Earnie’s five truths about sponsorship activation

By The Earnie Team

Having spoken often ourselves about the virtues of B2B activation we decided to get some key players from brands and rights holders together over breakfast and open up the floor for discussion.  We were joined by Deloitte, British Tennis, Harlequins Rugby Club, Avaya and Marriot International for a tête-à-tête on sponsorship activation in sport and entertainment today.  We drilled down into 5 core truths and here’s our thoughts:

1. B2B sponsors really need data and content, not just branding and hospitality.

Gone are the days of sticking a logo on a shirt and offering a sponsor the best seats at the game.  In the modern world, brands choose a sponsorship property for business reasons to hit business objectives.  Be it data capture or new content to spread across the year, there has to be something more in it for the brand than ’a media buy’. Importantly we found that the sponsor has a role to play here. Essentially the more time and thought they invest in a property, the more likely they are to get the desired return.  We heard how some rights holders would rather have a small scale partner on board who tailor their efforts to give fans added value, as opposed to global organisations which have other pressing priorities.  The right balance will come from developing a relationship and a shared understanding with the right partner from day one of the deal.

2. Brands and sports are now marketing partners with shared goals.

If the necessary approach was taken by both brand and right holder when seeking a partnership, then there should already be shared fit around values and goals. Understanding what each other’s commercial goals are (in the short, medium and long term) allows symbiotic marketing programmes to flourish and develop. And brand credibility is also vital. What affects one partner can damage another – no longer are the two treated as separate. As such, large global brands are taking steps to distance themselves from global partnership deals with some of the biggest competitions in sports.  Being authentic to each other and your audience is the name of the game.

3. The marketplace is increasingly crowded for both sports and brands.

If you’re going to spend time and money allocating precious marketing spend it is important to do something that is going to stand out, and not just creatively.  One of the top ten commercial trends predicted by Repucom for partnerships in 2016 is that they will become “more immersive and more rewarding”.  This is exactly what BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management set out to achieve in donating their sponsorship of the Boat Races to Cancer Research UK. They understood the need to think differently and ended up with a corporate sponsorship model which they hope will raise their business profile and money for a good cause. They are showing thought leadership in their competitive space, by understanding their staff and customers. This, more than a great campaign or a catchy hashtag, will set BNY Mellon aside from the crowd and, though it’s too early to say, will help change people’s perception of their brand.

4. Segment your audience and give them something meaningful.

As you’ve probably gathered it’s not enough for either partner to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to activation.  Audiences are not the same – they have different wants, needs and motivations. Sponsorship needs to recognise these and find ways to meaningfully connect and enhance their experience. Sports fans have seen many iterations of sponsor output and they can recognise when a brand hasn’t done its homework. You need to have a purpose and provide a meaningful extension of the fan engagement. Fans are there for the event and it is the sponsor’s role to bring them closer to the action. The planning and activation needs to reflect the value they aspire to.

5. Evaluate every opportunity on ROI and added value.

No matter how complex, both sponsor and sport need to measure as much as possible. It makes the conversations easier and in doing so the business case better. Transparent, frank and honest evaluation will pay off in the long run, and will demonstrate to both parties the importance of collaborating on every level. Whilst it’s difficult to separate the effects of sponsorship from everything else that is going on in the marketing mix, there are quick wins around landing pages, data collection mechanics, geo-tracking, channel analysis etc.  The best process will be one that is unique to the partnership and which contextualises it. Activation should be designed to achieve specific objectives and where possible, each partner should be incentivised to reach the shared marketing goals.