Sponsorship, once a symbol of corporate excess and indulgence, is resurgent as marketers find a new place for it within the marketing mix.
As sports fans will be all too aware, many leading companies and brands are pulling out of their sponsorship deals with major sporting events, high-profile teams and sports stars as they look to shore up their marketing budgets. Prominent sponsorship deals such as Honda’s Formula 1 racing team, Vodafone’s long relationship with the English Cricket Board and the Derby, and GM’s endorsement deal with Tiger Woods are just a few of the notable examples of the lucrative partnerships that have bitten the dust as embattled companies rein in their marketing spend.
The hundreds of column inches given over to these tales of woe has created the impression that the golden age of the sponsorship deal has been dealt a severe blow by the Credit Crunch. However, while many of these multi-million pound sponsorship deals are drying up, there is surging interest among marketers to find new sponsorship vehicles. This has seen the integration of brands that are not natural competitors, but nonetheless share the same target audience. Thomas Cook has just signed up to sponsor Kiss FM’s Saturday night ‘Kissalicious’ show, their very first media spend on their Club 18-30 brand in four years. The Co-operative is the new sponsor of the next instalment of the High School Musical franchise, their second deal with a Disney-owned series.
Why include sponsorship in the marketing mix?
Sponsorship is a powerful way to engage with consumers. At a time when people are constantly marketed to through an increasing number of channels, engagement is vital for marketers to get their message across to their target audiences. Sponsorship is a medium which can facilitate this by creating tangible ‘touchpoints’ for the consumer to come into contact with and interact with a brand. Entering into a sponsor partnership can give a brand access to a space outside the reach of regular marketing channels, as well as create unique touchpoint opportunities through which to build brand awareness.
Sponsoring a sporting spectacle, team or cultural event is also a way to foster within the target audience positive feelings towards a brand. Aligning a brand with something about which the target audience feels passionate can serve to create goodwill. It is an age old fact that people tend to favour others who like the same things as they do; this dynamic is no less true when it comes to forming a relationship between brand and audience.
This engagement between brand and audience is vital to engendering ‘receptivity’ in consumers, which is especially useful for a company trying to launch a new product or break into a new market. Even if a brand has been successfully established in one field, it can still find it difficult to penetrate a new market because of a lack of audience familiarity. Through sponsorship, the target audience can be ‘primed’ to be receptive to the brand, which means that they will be more likely to pay attention to specific marketing messages.
Finding the right sponsorship deal
Sponsorship is usually classed as an ‘above the line’ activity because of its mass engagement between a brand and a broad audience. However, while the essential marketing principles of sponsorship are common to every sponsorship deal, marketers are now unlocking its ability to deliver the benefits normally associated with ‘below the line’ marketing channels. Traditionally, the grand sponsorship deal was as much about the kudos of being seen to be a patron of prestigious sports and arts spectacles, as it was an exercise in engagement. Nowadays, finding the right sponsorship vehicle, as opposed to the most illustrious, is vital for measurability and demonstrating ROI.
Integrating sponsorship into the marketing mix means that the targeting strategy behind a sponsorship programme should be no different to that for any other form of direct marketing campaign. Outside of sport and entertainment, marketers are now turning their attention to sponsoring non-traditional vehicles that lack a broad public profile, but are nonetheless the right medium for reaching their exact target market. Recent sponsorship deals we have done for the Direct Marketing Association (UK) (DMA) with sponsors Royal Mail, ITV, Equifax, VisitScotland and other major brands, show how effective these partnerships can be.
For example, Equifax, a global leader in credit and business information, recently signed a deal to become the official data sponsor of the DMA to promote its ‘Heart of Data Intelligence’ campaign to the UK marketing industry. As many of the DMA’s 900 corporate members are prime users and suppliers of data, this was the exact market Equifax wanted to target. The sponsorship deal has enabled Equifax to engage with its target market through having a strong brand presence at the DMA’s 2009 and 2010 DMA Awards, regional and networking events, data-focused seminars, conferences and symposia, and the Young Spark Award organised by DMA Scotland. Equifax has integrated this sponsorship into its marketing campaign and reach potential customers in ways that are not possible through other channels.
As this partnership shows, sponsorship is a versatile marketing channel that is well suited to B2B brands, not just B2C brands. While sport and the arts may be the first sponsorship vehicles that come to mind, there are many more opportunities available for the marketer to consider. Sponsorship can actually work better for B2B brands than B2C as there is more flexibility to the relationship and the audience is highly targeted. If you have not yet thought about integrating sponsorship into your marketing mix, or felt it wasn’t useful to your type of business, take a look at your current market and what your competitors are doing – it may surprise you.