I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Chris Wendel, one of our A Bigger Voice pilot clients. Chris and his brother Tim are the sports fans and history buffs behind the blog Buffalo Nation. Their new book, Buffalo, Home of the Braves will hit the shelves in January. The book chronicles the fast rise, overlooked players, and mismanaged final years of the Buffalo Braves, the National Basketball Association franchise that existed from 1970-78 before leaving Buffalo to become the L.A. Clippers.
The ABV Team worked with Chris and Tim from May through August as they prepared for the launch of their book. Now, two months after the pilot, Chris sat down to chat with me about the impact A Bigger Voice had on their thinking about their book and their own bigger voice. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
Bill: What did you hope to accomplish though A Bigger Voice?
Chris: Our goal in working with A Bigger Voice was to get help in how to get the word out about the Braves book. But in working with the A Bigger Voice team to sharpen our story and message and to identify our audience, you helped us realize the broader significance of the Braves story and that our book might have a broader audience than we had originally thought.
In what way?
When we came to A Bigger Voice, we saw the Braves book as a niche book for Buffalo sports enthusiasts, but we’ve had our eyes opened to the broader scope of our story, and to the possible broader audience that the book might appeal to. There are parallels between what has happened to the Braves and what was happening in Western New York in the 70’s. The mid to late 70’s was a high water mark for Buffalo and Western New York, with Buffalo being a major industrial center with three major sports teams.
Then with the closing of Bethlehem Steel and the end of the industrial age, we entered a transition period for Western New York; the Braves leaving town is symbolic of that time. So we realized that the book has a broader story that might appeal to folks in Western New York who had been around for a long time and who relate to Buffalo and Western New York in a deeper way.
In the short run, our goal is still to generate excitement about the Braves story and the book. But we now see the opportunity for longer term community building: to grow a community beyond the Braves for people who care about Buffalo sports and Buffalo and Western New York more generally, to build on the solid values, connections, identity and pride in the area.
It was working through our story with the A Bigger Voice team that helped us get there.
How else did A Bigger Voice help?
I’ve been in marketing for years, but I didn’t realize how much the rules had changed and how important community building can be to getting our message out and connecting with people who care. Marketing used to be all about pushing your message out, but having an online presence is really important for getting in touch with people who care about the same things you do outside of your local community.
But it’s not just about an online community. Because our audience is somewhat older and may not be on the computer all the time, we need to connect with them directly too. For example, I recently had an opportunity to go to a fundraising event for the Lockport “Y” outside of Buffalo. The “Tipoff Dinner” had three basketball coaches from Buffalo speaking. There I got to meet the community up close and personal. Thanks to my Dad's help, I was able to set up a small table at the event with postcards and posters with book pages from Chapter One.
From a demographic perspective this was definitely the right group: mostly male, many over 40, with an intense interest in basketball. There was a core group that was on fire with the book concept. They could recount particular games, players, and circumstances thirty years later. Some were season ticket holders. One actually worked on press row for the Braves. They really still want to talk about this! There was even one guy who liked the concept so well that that we are talking about ways that he can help spread the word about the book. Now, I can start to see the community and the power it can have.
So what are you doing differently to build your community?
So far, we changed our blog from one called Brave’s World, which strictly focused on the Braves, to one called Buffalo Nation, which offers commentary and stories about Western New York. We also started implementing your recommendations on building our online audience: visiting, commenting and linking to other blogs, and we changed blogging platforms. But we are only touching the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t gotten the book out yet and have many more recommendations to implement. We are starting to see blog traffic and the time people stay on the blog increase with what we have done so far. We are also thinking about another book that would have interest to folks in the Western New York Community.
What would you tell someone who is considering A Bigger Voice?
I run in to so many people who have good ideas who don’t know how to get them out. A Bigger Voice is very progressive in helping people get to the essence of what their big idea is and how to get it out in an efficient way. Have faith and listen to you [the ABV team]. You may take them in a direction that they may not expect, but you will really help them clarify their ideas and message, and really help get it out in new ways. I think you are on to something very cutting edge.