So many elements go into a well-run and well-considered marketing strategy. We have been experiencing a massive shift with marketers moving their budget and resources toward digital resources - putting millions of dollars behind search campaigns, YouTube advertising, 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 (even when needing to run them virtually) are critical to their company's success. Live events are a broad topic and platform in their own right. It could be proprietary events, sponsored presentations, webinars, or even smaller lunch & learn type concepts.
This post is part of Foundations - a series of always-updated content to bookmark to guide your journey through sports marketing and sponsorship.
Setting the stage
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, where vanity metrics such as impressions and views are no longer doing the trick to justify sponsorships' high-profile expenditure and nature. We are all for that; 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 beautiful things.
Developing these rich business programs out of a handful of seemingly random assets is where real ROI can 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 B2B events account for upwards of $500 billion in annual investment. Like any other campaign or medium for your brand, sponsoring something blindly without a plan is a dangerous and expensive path.
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 will explore the sponsorship platform before understanding the 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 to continue your journey.
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. 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, giving 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. The technical partnership between Red Bull Racing and Citrix is an excellent case study on this idea. Citrix uses Red Bull's needs in racing competition to test newest technologies for consumers to use down the line.
Data is the primary source for any engineer in Formula 1. And we aim to extract more performance from a given amount of data in the shortest time possible. Citrix enables us to get that data faster, to be able to process it faster, and lead to lap time improvements which ultimately lead to better results on track and better performance for the team”
-Ben Waterhouse, Head of Performance Engineering
In B2B, Citrix's prospective customers will be excited to see their work in action to ensure the best products possible. All of this is 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 Citrix example, your message will be entirely out of context. Better to have complete control over your associations where you can.
The realities of a constrained marketing budget
At this point, all sounds fine and dandy to most brands. What's not to love, after all? Here, 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. You have seen that 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 with 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 bring 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 create the ultimate approach to accomplishing your goals.
Start small here, test and learn to see what has traction. When you feel the traction pick up, relocate toward success. This approach drastically reduces your learning curve and allows you to continuously integrate your sponsorship work into your marketing strategy.
Alignment is the critical element to success
Any marketing tactic not aligned with your brand initiatives and campaigns will not 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 regarding 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 with their goals. This is an interesting metric because we do not jump 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 ensuring alignment to your objectives is at the forefront.
A sponsorship ultimately gives you a platform to engage your audience, often becoming more genuine. It's a mindset shift to think this way but 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 experiences for your stakeholders, the digital content will follow that will supplement your marketing strategy. Those who experience your brand will spread what it was like faster and more authentically than any one form of advertising.
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 help capturing 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 expose you to things you would not know to look out for. Teams, tracks, and other properties live in this space day in and day out. They know exactly what to do right when they meet you, even if that set of actions is not directly attributed 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 exploring the best way to align your sponsorship program across all your most important stakeholders. It is high-level so you can pick up significant insight in a short amount of time.
Updated for added value