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Sponsorship POV: it’s time to expect more from your sponsorships

April 21st 2016

Q: Why did Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie get married? Or Kanye West and Kim Kardashian?

You’re probably asking yourself if you’re reading the right article at this point. What does Brangelina have to do with sponsorships? The answer: more than you’d think. This is the first of three articles in our sponsorship series that will address pivotal challenges restricting today’s sponsorship investments.

Today’s marketing leaders are feeling the pressure to base marketing investment decisions on performance measurement and the impact of investments. They’re asking the hard questions so they can make the best decisions for their brands. Yet, sponsorships have managed to avoid this scrutiny for longer than alternative marketing investments. Why? The measurement of sponsorship investment contributions has been a highly elusive and perplexing activity. It has flown under the radar for far too long. This is where our pop-culture icons come in. They’re a prime illustration of how the answer has been under our noses the whole time.

As well-known symbols of pop culture, Brad, Angelina, Kanye and Kim (and many others) each represent their own individual brand. They are the brand. And they are powerful icons on their own. So why did they get married? Apart from love, you could argue that each of them saw benefits in joining forces with the other – legality benefits, financial benefits, reputation, fame, connections, convenience … whatever their priorities may have been, there were benefits that fit them. By combining their individual brands, they collectively became even more influential. Now we hear terms like “Brangelina” commonly referencing their combined entity, a pairing of two well-defined, but tightly aligned individuals. It’s simple. Their brands are more impactful together than they are apart. They’ve got it figured out.

Meanwhile, everyone from sports apparel brands to insurance companies to state lotteries have been attempting to determine the value of a sponsorship, with little success. Why is the value of a sponsorship so hard to pin down?

The problem stems from a set of expectations that have failed to evolve with the landscape. Back when a few large brands dictated the market, sponsorships were a surefire way to reach and engage with a large audience. The simple association of a brand’s logo and a sporting event did wonders for a brand’s bottom line with minimal effort. The consolidated market meant that consumers didn’t have many options anyway. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Sponsorships served as a high-reach media tactic earning brands the widespread awareness they craved. In return, consumers readily accepted the simple association as a means of defining and characterizing a brand. Sponsorships not only offered viewership value, but they also happened to relate with their audience (and then some).

The world has changed. Consumers have options now – both in the brands they choose to purchase, and also in the media with which they interact. Consumers are quick to identify incongruences and inauthentic connections, and they have the world at their fingertips to use as their own audience. That surefire sponsorship is no longer the guaranteed eyeballs or influence it once was.

If you’re searching for a true picture of sponsorship success or impact, what you’ll find instead is a fatal flaw in the expectations assumed of sponsorships. Today’s brands are programmed for the sponsorship expectations of yesteryear. They’re still engaging in transactional exchanges of funds for viewership. They still assume that their mere presence and association will continue to relate with their audience. And sponsorship recipients have been trained to expect that kind of exchange. Brands are failing to consider the sponsorship’s role in their marketing plan or determine distinct objectives to guide expectations. What’s more, brands are failing to ask themselves the fundamental question of why they should get married in the first place.

Why should you ever pursue a relationship with another entity?

A: Because you’re better together than apart.

That’s it. It’s true of all kinds of relationships. Why let it fall short for a sponsorship? Why not expect more?

This simple shift in perspective, and corresponding expectations, can mean the difference between demonstrating a measurable impact and having to defend an ambiguous question.

1. That shift starts by determining what role sponsorships will take within your marketing plan. What objectives are you trying to achieve?

This step is often overlooked by brands facing a sponsorship decision and is a large contributor to the silence that abounds when asked, “What is the value of a sponsorship?” If you don’t set these objectives as your foundation, it’s easy to fall into sponsorships that seem great on the surface, but don’t actually show a contribution to your brand or business. The goal here is to eliminate sponsorship options that don’t fit your marketing direction.

2. Once you’ve determined the role sponsorships will play in your marketing plan and the objectives they’ll be expected to address, it’s time to consider which sponsorships can achieve those objectives best. Ask yourself if the collaborative relationship results in the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. 

This will vary by brand, based on the objectives they identify. It often helps to identify key indicators of success for that objective, as well as any other critical considerations for evaluation. A systematic approach here can often limit subjectivity. (More on this in Article 3 of this sponsorship series.)

If the answer to the above question is yes (with correlated results) that’s a good start. If the answer is no, you’re not getting the value you should be from your sponsorships and it’s time to consider more effective options.

3. Determine why it produces those results. 

To help answer this, let’s look at the definition of a sponsor. One dictionary defines a sponsor as “a person or organization that provides funds for a project or activity carried out by another, in particular.” Using this definition, the potential sponsorship opportunity becomes a transaction; an exchange of funds for viewership and activation, not unlike a media buy. In this circumstance, asking why goes like this:

Are you better together because the collaboration (or exchange of funds for viewership and activation) is more efficient than alternative media approaches in accomplishing your objectives? 

If so, this lends itself to a sponsorship in the traditional sense of the word. The sponsorship becomes a channel for media distribution and should be evaluated in the same respect as other recommendations within your marketing plan.

But if you look at the definition of a partner, the dictionary defines it as “a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or company with shared risks and profits.” In this context, the potential partnership opportunity tends to take on a deeper relevance because both brands are vested in the outcome. Like Brangelina, they take more interest in the fit and appropriateness of the collective relationship. Thus, the question of why becomes:

Are you better together because of a true alignment that allows you to demonstrate and reinforce both brands' character and purpose? Does it offer the opportunity to relate to your audiences with greater emotional impact together than either brand could accomplish individually?

If so, this lends itself to a partnership involving audience activation. It requires more intense collaboration, clear communication of expected contributions, and results between partners. It also tends to result in measurable audience indicators of value and impact.

Now, if the power of collaboration ceases to be applicable, go back to step 1 and re-evaluate your available options. Rinse and repeat as you would when evaluating any other precious investment. As you evaluate the value of a sponsorship, take this moment to shift your perspective slightly and ask the right questions. Your bottom line will thank you for expecting more of your sponsorships.

The next article in this sponsorship series will dive a little deeper into the sponsorship evaluation process with six principles for an effective sponsorship strategy. Or, if you don’t want to wait for the next eNewsletter, please don’t hesitate to engage us in a conversation by email or by calling King Hill at 216-285-2849