College basketball fever is sweeping the nation and everyone — from celebrities to politicians to your mom — is talking Bracketology. About 51 percent of working Americans have some sort of pool set up at their offices, by the way, and approximately 48 percent admit to checking game scores at least once during the work day, according to an OfficeMax survey. Here’s how four small business are hoping to make the most of this collective lapse in productivity by launching March Madness-themed marketing schemes.

We make brackets!
For Jen Portland, founder of Excel Rain Man, a tech support company that focuses exclusively on solving spreadsheet dilemmas, getting into the free bracket business made a whole lot of sense. Since so many companies block online bracket sites to prevent lapses in productivity, she found a way around the problem by creating brackets in Excel. Portland’s spreadsheet brackets can be used for entire pools and they calculate the winner for the pool manager. The upshot: It’s an easy way to advertise the work that she and her subcontractors can do.

Get your March Madness on — and apply for a loan
On Feb. 1, the Members Credit Union in Winston-Salem, N.C. launched a March Madness microsite where it’s running a basketball skills video contest and a free College Hoops Bracket contest with a grand prize of a $250 Visa gift card and a replica jersey. Since the site launched, traffic to the credit union’s homepage has increased almost 10 percent. The bank also says it saw a 30 percent increase in auto loans in February (over the previous month), which is typically a slow time for lending. And the promotion didn’t cost the company much since the site was designed in-house by an employee with amateur coding skills.

Social media-savvy super fans get discounts
Quaker Steak and Lube, a small East Coast restaurant chain best known for its chicken wings, is using March Madness and social media to offer discounts and build brand loyalty. The chain created a “fan zone” tab on its Facebook page, which has more than 25,000 fans. Customers who show up to the restaurant in team apparel, take photos of themselves, and then upload them to the page, get a discount. Quaker Steak will also be posting quiz questions to its Twitter account and award prizes to the winners. The idea is to connect their Facebook fan base to their brick-and-mortar locations. “Our social media program engages new legions of fans and grows a new generation of Quaker Steak & Lube loyalists,” says head of marketing Bob Mentrek.

We want videos of you — using our products
Last October, the team at SKLZ, which creates sports training products, challenged its fans to post YouTube videos of themselves playing with the company’s over-the-door mini-basketball hoop. Twenty-eight videos and several months later, SKLZ’s 2010 holiday sales of the mini hoop were the best ever, and the website saw a 200-300 percent increase to the product’s online page.

For March Madness the company launched Challenge #2. Four winners in four different categories will each get a $500 gift certificate to The company expects the contest will lead to a short-term bump in page views and product sales, “but perhaps more importantly is the long-term increase in product awareness and brand engagement,” says Web marketing director Scott Curry.

What’s your company doing to capitalize on March Madness?


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