Andrea Hopelain is the SVP of Brand at EA SPORTS & Racing at Electronic Arts. She is a self-described recovering perfectionist striving for excellence in her work at the intersection of where entertainment meets play. Andrea and her team are constantly focused on what she calls the “white-hot core” of her audience because those loyal fans are the megaphone for everything her team does.
Tell us a bit about you, what you do, and who you work with.
I oversee brand for EA SPORTS at Electronic Arts. I lead a team that manages brand marketing and development for a portfolio of some of the most beloved sports game franchises. This includes everything from Madden NFL and FIFA, to Formula 1 and motor sports racing, basketball, baseball, hockey and more.
It’s an exciting and fun opportunity where we have the privilege of sitting at the intersection of sports, entertainment and technology. Our team operates as a hub-and-spoke model inside this global leading interactive entertainment organization. Brand sits at the center of the marketing organization surrounded by craft specialist teams across communications, community, creative production, insights and analytics. And, we also get to partner hand in glove with our studio teams to drive an end to end experience from inception through ongoing live services. It’s an exciting role where our teams inspire and are accountable for a total brand experience for our players and fans.
My career has evolved at the intersection of entertainment, play and fandom. Before EA, I spent years at Hasbro, ESPN, Disney and Sony. These are all brands that make emotional connections with their audience through characters, stories, worlds, athletes, play and competition. It’s been a really fun journey.
What are some big initiatives you’ve focused on recently?
In the last year, we’ve had more than 230 million people engaged with our EA SPORTS franchises and content. As I think a lot about where we’re at today and where we want to be, I believe EA SPORTS is well-positioned to lead the future of sport and the future of interactive sport. In order to do so, we must continue to blur the lines between physical and reality, and push new boundaries as we think about components like compete, watch, create, connect, participate and our role in bring those together.
DEI is deeply-rooted in our culture and we’re focused on driving DEI, inside and outside of our games. Our games and experiences reach across cultural barriers to unite people across the globe so embracing consumer values is a key motivator for us. We’re proud that EA SPORTS was recognized as one of the world’s most culturally relevant brands in sport, esports and gaming in an elite group that includes Nike, adidas and Jordan. That’s a testament to our team’s commitment to driving positive change in the world through the culture of sport. We want to be a catalyst for our brands and products to continue to be culturally relevant.
How are you putting the consumer at the “Center of your Marketing Universe?”
We have these incredibly passionate and vocal consumers who spend millions of hours inside our games every year, playing billions of matches and games. We’re creating real emotional and social connections through these games and experiences and we don’’t underestimate the value and the trust our fans put in us.
Our focus must be on our avid fans. When we introduce new initiatives, we have to examine the “why.” What value does it present for the player? When we think about introducing new technologies and experiences into a game, it has to be a value add for our fans – whether that’s enhancing their play experience or helping drive a deeper connection with their friends.
The worst thing we could do is lose trust with that loyal consumer, who chooses to spend their time with us. So, if we don’t think about the “why” for them at the very outset and build everything we do around serving their motivation, we lose.
How has the marketing industry evolved during your career?
The principles of marketing at their core haven’t changed; we’ve always been focused on listening to our consumer. The listening part is easy, but what’s evolved is that brands are not only being asked to develop experiences for their players, but today they’re also being looked at as global citizens.
Consumers are looking at how brands can show up and stand for social justice and racial equality or in support of the humanitarian efforts for the conflict happening right now in Ukraine. You have to be intentional and authentic to how your brand shows up in the world. Brands must think about mapping their customer journey all the way through – and across – every touchpoint, to make sure the journey is one amazing experience.
What are some of the biggest marketing challenges you’ve had to face?
Marketing used to be viewed mainly as a “service” organization inside of companies. Things have changed. Today’s marketers are required to operate with a much greater degree of accountability and effectiveness. At EA SPORTS, our marketing team is accountable for business results and I think many would consider themselves business leaders in addition to marketers. With this shift, we’ve had to think much more objectively about the best places and spaces to spend our money and time and how we drive greater visibility to the impact of decisions in service of our business, our brand and our player. If 20% of our work drives 80% of the impact, what does that mean for the other 80% of the work and how would we value it?
As with any large organization, we have bespoke channel teams managing social, driving partnerships, regional execution and grassroots programs, in addition to large scale media buys, creative planning and martech initiatives. It’s imperative that we talk objectively about effort and impact and understand the effectiveness of each body of work, while removing the subjectivity.
Let’s use Instagram as an example. We’ve had teams want to establish regional Instagram channels around the globe to drive local resonance. For a social handle to be successful it takes at least three pieces of content each day to “pop the algorithm” so that your content shows up in user feeds. These rules change all the time. So, for us to create that volume of content, translate it into 40+ languages and then post them, it’s a lot of effort. And that’s all for a regional channel that may not get the level of engagement to justify the work.
These are the choices we have to be more accountable to which requires us to operate with new lenses. More is not more, in fact, more often is less. Less impact, less profitability, less resonance. This has been one of the harder shifts.
How do you tackle segmentation? Hyperlocal or broad?
Our biggest marketing tools are that white-hot core fan group of our individual games. It is so important that we cater to them, first and foremost, because we rise or fall based on the quality of our experiences. This quality bar is measured by how well the product is differentiated, how we’ve set expectations and how well we execute. These become the three things we rise or fall by with our core consumer.
With success, our core consumer becomes the megaphone for everything else that we do. If our product doesn’t meet their expectations, it meets no one’s expectations . Thus, our segmentation is hyper-focused on delighting that “white-hot core.”
What is some career advice you’d give to up-and-coming marketers?
I am admittedly a recovering perfectionist, which means I have had to spend a lot of time learning how to push for excellence versus pushing for perfection. The nuance is that excellence allows you to still embrace taking risks, learning and experimentation. Perfection doesn’t allow for that. Perfection is a really rigid place to live.
It’s so important to accept the vulnerability that comes with experimentation, taking risks and accepting failure as long as you’re learning from it. I recently read a great book, where the author talks about how we should think like scientists. Scientists embrace failure every day because failure brings you one step closer to the end goal. When we start to think like scientists, we can embrace the fails and start to see them as part of our pathway to success.
How do you unplug and reboot?
I am an avid reader and love non-fiction. A recent book I read and highly recommend is Hunger by Roxane Gay. It gave me another perspective and lens into diversity. In addition, I have a 6-year-old son and we love playing video games together, which kind of ties in with what I do every day. We just completed one of our favorite games called “It Takes Two,” which is a couch co-op game that required we play together and was a great bonding opportunity for us. Play is at the root of what I enjoy at work and also in my off-time.
Questions for all to consider:
- How do you think beyond the work you’re doing now and what kind of what work will benefit your brand in the future?
- As a marketer, do you also consider yourself a business leader? If so, how? And if not, why?
- How do manage your team’s 80/20?
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