Get a behind-the-scenes look at how Fuel BMC’s collaborative efforts on brand design and creative marketing strategy helped S2 Cognition on their journey to becoming a household name.
In the weeks leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft, you couldn’t tune into any major sports news outlet without hearing about S2 Cognition and the S2 Evaluation. With appearances on ESPN, Sporting News, The Athletic, NFL Network’s Good Morning Football, The Pat McAfee Show, and Sports Illustrated, S2 Cognition, seemingly overnight, became a household name in the world of sports.
So how did the small Nashville-based sports cognition testing company become such a major story? Why were mainstream audiences so excited by a clinical testing platform that’s heavily rooted in neuroscience?
Let’s rewind to 2020.
A Revolutionary Product in Need of a Brand
“When we connected with Fuel, and after a few meetings, it was very clear to us that this was going to provide that gear into the next level.” – Scott Wylie, Ph.D., Co-Founder and COO
S2 Cognition was founded in 2015 by Brandon Ally, Ph.D., and Scott Wylie, Ph.D. The pair of cognitive scientists had been watching the 2014 NFL Draft and heard the analysts repeatedly using terms like “plays faster than their footspeed,” “a nose for the ball,” “instinctive,” “intangibles,” “vision,” and “football IQ,” to describe and differentiate the prospects. While every sports fan knows what these terms represent, and can recognize these qualities on the field, up to this point these qualities had seemed impossible to quantify.
Working together, Brandon Ally and Scott Wylie developed the S2 Evaluation, a battery of sports-specific cognitive tests that could measure and quantify how an athlete’s brain processes information and makes split-second decisions on the field. But unlike traditional intelligence tests like the Wonderlic, which only measures IQ, the S2 Eval could measure an athlete’s game-speed cognitive abilities down to the millisecond level.
Moreover, S2 Eval Scores have significant correlation to on-field results.
S2 Cognition had a gamechanger on its hands – but, coming from the lab space, S2 lacked the brand design and creative marketing strategy to effectively convey their value proposition to mainstream sports audiences.
S2 Cognition Partners with Fuel BMC for their Creative Marketing Strategy
In 2020, S2 Cognition enlisted the help of Fuel Business Minded Creative, an Atlanta-based creative marketing agency, to collaborate on their brand design and creative marketing strategy. At the time, S2 Cognition was already working with a handful of teams in the NFL and MLB, as well as several top collegiate sports programs. But as a small company, S2 Cognition wasn’t equipped with an internal creative marketing team to help position their brand and convey their value proposition to a wider audience. They also needed help enhancing their digital presence – their website at the time had very little traffic and almost no conversions.
“We started with a simple idea. We need a better website, and we need some branding. We needed some consistency. We had a vision for what we wanted it to look like and feel like. We're operating in the sports and military industries. There's got to be a cool factor. There's got to be education. We're in a niche area where you've got to educate on what we do and how we do it.” – Scott Wylie, Ph.D., Co-Founder and COO
Creating Foundational Brand Design & A New Website
A big part of Fuel BMC’s initial focus was helping S2 Cognition establish their brand identity, providing S2 Cognition with a cutting-edge approach that would appeal to audiences in the sports space and various industries that they were targeting.
Moreover, Fuel BMC worked alongside S2 Cognition to create messaging that would convey S2’s scientifically oriented value proposition to more mainstream audiences – who probably weren’t particularly well-versed in neuroscience or ready to make the connection between cognitive science and on-field sports performance.
“We've come a long way since 2015, and certainly I think the rise has been exponential since 2018. And I think part of that is partnering with Fuel so that we can get that brand look and feel. I think that's just been the most critical aspect to our growth is that we have a very consistent look and feel and language.” – Brandon Ally, Ph.D., Co-Founder and CMO
In 2020, Fuel BMC created a new website that could serve as a platform for S2 Cognition’s digital marketing strategy, incorporating the new branding and messaging, and designing premium images and interactive components.
The new website represented a major step forward for S2 Cognition at the time. Site traffic increased drastically. Between June 2020 and April 2023, the new website averaged 66.5 sessions a day and brought in 593 site leads during that time span, with visitors spending over six minutes per session – a monumental increase in performance compared to S2 Cognition’s former web presence.
However, the pair of companies were only getting started. As new partners at the time, marketing a cutting-edge, disruptive product that did not exist anywhere in the world of sports before S2 in 2015, S2 Cognition and Fuel BMC had the unique challenge of educating their audience on the applications of cognition in sports and proving that the S2 Evaluation wasn’t just another gimmick.
As a result, Fuel and S2 Cognition worked closely, using extensive A/B testing, to make new additions to the website over the years. After learning from customer activity, behavior, and feedback, the two companies would later build a strategy for developing a new premium polished site with bolder branding that was tailored to improve customer experience by guiding users to the information that they’re most interested in and providing better education and resources about the role of cognition in sports, as well as the other industries S2 is involved in.
The 2023 relaunch of the website would provide an exponential increase in web traffic, leads, and conversion and would help propel S2 into new verticals (keep scrolling to see the full results!).
In 2023, S2 Cognition and Fuel BMC applied everything they learned from three years of working together to relaunch a definitive version of the S2 Cognition website, which provided bolder branding, improved visuals, and more effective messaging and resources to educate S2’s target market.
Strategic Direction & New Go-to-Market Tools
After a successful collaboration on S2’s brand foundation and website, the two companies realized they had natural rapport, shared values, and creative synergy. The two companies began working together more closely – and a long-term partnership formed.
“Shortly after partnering with S2 Cognition, we realized they were an organization that shared our values. Cultural fit is extremely important to us – and S2 embodies the same team-driven approach that makes our partnership thrive," says John Petri, CEO of Fuel BMC. "The incredible product S2 offers and the top-notch people and brilliant minds within their organization make our partnership an incredible experience for our entire team. Together, we've pushed the envelope creatively and brought our respective visions to the table, which has led to a successful and valuable partnership.”
“[We] feel like they're all part of the family and we can send an email or a text and everybody is super responsive right away, and we just have a great working relationship. Even though Fuel isn't in-house, it feels like they're in-house.” – Brandon Ally, Ph.D., Co-Founder and CMO
Fuel BMC began collaborating with S2 Cognition on their go-to-market strategy, designing strategic framework, funnels, and sales enablement tools to help S2 Cognition accelerate their growth in existing verticals, as well expand into new verticals.
Fuel BMC conducted a photoshoot, sourcing current and former athletes, so that S2 Cognition could feature real athletes on their marketing collateral, and filmed and directed a hype video about the importance of S2 Cognition’s testing and training for baseball and softball. Additionally, Fuel BMC created and provided design for pitch decks and recommended B2B sales tools to arm S2 Cognition with what they would need to secure additional partnerships.
Building Hype with the “How It Works” Video
A major milestone in S2 Cognition’s new creative strategy came in 2021 with the release of a product explainer video. In just a little over three minutes, the “How It Works” video explains S2’s revolutionary testing platform, helping viewers understand how the S2 Eval impacts on-field performance with live-action shots, motion graphics that show S2’s science behind the game, and special effects executed to be a cinematic-style experience.
Fuel BMC filmed and edited the S2 “How It Works” Video, which became a cornerstone of S2’s creative marketing strategy.
Fuel BMC was instrumental in helping S2 Cognition produce its “How It Works” Video. From creative direction and sourcing athletes for live-action shots, to filming, post-production, and even creating the uniforms the athletes wore, Fuel BMC’s video production team pulled out all the stops to create an exciting, studio-level production.
“The S2 [“How it Works”] video is unquestionably one of our favorite assets. We get constant comments about it. We've had it for a couple years now. We still get comments about it. When someone wants to know what we do and how it works, I send them the link to the video. [You] don't have to say anything else.” – Scott Wylie, Ph.D., Co-Founder and COO
In addition to helping capture attention, the “How It Works” video helped build S2’s brand perception as a cutting-edge sports-science company and improved the quality of the conversations S2 could have with potential customers about their platform.
Helping S2 Improve UX Design for their Testing Platform and Training Program
Beyond brand design and collaborating on S2’s creative marketing platform, Fuel BMC also helped S2 refine their testing platform with graphic and UX design, and production of 50+ videos including CGI and motion graphics in English and Spanish. All of which help make the S2 Eval an exciting, premier experience.
“I would argue that what Fuel helped us design in terms of the delivery of our system, when we're measuring split-second cognitive skills, from the instructions, to the display, to the voiceover, the experience going through a cognitive test, of all things a cognitive test, is second to none. I would argue this is the best experience in a cognitive evaluation on the planet. And I actually mean that.” – Scott Wylie, Ph.D., Founder and COO
Feedback from athletes taking the test was overwhelmingly positive. S2 Cognition reports that athletes at all levels are excited to take the test and walk away raving about how cool their experience was.
Additionally, Fuel BMC helped develop strategic framework for the S2 Playbook, S2 Cognition’s tailored training platform, which supplies education, training concepts, and drill tactics for athletes and coaches based around an individual athlete’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Collaborating closely with S2 Cognition, Fuel BMC built and designed the core wireframe of the platform for S2’s website, helped plan and develop the platform’s UX and UI experiences across all pages, and develop and design graphics, layout, and branding for the S2 Playbook. Fuel BMC helped lift the initiative off the ground and develop concepts so that S2 Cognition’s in-house team had everything it needed to complete development and launch the program.
Kick-Starting S2’s Social Media Presence
In 2022, Vaden Landers was named the new CEO of S2 Cognition. With 35 years of experience in the FinTech space, Vaden Landers was brought in to help S2 Cognition scale their business and break into the youth sports market, which represented the largest opportunity for financial growth.
Excited by Fuel BMC’s past work on brand design, web design, and creative marketing strategy, Vaden Landers gave Fuel BMC a larger role in S2 Cognition’s marketing efforts. In spring of 2022, Fuel BMC took the reins on amping up S2 Cognition’s social media presence and making S2’s social channels a more accurate reflection of their updated brand design and strategically crafting content to help them gain traction.
Between March and November of 2022, S2 experienced drastic growth across all of their social channels:
Instagram: 344% increase in followers
Twitter: 63% increase in followers
Facebook: 495% increase in followers
LinkedIn: 93% increase in followers
Total Across All Channels: 104% increase in followers
With a solid foundation in place, S2 Cognition was able to take their social media management back in-house in fall of 2023.
*Fuel BMC did not contribute to the creation of any social media content across S2 Cognition’s social media channels after November 11th, 2022
Launching the S2 Podcast
Also, in 2022, Fuel BMC helped S2 Cognition launch The S2 Cognition Podcast, giving S2 Cognition a platform to engage and educate their audience.
“We were really excited when Fuel suggested, hey, why don't you guys do a podcast and we can create a very similar look and feel and branding to all of the other assets. And so that's become a staple, a critical point for us to be able to communicate and educate. It's really been a phenomenal platform for us to be able to just educate ourselves as well as educate people who are interested in what we do.” – Brandon Ally, Ph.D., Founder and CMO
Featuring guests like Kirk Cousins (quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings), Terry Fontenot (General Manager of the Atlanta Falcons), Tommy Moffitt (Strength and Conditioning Coach at LSU), and Joe Dillon (Hitting Coordinator with the Washington Nationals), the S2 Cognition Podcast was an immediate success. In the first five months, the podcast garnered 1,598 streams, with viewers tuning in for an average of 69.14% for each episode.
Helping S2 Cognition Break into the Youth Sports Market
With digital engagement at an all-time high, CEO Vaden Landers enlisted Fuel BMC to help S2 Cognition go-to-market in the vertical with the highest opportunity for potential revenue growth: youth sports.
“We knew that in order to grow, we had to basically make the market aware of who we are and what we're doing. We had to educate them as to the value of what S2 does. And then we had to give them the ability to take the test somewhere.” – Vaden Landers, CEO
The two companies partnered to execute S2 Cognition's two-prong approach to increase market penetration and expand the number of athletes they were testing:
Establishing a network of partnerships with retail labs across the country.
Creating a mobile testing facility to have on-site at tournaments, camps, combines, showcases, and training facilities.
Creative & Marketing Collaboration Paves the Way for 15 New Retail Testing Labs
When establishing partnerships for retail labs, S2 Cognition faced an interesting dilemma…at the time no S2 Labs existed yet. How would they convince partners to invest into an idea without having anything tangible at the time and sell them on a vision they can’t see?
Using CGI, Fuel BMC pitched the idea to create a virtual tour of the inside of a conceptual S2 Lab to help investors and partners envision what an official S2 testing lab could look like in their facility.
This CGI video, created by Fuel BMC helped bring the vision to life and was a jump-start for S2 Cognition’s retail lab go-to-market strategy.
Fuel BMC also designed and produced the “S2 Lab Kit,” which was comprised of all the branded interior design components displayed inside the retail labs to achieve an all-encompassing S2 experience, including door signs, table covers, testing station divider walls, stickers, Xbox eval system counsel skin, wall posters, A-Frame signage, instruction manuals, and more.
In addition to the CGI Lab Tour Video and S2 Lab Kits, Fuel BMC helped create a multi-touchpoint funnel to accompany the digital tools and equip S2 Cognition with everything they would need to go-to-market with potential partner labs. Fuel BMC created and managed a multitude of digital assets, including 20+ event website pages, 40+ social media and email campaigns, and produced eye-catching graphics for S2's baseball and softball partnerships such as D1 Baseball, High & Inside, Alliance Fastpitch, Bombers Fastpitch, and more.
“We had to have landing pages that told that story. We had to have marketing presentations that told that story. We had to have email content that told that story. And so we know what to say, but Fuel helped us say it in a way that it resonated with the market that we were targeting. And so, within a short period of time, we were able to stand up 15 different facilities around the country who now are testing and are player development centers for us too, which has allowed us to expand our testing capabilities and also our volumes across these various facilities.” – Vaden Landers, CEO
Designing the S2 Eval Mobile Lab
In addition to setting up permanent testing facilities, S2 Cognition wanted to be able to take their testing facility on the road. Working together, the two companies created The S2 Mobile Lab, which could deliver S2 Cognition’s revolutionary testing and training platform to youth athletes all across the country.
Fuel BMC filmed and produced this teaser video to build anticipation for the new S2 Mobile Lab.
“And so we sat down, we literally looked at what should the walls look like? What should the floor look like? What should the stations look like? What color should they be? Where should we put a TV screen? What should be on that TV screen? What should the outside look like? Fuel was instrumental in terms of steering and driving those conversations and helping us from a design perspective to create, excuse my French, the most bad ass experience that you will see in any tournament complex.” – Vaden Landers, CEO
At 28 feet, with 15 testing stations, with a wrap and interior designed by Fuel BMC, the S2 Mobile Lab is an impressive sight that garners huge amounts of attention anywhere it goes, but especially at youth tournaments, camps, combines, showcases, and training facilities.
Launching & Promoting The S2 Mobile Lab
To ensure S2 Cognition’s S2 Mobile Lab launch achieved the level of “cool factor” it deserved, Fuel BMC filmed and produced a two-video series to introduce the S2 Mobile lab and showcase the exciting, futuristic, and game-like experience athletes and teams could expect while taking the S2 Eval inside the lab. Fuel BMC used these video assets to produce a series of social media campaigns, Instagram Reels, and promotional contests and giveaways to generate awareness and drive foot-traffic to the S2 Mobile Lab at athlete events. The S2 Mobile Lab Experience video also showcases S2 Cognition’s branded “swag” designed by Fuel BMC.
Fuel BMC filmed and produced the S2 Mobile Lab Experience Video to help book events.
Launching a New Website Ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft
In the spring of 2023, S2 Cognition and Fuel BMC decided it was time to revamp the website, expanding on the foundation that they had built in 2020 and adding new language, imagery, design, and interactive component to really explain and showcase S2 Cognition’s testing platform. Work on a new website was already underway, when S2 Cognition became part of the media discussion leading up to the NFL Draft.
Almost overnight, S2 Cognition was everywhere. From social media accounts to national media outlets, everyone wanted to know more about the S2 Eval.
“The last three weeks leading up to the NFL draft, we were part of the media discussion. And because of that, we asked Fuel if we could expedite the new website. And I think one of the most impressive things is that that Fuel team spent an entire weekend from 8 in the morning to 8 at night working with us to make sure that we could get that thing up and running because we knew we were getting eyes, and we were going from maybe 60 people a day to over a thousand people every 30 minutes over the last three weeks. And so, for them to understand just our desire and our need to be able to be out in front of that and then work with us in that moment to get that done is one of the coolest experiences I've had.” – Brandon Ally, Ph.D., Co-Founder and CMO
Between April 21st and April 28h, S2 Cognition’s brand-new website, which Fuel BMC worked all weekend to help them launch, had 96,552 sessions. In just seven days, S2 Cognition had more than twice as much traffic as it had the 12 months prior.
On April 21st, S2 Cognition’s new website was featured on the Pat McAfee show.
“Last week, Brandon was on with Pat McAfee on the Pat McAfee show. And while they were talking in the background, the guys that sit behind the cameras start talking. They pull up our website and they start speaking into Pat's ear, telling him how badass this website is. He goes, man, this is the coolest website we've ever seen. And he's like, throw it up here, throw it up on the screen. And then here comes the S2 website. And they start clicking through it and talking about all the cool things on it. And for us, that was one of those proud dad moments where you're like, hey, this is really cool. I'm glad we spent the time and the money and the effort to do this. And we couldn't have got there with just anybody. We had the people that we partner with at Fuel – they know our business like we know our business.” – Vaden Landers, CEO
Results of a Collaborative Partnership
While S2 Cognition’s meteoric rise in the public awareness seemed to come overnight – and, certainly, going viral always has an element of luck and timing – the truth was that they had been building the foundation for that moment for years. Starting with an exceptional product, S2 Cognition collaborated with Fuel BMC on brand design and creative marketing strategy to build awareness and a platform so that they were ready to takeoff when the spotlight was turned on them.
Between S2’s extraordinary founders, CEO, scientists, developers, unmatched roster of talented employees and the collaborative partnership with Fuel BMC, S2 Cognition produced impressive results:
Between 2021 and 2022, S2 Cognition increased their number of partnerships with NFL teams by 112.5% and MLB teams by 41.67%.
From 2019 (the year before they partnered with Fuel) and 2022, S2 Cognition’s annual revenue increased by 130.54% (including consistent YoY growth every year), as a result of new partnerships, licensing fees from retail labs, as well as increased revenue from tests in the youth sports space.
S2 Cognition was able to launch 15 retail testing facilities, with plans for upcoming expansion.
In the span of 8 months in 2022, S2 Cognition increased their total social media following across all channels by 104% (since then, their social media following has continued to grow exponentially).
So far, S2’s newest website which launched in 2023, helped increase their sessions per day by 4506.25%, their session duration by 120%, and their lead form submissions per day by 1742.11%.
But beyond the quantifiable results, S2 Cognition has also been able to establish a brand and a space in the sports world, which they’ll be able to build upon moving forward.
“The look we have now is exactly what we had hoped to achieve and then some. We wanted to look slick, we wanted it to look professional, we wanted to catch people’s attention. We're in the sports world. It's got to compete with the likes of the big-name brands – and I think ours is better than even a lot of theirs.” – Scott Wylie, Ph.D., Founder and COO
“One of the unique things about working with S2 Cognition was how collaborative our partnership was at every phase,” says Stevie Petri, Director of Marketing and Operations at Fuel BMC. “I believe that the chemistry of our team-oriented and trusting partnership greatly impacted the results we achieved together.”
To check out additional creative assets from Fuel BMC’s strategic marketing partnership with S2 Cognition, go to https://www.fuelbmc.com/s2cognition.
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“I love the integrity; I love the character, and I love the fact that they know what we're doing. And they care about what we're doing as much as the people who are on our payroll. And for me, that is the most important thing. They fight for our business. They care about our business. When my feelings get hurt about something somebody says in the marketplace, their feelings are hurt. And when you look at business partners, that's what you want. You want people who are locked arm in arm with you going out and doing battle every single day.” – Vaden Landers, CEO
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