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Brand Building Secrets from the Hurricanes’ Marketing VP

Talk to any sports fan in the Triangle and you’ll undoubtedly discover people share a common love for only one Triangle team, the Carolina Hurricanes. The only professional sports team in the area, it serves as more than just an attraction, but as a common ground for fans of all ages. So, who is the man promoting and branding one of Raleigh’s greatest pastimes? Doug Warf serves as the VP of Marketing for the Carolina Hurricanes, and we had the privilege of chatting with him to learn a little more about how the team operates behind the scenes.

What image or brand do you work to create for the ‘Canes?

According to Doug, the Hurricanes marketing department conducts business with two goals in mind: to engage and to entertain. This simple yet successful philosophy continually came up in the conversation, and could easily translate to many brands. The Canes want the fans to feel like they are a part of the team, and Doug knows the importance of that connection to the community. He strives to keep the Canes professional yet approachable, which he says isn’t difficult when you are promoting such humble and talented guys. They aren’t just hockey players but are also active members of the community, which makes the Canes truly genuine.

What is the hardest part about marketing for the ‘Canes?

Although hockey season may end, the marketing never does. Doug says there is no real offseason, and during the season it’s crucial to create an engaging atmosphere for every home game. The ups and downs of the year can be a rollercoaster, but Doug lives for those moments that make it all worth it. He still “gets pumped up for a big game or a great win.” One particular career highlight was when Raleigh hosted the All-Star game in 2011. He remembers the hours of preparation, but more notably he remembers how great it was to see a city rally around its team and really embrace the sport of hockey.

What are the challenges of marketing during a losing season?

It’s gotta be harder to promote a team during a losing season, right? When you’ve built up as strong of a brand image as the Canes, it’s helpful. Sure, Doug says it’s easier to market during a winning season because fans are “much more responsive,” and during a losing season, it takes a little more to get the fans pumped up. Doug’s strategy regardless of the stats is to brand the team, not a singular player. If the brand is strong, the fans will remain even when the wins are not as plentiful. Of course, he says the players are vital and should be at the forefront, but not the main focus. A strong brand image will last.

Who do you try to target in your marketing?

Families and small businesses are very important to the Hurricanes, so they strive to accommodate and target those markets. Many other professional hockey teams may be about the “rough and tumble, hockey fan” as Doug says, but the Cane’s games are much more family-friendly. Stormy, the mascot, is a huge part of their marketing strategy and every kid’s favorite. Doug says that diehard sports fan choose their team before the age of 7, so the earlier kids can make a connection to the Canes, the better. Doug also implements programs like College Night to engage the student population at more affordable prices. They’ve been raising awareness on college campuses around the Triangle, including a recent “It’s Okay to Wear Red” campaign at UNC-Chapel Hill.

How important is social media or what is your most important marketing tool?

Just like practically any other company today, social media is huge for the Canes. They have a small marketing staff but they now have a designated social media specialist to run their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social platforms. What Doug loves about social media is that you can control the story and immediately get it out to a captive audience. Instead of having to wait and hope other mediums pick it up, marketers can take their image into their own hands. The Canes also use social media more as a quality content medium and less of a sales medium to help build brand awareness and loyalty.

Doug and his team put a strong focus on branding, but an even stronger focus on their customer. Building a connection to the product and the brand is a vital part of any businesses’ marketing plan.

Doug also told us if he wasn’t marketing for the Canes, he would love to try his hand as a professional bullpen catcher or co-host for Conan O’Brien. But we think he’s doing pretty well exactly where he is!