CMO of the Week: Topgolf's Geoff Cottrill

CMO of the Week: Topgolf’s Geoff Cottrill

Topgolf’s chief brand officer Geoff Cottrill believes in “the power of play.”

“The world needs more play in it, not less,” he says. “Coming off the last couple of years, COVID, the economy, elections, the world is a pretty stressed out place right now. We’re just trying to provide a place where people can come and play.”

Cottrill joined the golf entertainment chain in August 2021 and has since been pushing the brand to be more accessible to open golf up to more diverse players. The brand recently kicked off the second phase of its “Come Play Around” campaign, which is focused on a cast of emoji characters that encourage consumers to come out and play. The spot features the “Hand Head Crew,” which play and communicate through emoji-style hand gestures.

“We live in a world where you communicate via text and you communicate with your friends via emojis,” explains Cottrill. “A lot of people are using hand signs as emojis. We wanted to communicate the expression of a feeling through the hands. It’s an interesting visual device that’s intended to be a little bit disruptive and a little bit different than maybe what you’ve seen out there in the past. We just wanted to have a little bit of fun with it. When you watch the films, you can see everything from high fiving each other to a clasped fist. We’ve tried to have some fun with that.”

Focusing on this idea of fun and coming together also supports the mission to make golf more accessible. “One of the things we’re trying to do is to make the game of golf less intimidating. Golf is a very difficult sport to get good at,” adds Cottrill. “It’s got a lot of barriers to entry. We’re trying to remove those. Many people who come to Topgolf had never even held a golf club before. Our goal is that at the end of the time with us that their first association with the game of golf leaves them with a smile on their face. They were having fun with their family and friends and as a result of that, we hope they’ll come back and start to enjoy the game in different ways.”

Topgolf also recently announced a partnership with the Special Olympics. Beginning in 2024, Topgolf will be the first branded, medaled event in the Special Olympics. The competition will include individuals and Unified Sports teams competing in Topgolf games. “We’re over the moon excited about this partnership,” adds Cottrill. “Through this, we are bringing more play to the world and making the game more accessible, more diverse and more fun for more people.”

Prior to joining Topgolf, Cottrill has held senior marketing roles at Converse, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble. Brand Innovators caught up with Cottrill to talk about the power of play, bringing people together and focusing on the customer.

As chief marketer at Topgolf, what makes you excited to come to work every morning?

When I get up in the morning, I’m the most excited about three things. It starts with trying our best to make the game of golf more accessible. When we make it more accessible, the result of that is that the game becomes more diverse. As a result of the game becoming more diverse, it becomes more fun for more people. That’s it. That’s the simple formula for us, is thinking about making the game accessible, which leads to diversity, which leads to the game being more fun. We ultimately should win as a result of that.

How are you thinking about innovation?

Innovation in a couple different things. One innovation from a communication standpoint. A lot of brands have to say they create experiences, they create communication. And then sometimes the experience in their building or the restaurant or their concept doesn’t live up to what was shown on the film. For us, it’s the opposite. Our creative is running to catch up with the experience that we’re offering in our venues and how fun and how engaging and joyful it is. We’re innovating around our messaging. The new version of our Come Play Around campaign with our Hand Heads, is an example of that. 

Then we’re constantly innovating around new games and new technology. Toptracer technology, which traces each ball’s flight path and other metrics, in all of our venues. And then we’re constantly innovating around new menu items and beverages. We’re constantly trying to push ourselves forward.

How are you showing up in culture?

Dating back to my days at Converse, I’m a big believer that brands should contribute to culture and not sponsor it. We’ve got a group of people we call friends of the brand. There are a lot of people who are up and coming new brands in the golf space and we’re just doing things with them. We see them as some of the leaders that are shaping and changing the game of golf. We’re participating by doing things with them, instead of just sponsoring them. 

For example, we just did the Topgolf Open during the week of the U.S. Open in Los Angeles. We had all of our friends of the brand out – musicians, DJs, skateboarders, street artists, and young people who are changing the game of golf – to celebrate golf and how it’s changing, and to celebrate the culture of LA. Where I come from the sneaker world, basketball ran street culture 30-35 years ago. Then 20-25 years ago, skateboarding started to have a big impact on street culture. What we’re seeing now is, those two groups are now taking to golf. A lot of them picked it up during COVID. 

You’re seeing the aesthetic and the attitude and the spirit of street culture really starting to take shape in the game of golf. It’s a really interesting time for us as a brand and it’s a really interesting time for the sport and the golf industry. We’re seeing some pretty dramatic changes in terms of the style and kinds of people that are playing the game and the way they’re showing up to the game. We’re a big part of helping to facilitate that.

What is your approach to leadership?

I just try to be myself and I try to let my folks be themselves and encourage them to surprise me. Years ago, I had someone that worked for me. I said, “How do you want to work together?” And she said to me, “I just want you to give me enough room to surprise you.” And I thought that was one of the most interesting bits of advice, frankly, that I’ve ever gotten in my career. It was just such a great way to say just let me run and let me surprise you. And I try my best to carry that on and remember that conversation and put it into action as often as I can.

What big marketing trends are on your mind this year?

Brands should be paying attention to their consumers. Having been a marketer for a very long time, I have witnessed many marketers chasing trends, chasing the newest coolest thing. But you’ve got to continue to connect with them in authentic and meaningful ways. 

There’s three things brands should be thinking about at all times. One, you should be bringing world class products to the market. You should be creating memorable experiences for them. I always say, we should be doing things with and for our consumers. That’s a mindset. The third is what services do you bring? How can you bring things to the market that add even more value to your consumer?

We’re just focused on being ourselves as a brand and being super focused on who our players are, and try to meet them where they are and try to celebrate them more than we’re actually celebrating ourselves. When it comes to the big marketing trends, and all the noise that the industry makes, I really don’t pay attention to that at all. I just don’t really buy all that hype. We waste a lot of time and energy as marketers chasing the hype, when we should just be focusing on the consumer.

What are you hearing from consumers right now?

There’s lots of research, including our own research, that says people are looking for better connections with other people, human connections. Certainly technology plays a central role in all of our lives now, but there’s also a need for real connection. We’re seeing people pulling back a little bit from technology on the macro level and looking for those more meaningful connections. You’re seeing an overall economy going into an election year, that’s probably going to tighten up a little bit. People are going to watch their discretionary spending, no matter what side of the political fence they’re on. All brands are keeping an eye on what’s coming up in the next year. 

It’s about experiences for us, and continuing to focus on doing the very best we can to deliver that experience so people have a good memory with their friends or family or coworkers, for that matter.