Sponsorship Selection: A brand's Perspective
- September 14, 2023
- Neal Covant
Almost gone are the days where we blindly invest in a sponsorship because of a personal preference.
Our understanding of the role and purpose of sponsorship has evolved. We no longer manage our sponsorships in isolation of brand building initiatives. It’s been proven time and time again that that when integrated into our overarching strategy, sponsorship can super-charge achieving our brand objectives.
The pressure to deliver and prove return on investment is a magnitude of what it once was. The current economic and marketplace realities of higher costs and uncertainty have also reduced our margin of error to a sliver of what it once was. We are significantly more accountable for the decisions we make and the outcomes they produce.
To effectively navigate the new era of sponsorship marketing, there are four questions that need to be answered - with insight and intuition. They each revolve around understanding fans and consumers.
What sponsorships should I be considering, or reconsidering to reach my target?
What should I invest against each sponsorship overall and by asset to ensure I get noticed?
How do I position the sponsorship and activate it to connect with my target?
Is my sponsorship working and paying back?
So, let’s start at the first stop on the decision-making journey: selection.
We are judged by the company we keep.
Here are a few tips to ensure that we discover and select the right brand to partner and grow with – because at the end of the day, properties are brands.
Breadth and Depth
Sizing the overall opportunity is the most common starting point for sponsorship decision makers. And we often start, and sometimes stop, at sport. The answers we get can be fairly intuitive:
That said, when we broaden our horizons, things get interesting:
And when we then look beyond size and put a magnifying glass onto the deepened connections of intensity, passion or excitement all of which are drivers of impact – we find opportunities that can deliver on our objectives. These opportunities also often come at a reduced investment):
Know what to look for but be open to what to look at.
Today and Tomorrow
It may not have come as a surprise that in the US, the NFL is a juggernaut. That said, bigger isn’t always best. We’ve seen success from brands investing in partnerships with smaller reaching properties that are surging with consumers. These are often referred to as, ‘unicorns’. Quick reminder…there is no such thing. All properties build from the ground up. The NBA was formed in 1949 and took off in the 80’s – quick math, that’s 30+ years later.
The data is at our fingertips to find these opportunities, and there are many indicators – attendance, viewership, social presence, and consumer insight. It’s on us to look. Here are a few properties that have seen significant momentum in overall opportunity (i.e. SponsorPulse Opportunity Score) with consumers since 2019:
It’s not always about ‘who’s winning’. It’s about ‘who do I want to win with’.
Quantity and Quality
Opportunities are not created equal. Categories and brands within categories are unique.
Up till now, we've provided broad strokes for property health among the general population. But the opportunity often changes when we have a closer look under the hood and uncover the connection the property has with our core target(s).
Let’s use the carbonated soft drink category in the US as an example and assume that this company is looking to develop a causal campaign that is rooted in consumer passion. If they were to rank 100+ causal organizations and territories based on general population passion, they would be directed toward a different top-five list than if they changed the audience to their category purchasers – i.e. soft drinks. Some would be the same, but many new and more relevant opportunities would surface.
Just like that, a list of 100+ considerations become a handful of business driving prioritizations. Now we can prioritize our resources, time, and money, on diving deeper into the best potential opportunities. For example, this soft drink company may have a unified brand objective of connecting with, (1) younger consumers and (2) Black/African Americans. Let’s also assume they are considering the first and fifth ranked causal properties with CSD purchasers:
Just like that, a handful of business driving prioritizations becomes a single focus.
Surface level insights will get you surface level results. Exploration of your target’s passion points is a critical foundation for success.
Retention and Aquisition
Now it's time to 'ring the cash register' and enter 'impact' into the selection discussion. Finding properties that align with our brand values and target consumer is necessary, but not sufficient. They need to be able to drive purchase as well!
Given that we're now talking dollars and cents, it seems fitting to switch our example to the banking category. Specifically, let's assume that our brand is Bank of America. We have a mandate to defend our position in Florida and grow the brand in Illinois. We have done our homework and have uncovered that sponsorship of a sports team will be a key ingredient for satisfying both objectives. Now what?
Let’s start with acquisition in Chicago. We need to uncover where our competitors’ customers, US Bank, are and determine how strong the potential to impact them is. We quickly see that the Chicago Bears present the best opportunity but know that the partnership is outside of our price-range. We also know that the Blackhawks and Bulls are locked up with long-term category exclusive deals. That’s okay! We have two solid options that deliver the same number of US Bank customers with the same, and strong, impact potential:
Time to uncover our retention strategy in Florida. We use the same lens but change the brand user to our own, Bank of America customers. This is getting interesting! Yes, the NFL teams demonstrate the strongest reach, but they are not most impactful among our customers that they are reaching. This claim goes to the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers.
To achieve our objectives, we need to prioritize the connections that can get us there.
At this point you’re likely intrigued but are also asking, “but what about…”
Category sponsors that are locked into long-term exclusivity?
Fit between brand characteristics and values?
How easy or difficult the property is to work with?
On field/ice/court performance?
Investment requirements and budget?
You’d be right to be considering these variables in your selection criteria. They are critical and are part of our qualification system.
We spoke to the above selection criteria in isolation to spotlight the components of selection. But as we know, it's the synergy that shapes the decision. For example, we highlighted the White Sox and Cubs in our example for a Bank of America acquisition strategy because they are sizeable and impactful with US Bank customers. What we didn't mention is that of all the properties listed, Chicago Fire has seen the most growth over the past 3-years, +18% in engagement (2019 = 32%, 2022 = 50%).
Having the right data/inputs is only the means to the end. Having an effective system for leveraging the data in a way that is applicable to your brand objectives and is where value is unlocked. And that's exactly how we work with our partners on developing the right sponsorship portfolio. One system, standardized for the critical inputs, customized to your objectives.