Why sponsorship as your marketing strategy?
As we wrote in our post Great Sponsorship Strategy in 8 Steps, the first step towards great sponsorship is to define your strategic challenge. But this exercise in itself links to a fundamental question: why sponsorship as your marketing strategy?
To ask this question is perhaps a discriminator for our approach. We used to proudly introduce ourselves with the fact that we’ve taken as many companies out of as into sponsorship – because we’re not selling sponsorship, we’re applying it. We’ve stopped saying that now as it sounds a bit miserable but the truth is, in some cases, and for some organisations, sponsorship is simply not the answer.
At heart, sponsorship’s a model for integrated marketing communications, and as such its strengths and weaknesses need to be measured against the strategic challenge, the business need, to determine if it’s the best tool for the job. While the integrated nature of marketing is nowadays a given, there are many models. An integrated marketing campaign led by advertising looks very different from a campaign led by social media. Or sponsorship.
So when is sponsorship the clear choice as your marketing strategy?
It’s a difficult question to answer, because there are so many variables at play in building and executing a marketing campaign. But there are a number of intrinsics of sponsorship which make it unlike any other approach and which can help to establish fitness for purpose.
It’s unlikely that any of these will surprise you – but each of these intrinsic qualities has quite far-reaching implications. This isn’t about sponsorship strategy per se, but without a clear grasp of these, it’s impossible to use sponsorship to best advantage.
Firstly, and above all else, sponsorship is emotional. All marketing communications work with emotion but sponsorship has emotional connection at its heart. It has the potential to layer the identity of a brand into the emotions of consumers – and create experiences – physical, digital and virtual – which build direct emotional connection with brands.
Secondly, it plays out in real life rather than in 2D. This for one takes brands into people’s real lives, the areas they care about rather than the small area most brands occupy; but of equal importance, it allows brands to bring their promise properly to life, because the commitment a business shows is more real and therefore more credible. It allows them to demonstrate their values in a context which really matters.
Thirdly, it’s personal. Sponsorship allows brands to meet consumers in areas of their lives that are personal to them but more importantly it helps brands to relate to people as people, not just as consumers. Or to put all of this more succinctly, exceptional levels of reach and relevance.
And finally, it’s liberating. Removed from product and sales communications, sponsorship allows brands to express more human emotions – such as enthusiasm, humour, empathy. It allows them to escape the mundane reality of product communication and gives them a broad emotional palette which most brands deny themselves in the daily course of business.
All of these elements of course exist in all other marketing modalities – just not so intensely as in sponsorship. And the combination of all four is what makes sponsorship so potentially powerful.
So when's sponsorship the go-to strategy?
To answer that, let’s go quickly back to our definition.
Sponsorship is a model for integrated marketing communications which:
- deploys the organisational assets of two or more partners
- offers brands the opportunity to model their promise and values in areas of social and/or emotional relevance
- has as its primary focus the deepening of relationships with consumers
The main axis on which sponsorship operates is between points two and three, brand and audience. Here’s a favourite graphic of ours, which shows the axis and the areas of commercial value that can be driven from it. Sponsorship is all about changing audience attitudes to brand for the benefit of the business.
Now although changing brand perception is a complex business, and requires a fine understanding of how to dial up and down the different levers of brand, it’s also relatively simple. A brand campaign for a business is a significant exercise, but has a few moving parts and lacks the operational complexity of an integrated product sales campaign. It doesn’t need to coordinate retailers, product distribution, sales offers and messaging. It just needs to communicate and, ideally, engage.
For this reason, sponsorships which target sales are generally less predictable in their outcome. For the same reason, it’s easier to anticipate a positive outcome for sponsorships which have as their main objective changes in brand perception – and this really is sponsorship’s sweet spot as a marketing strategy.
Major product launches are an obvious candidate.
Launches can benefit from the additional stature and profile, the opportunities to showcase and – critically – the extended and repeated exposure that sponsorship offers. Successful launches depend not just on high visibility but an ecosystem of extended touchpoints and repeated opportunities to view and engage with the product.
The instinct for brands such as Cazoo and Just Eat to go big with sponsorship is spot on.
In combining visibility, ecosystem and repeated opportunities to view, sponsorship offers an almost unbeatable platform for a brand. Of course the onus is on the brand to ensure product offer and distribution are nailed down so sponsorship can do more than broadcast. Taking Just Eat as a positive example, from the credible account of Ben Carter in Unofficial Partner episode 110, its sponsorship of Euro 2020 was hugely successful at building awareness, driving trial and ultimately driving real-time sales pre and post-match and at half-time.
Accelerating awareness and connection is probably the single most sustainable use of sponsorship – and Just Eat follows a long line of brands including electronics, gaming and now cryptocurrency brands who’ve used large scale sponsorship to accelerate brand awareness and trial.
Closely connected, but separate, is the goal of driving international market penetration. Sponsorship’s ability to connect and align with the interests of audiences around the world makes brands feel less alien. Samsung of course blazed this trail and Huawei, for example, despite never having done a good job of communicating its brand, made itself a household name and presumably reduced the fear factor for buyers through its sponsorship of Arsenal, PSG, Ajax, Atletico Madrid and many more European clubs. Vodafone famously claimed its sponsorship of Manchester United and Ferrari meant it already had over 50% awareness in some markets pre-launch.
Humanising the brand is rarely a business requirement per se – it’s usually wrapped up in a brand or sales funnel need. Because the word humanising here simply bundles a number of brand attributes such as familiarity, warmth, responsiveness. So humanising the brand is not a discrete business need – but it’s another real strength of sponsorship.
There are countless examples of sponsorship achieving other objectives – but as a quick rule of thumb, if your strategic challenge is targeting rapid change in brand perception, look to sponsorship as your marketing strategy of preference.