—By Lynsey Holbrook
Probably the biggest mistake any of us has ever made when approaching a sponsorship opportunity is thinking like a sponsor.
Relax. I’m not calling for a literal end to sponsorship, or erasure of that word from our vocabularies. I’m saying: the people have spoken, and they don’t necessarily want what sponsorship provides.
Momentum Worldwide recently conducted one of the largest global surveys on sponsorship, revealing almost a quarter of fans felt that sponsoring an event or sport made no difference to their overall view of a brand, while an overwhelming 60 percent agreed they had never changed their mind as a result of brand sponsorship.
This is telling—when assessing the current value of sponsorships, from FMCG to technology. The big question should be: If that brand wasn’t involved, what difference would it make?
You could argue that true, legitimate sponsors are integral to that sport or event—without them it simply wouldn’t take place. But perhaps the only sponsors who’ve ever met success in their investment are those who transcended the idea of sponsorship altogether, aiming for and achieving the goal of sports experience creation.
Think of how much sense this makes from your audience’s perspective. A sponsor might expect their audience to leave saying, “I’m pretty sure Brand X was the sponsor. Their logo was all over the field.” A sports experience brand leaves the audience saying, “Wow! I can’t believe I got to experience that! It was totally unexpected.” And they know it could have only ever come from your brand.
If your approach to sponsorship is to evolve with the changing consumer, you need to remember you are targeting real people with the experience you create. Real people rarely adhere to the rigid confines of “types” and they certainly don’t think of themselves as consumers. What fans want from a modern-day brand is to be given content, insight and access to their team that they otherwise would not have.
Here are the four most immediate steps to stop acting like a damn sponsor:
Challenge convention. This is not a polite suggestion of innovation. Develop a systematic means by which to question and assess every fundamental element of how you’ve approached sponsorship. Keep what works. Trash what doesn’t. Build what will. Do you remain frustrated by the commoditized approach taken by rights holders the world over, confronted by rigid, boilerplate deal structures with no flexibility between tiers, mandatory inclusion of irrelevant rights and/or—worst of all—an expectation you compromise how your brand is expressed? Fix it. The term “Rights Holder” itself implies that all the power sits on one side of the equation when it comes to deal making—a point we fundamentally challenge when building genuine partnerships. Challenge everything.
Evaluate for the CFO as much as the CMO. A brand experience should trigger positive action from fans. Shortcutting the shopper journey and those aligned to sponsorship programs should be no different. Redefine your expectations of business impact, then build to meet those expectations.
Respect relevance. We believe great partnerships should just make sense. And in our research, we saw that some offenses: 51% of respondents, for example, didn't become a fan of a brand because “The brand did not make the connection to me for why I should become a fan.” But total brand experience entails that any sponsorship should inherently reflect the brand. Whether engaging a consumer or business audience, we shouldn’t expect them to have to make a significant mental leap to understand the relevance of the association. They’re your audience. Simply tell the story they need to hear and tell it well.
Co-create with fans to guarantee authenticity. Also from our study, 31% did not become a fan of a brand because, “I need to have more interaction with the brand before I would call myself their ‘fan.’” In other words: People today have highly refined nonsense filters. They’re a strategic generation that understands the rules of marketing and applies them to their own identities. Social media channels have become individual broadcast channels, where stories are told that best reflect how these modern narrators wish to be seen. The brand experiences they have are part of their own stories, and that represents both an opportunity and a challenge for brands. Marketers must be authentic in everything they do and say to connect with this new consumer. That authenticity must sing in the experience you create—accept only those partnerships that empower it.
Sponsorships provide a golden opportunity for firms to leverage their own brand against a complementary name. However, this is not a risk-free strategy for global brand recognition. Never feel pressured to pander to the homogenized activation demanded of rights holders; it will not only compromise your most valuable asset, but your intended audience will see straight through it. Never check the boxes and think you’ve done your job right. Never settle for anything less than brand experience creation—rooted in sponsorship, but made excellent in what you did to go above and beyond.
The bar is raised—not by us, but by the fans we’re connecting with. Rise to it, and have fun.
Lynsey Holbrook is Sponsorship Director at Momentum Worldwide.