There are so many elements that go into a well-run and well-considered marketing strategy. We have been an experiencing a massive shift with marketers moving their budget and resources toward digital resources - putting millions of dollars behind search campaigns, YouTube ads, promoted social media posts and more. That has been what is stealing the headlines, anyway. Quietly behind the scenes, event specialist Bizzabo tells us that 80% of marketers still believe live events are critical to their company's success. Live events is a broad topic and platform in its own right. It could be proprietary events, sponsored events, or even smaller lunch & learn type concepts.
Setting the stage
By far the easiest way to access live events is through sponsorship where you can associate your brand with an already-established event and audience. The event or "property" you sponsor has already done the heavy lifting of curating this audience and engaging them, so what's left for you to do is to integrate into the scene with your objectives. Most often, sponsoring an event is not the only tactic you will introduce or manage as a marketing manager.
The traditional "sponsorship" model is rapidly fading away, where vanity metrics such as impressions and views are no longer doing the trick to justify the high-profile expenditure and nature of sponsorships. We are all for that, and it is about time some meat got added to these programs. A lot of that meat comes in the form of B2B programs operating behind-the-scenes, something sports offers brilliantly to brands doing all sorts of captivating things.
Developing these rich business programs out of a handful of seemingly random assets is where there is real ROI to be found. Building B2B campaigns and events around your sponsorship will elevate your brand to a new level. According to a recent Frost and Sullivan study, these types of B2B events account for upwards of $500 billion in investment per year. Like any other campaign or medium for your brand, sponsoring something blindly without a plan is a dangerous and oft expensive path to take.
Entering into this space brings a challenge of how you leverage sponsorship to the maximum as part of your marketing strategy - and that is just what this post is all about. We are going to explore the sponsorship platform itself before understanding the very critical element of alignment in your sports marketing program. We are all about actionable insights here at SD, so our final section will be loaded with resources next steps for you to continue your journey with.
So many opportunities for your brand, why sponsorship?
Sponsorship is a full alternative to traditional media marketing and a platform where consumers are more receptive to hearing your message. The challenge is to engage the audience, be authentic and improve the experience as a fan. Whenever you can integrate your product/service into the game or the active performance, your message becomes much more believable to your target audience.
The platform that allows your brand to come to life, and engages with your audience where they already are naturally, offers the most potential for sales growth and perception changes - arguably the two most significant goals of any business in marketing as a whole. In sports, and especially motorsports, sponsorship is enthusiastically accepted and intrinsically linked to a team/driver’s ability to compete. Brands are seen as the source of opportunity and in turn given a whole host of unique access, assets, rights, and opportunities that can't be found on any other platform.
More than that, sponsors in motorsports have found real technical and R&D value by being part of the team. Notice how we said part of the team, not just a logo on the car. A great case study on this idea is the technical partnership between Mercedes AMG F1 and Qualcomm, where Qualcomm is using Mercedes' needs in racing competition to test newer WiFi technologies for consumers to use down the line.
The technology and its hardware first needs to be tested in extreme and unforgiving environments before it can be expected to endure years of use (and abuse) in consumers' cars. And what better place than the F1 arena, where there’s more data being downloaded in a few hours than most of us will need in a week.
In the B2B space, Qualcomm's prospective customers will be excited to see the work they are doing to ensure the absolute best products possible. All of this accomplished through sponsorship as part of their marketing strategy.
Contrast this idea with traditional media like digital ads or spots before YouTube videos. Much of this type of media is “interruptive” by nature. It is unnatural, forcing your potential customer to view your pitch while they'd rather be watching/listening to something else. You have officially earned the impression, but did you gain the goodwill of your potential customer or did you annoy her while she was trying to get something else done? Opposite to our Qualcomm example, your message will have been taken entirely out of context. Better to have complete control over your associations where you can.
The realities of budget constraint
At this point, all sounds fine and dandy to most brands. What's not to love, after all? It is here that most brands look at sponsorship and say "there is no way we can afford to be involved in professional sports."
Fair enough, since we are sure you have seen all of the major headlines of pricing and terms. That is what you have seen because it is the most shocking, and news outlets love to shock people. In our experience, most of those mega-deals have started small and only over time have they grown into such robust programs. How can these brands afford to be involved at such high investments? It's because the value they gain from their involvement exceeds the amount of money it costs to be involved. That is the positive ROI equation you have been searching for.
It is noteworthy that the positive ROI doesn't come automatically. It takes care and effort to grow and develop your program into something that generates significant value. When you are bringing on sponsorship as a part of your strategy, don't go all-in from the start. The beauty of this platform is that you are allowed (even encouraged by us) to allocate your budget to different tactics that add up to create the ultimate approach to accomplish your goals. Start small here, test and learn to see what has traction. When you feel the traction pick up, relocate toward the success. This approach drastically reduces your learning curve and offers you the ability to continually integrate your sponsorship work into your marketing strategy as a whole.
A critical element of success is alignment
Any marketing tactic that is not aligned with the rest of your brand initiatives and campaigns is not going to produce the results you need to thrive. Your employees will feel the misalignment, and it will stick out like a sore thumb to the audience you are eager to engage. This fact is even more apparent when it comes to sponsorship because it is more high-profile seeing your brand compete on the world’s biggest stages.
This is a topic always worthwhile to revisit since priorities change so frequently. According to a study by Sponsez, 75% of sponsors are continually looking for new partnerships that can more accurately line up to their goals. This is an interesting metric because we are not in favor of jumping around pulling off stunt after stunt to gain quick hits. Instead, we prefer building sustainable programs that can improve with each iteration. Testing and learning every step of the way and to ensure alignment to your objectives is at the forefront.
What a sponsorship ultimately gives you is a platform that you can refreshingly engage your audience, often becoming more genuine in the process. It's a mindset shift to think this way, but once you do, you will see that the platform grants you both digital and experiential marketing opportunities. There is arguably no better platform for experiential programs than through events and sponsorship.
77% of marketers use experiential marketing as a vital part of a brand’s advertising strategies.
There are traditional opportunities, like bringing your customers to the event you are sponsoring and hosting them leveraging hospitality. However, there are also more personalized and custom experiences that only sponsorship assets can grant you. Those are usually too secret to share in a blog post, but trust us that they exist and with spectacular success.
If you focus on creating these impactful and real experience for your stakeholders, the digital content will follow that will supplement the rest of your marketing strategy. Those who experience your brand will spread what it was like faster and more authentically than any one form of advertising. Our friends at Daytona International Speedway put together a fun visual showcase of what is out there to experience on race weekend, in person of course.
Your Next Steps
There are so many choices and paths that are ready to be made successful, where do you even begin when you have all of these other “day job” priorities to keep tabs with at work? The more specialized you get, the more likely you will need some help to capture maximum value. It turns out that 77% of businesses will outsource some part of sponsorship management to an agency. The expertise and consistency made available make it so much more expensive NOT to enlist their help.
The right partner agency for your brand will ultimately save you money and more importantly, time, to capture positive ROI. Going in alone can leave you exposed to things you would have no idea to look out for. Teams, tracks, and other properties live in this space day in and day out, so they know exactly what to do right when they meet you, even if that set of actions is not directly attributing to your success. The more you know before any conversations begin, the better position you will be in.
We will leave you with this resource that explores the best way to align your sponsorship program across all of your most important stakeholders. It is high-level so you can pick up a lot of insight in a short amount of time.