The Audience remains at the heart of the sponsorship proposition. However, it is no longer exposure, impressions generated or image transfer that drives and determines value. Rather—thanks to data—it is the ability to engage, involve and connect with fans that raises sports, events, entertainment, nonprofit, cultural, association and other partnerships above mere marketing.
This is not a recent change; at least not on one side of the fence. Data-led, digitally enabled personalization has been at the heart of many brand marketing initiatives since the turn of the century. More recently, as the technology cost of delivering personalization has been reduced, rightsholders in some areas of entertainment—cinema, for example—have begun to take the initiative in this space. Most others, however, are still playing catch-up.
Data-based personalization changes the conversation from which rightsholders can deliver the biggest numbers (reach, broadcast ratings, etc.) to which can deliver the deepest insights, share the most detailed information regarding actual online and real-world behavior, and drive the most actionable results.
In this way, data levels the playing field, making sponsorship about quality, not quantity. It changes the conversation from exposing sponsors to a large amount of people (which shouldn’t have been the idea anyway) to identifying, understanding and communicating one-on-one with a brand’s best targets.
One client we work with has illustrated this through an innovative partnership activation with its official airline. Using in-depth analysis and customer segmentation, the client was able to help the partner identify top prospects for transatlantic flights, one of the partner’s key growth objectives.
Instead of blanket targeting using one message to the client’s audience introducing a new partner, the client was able to build multi-channel campaigns to build brand awareness among the general fan base, while specifically targeting the top prospects for a series of upcoming exclusive events. Throughout the campaign, the client helped the partner track and measure progress – not just in media exposure, but in customer awareness and, critically, acquisition.
While successful sponsors of the past achieved positive return through creative and relevant activations, the above example shows how data takes things to a new level, allowing for:
- Better determination of fit between a brand’s target and the rightsholder’s audience.
- Targeted consumer intelligence to ensure relevancy of activation programs and communications.
Significantly higher ability to measure return on objectives/investment effectively.
- Rightsholders must recognize that changes to the media landscape have changed the game for sponsorship. As marketing budgets have had to work harder, sponsorship has come under increasing scrutiny. Leading rightsholders are therefore investing in the technology and expertise required to show brands that their properties are worth more than their rivals—be they other sponsorships or more “traditional” media buys.
What Brands Are Looking For
Among the new set of questions asked by brands exploring sponsorship opportunities are: “Is the potential partner a data-driven organization with good information that is connected and accessible?” and “Is it willing and able to analyze and share data insights to help us maximize the value of this investment?”
Putting any opportunity (or current partnership) to that test is an effective first screen for filtering out properties not ready to meet sponsors’ requirements for next-generation partnerships that deliver results. For a start, brands are digging below the surface of the usual numbers presented by rightsholders. Many properties tout fan numbers—running into hundreds of millions for global opportunities—that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Likewise, a database of 30 million people is useless if none of these people are engaged with the rightsholder’s communications.
Forward-thinking brands are able to ascertain a property’s ability not only to hold a large number of strong direct customer relationships, but deliver value through those relationships. First and foremost, brands are looking to gauge how well a potential partner understands its own audience: what insight and profiling capability it has, and how this information informs its approach to activation. If the rightsholder cannot overlay a brand’s customer segmentation rules onto its own customer database, the brand will question the property’s capability in this space.
Rightsholders able to organize and connect data can go far beyond telling you they average one million television viewers per match, have 20 million Twitter followers, three million website visitors per month and 19,000 members. They can tell you who each of those people are in terms of what they do, where they live, what they buy, and more.
Second, brands need to be confident of the property’s ability to act on the data it holds. This means having a marketing and communications strategy in place that is fully integrated with their sponsorship activation plans. All too often rightsholders see activation as an afterthought and an obligation, rather than an opportunity to provide truly addictive experiences for fans.
Until now, it was enough for a property to say to a potential auto sponsor: “Our research shows that 14 percent of our fans own your make of car and 35 percent of our audience will be in the market for a new vehicle in the next 18 months.” Using current data analysis tools, rightsholders can say—and sponsors should expect to hear—“We can individually identify which of our customers are in the market for a new car, their current vehicle’s make and model, and their proximity to a dealer, in addition to knowing the activation platforms that will be most effective at getting them to visit a dealership for a test drive.”
A leading-edge rightsholder should be able to offer this level of capability to brand owners throughout the relationship cycle. This requires them to blend a volume of direct customer relationships—balanced with technical capability, analytic skill and customer empathy—to engage on the brand’s behalf with the right message to the right customer through the right channel at the right time. And, of course, evaluate the impact of doing so.
Properties primed to be good partners should ask what a prospective sponsor’s specific customer segments are, and will be able—using data—to map their audience against those segments to demonstrate where they reach the same group or groups.
Building on that knowledge, they can be proactive in helping to develop a bespoke activation strategy, including segmented activation campaigns to reach marketable individuals in their sphere of influence, be they current brand purchasers, prospects or lapsed customers. Recently, we worked with a rightsholder and its core automotive partner to specifically target customers of competing car brands for test drives at the rightsholder’s events. One-hundred percent of test-drive places were filled with high-value customers from rival brands.
Rightsholders with a firm grasp on their data should be willing participants in helping their brand partners measure return on objectives and return on investment. This is currently a service that is severely lacking in sponsorship. According to IEG’s most recent survey of sponsor decision-makers, assistance measuring ROO and ROI was the most desired property-provided service, ranked as a 9 or 10 in importance on a 10-point scale by 42 percent of sponsors. However, when asked whether rightsholders met their expectations in helping with measurement, 73 percent of sponsors said they did not.
The data-driven rightsholder clients we are privileged to work with commit to their partners that regardless of the client channel a customer engages with, they will track customer conversion and demonstrate a tangible return. Rightsholders should be bringing evidence of having driven ROI for previous partners to the table as part of any initial conversations. This is about more than media value or an estimation of its equivalent. In the auto sponsor example above, the rightsholder was able to quantify the hard value of a test drive to the sponsor.
What the Future Has in Store
We are working with a handful of forward-thinking rights holders that are taking the next steps in data-enabled sponsorship marketing. These entities have seized on the big idea that their exclusive customer information can allow them to offer unparalleled digital marketing solutions to brands.
For the majority of rightsholders, sponsorship predominantly has been an asset play—brands could buy the real estate on the front of a jersey, name a stage, or receive a display area—centered on a drive for exposure. But brands have always been interested in the audience, not just the asset.
For the first time, leading rights holders are in a position to put the brand in contact with exactly the right audience to be able to achieve its objectives—as well as able to activate across first-party and third-party channels using a variety of digital media inventory.
This represents a seismic shift in the sponsorship conversation. Instead of nitpicking over an off-the-shelf package of rights, brands and organizations proposing sponsorship opportunities can have a productive discussion about target markets, demographics, preferred channels and desired outcomes. Which audience segment is the brand trying to reach? How does this segment engage with the property, and on what channels? How frequently should these customers be targeted across first- and third-party inventory? What specific actions should be tracked? And how can the partnership be tracked, measured and improved throughout the contract term?
Brands expect this level of transparency and continuous improvement from all of their media buys—and the same should be true of sponsorship. With the right strategy and technology in place, leading rightsholders are now able to deliver what brands are looking for—and it’s no longer a question of biggest automatically being best.