z? 

It's a core fan base of ours that is highly engaged with us and our brand. We have over 2 billion followers across our social media crowds, accounts across the team and player accounts. It’s, of course, a critical touch point in terms of how we're engaging that audience. 

With the launch of our new app, we saw a 300% increase in engagement, particularly amongst the more Gen Z friendly formats, like our vertical video content that we integrated with the app. We've just seen engagement and video engagement skyrocket because of really being part of the conversation with that audience across all of the platforms that they're already living and breathing daily. And then finding those culture moments that are aligned with them as well.

How has your career helped shape your perspective in your current role?

In many ways, it's directly applicable. My previous experiences working across a number of different entertainment and media organizations, most recently marketing programming for Paramount+. I apply a lot of the way we approach capturing an audience. How do we deepen engagement with a fandom? How are we ensuring that they know where and how to watch us, and they're keeping us top of mind, and we're grabbing that share of attention, all of that was directly applicable. 

Deepening engagement with the Star Trek audience and really diving deep there, involves a similar application, but just to a whole different fan base. It feels very natural. Then in terms of the growth of our digital products and the direct-to-consumer side, particularly leveraging digital marketing, lifecycle marketing and tool sets around our marketing technology. There's a lot that I'm able to bring in, that is maybe newer to the League overall.

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