A version this article originally appeared 11/19/18 in Adweek.
Managing a holistic marketing budget is all about making trade-offs across channels. Of all the marketing tools in your arsenal, are sponsorships the right way to spend your limited budget?
Maybe. Brands spent over $62 billion globally on sponsorships in 2017, a number that is projected to keep growing. Sponsorships can be an effective way to get your message in front of key audiences, but they can also be a colossal waste of money if they are not well planned and executed.
Here are the five key criteria to consider when evaluating sponsorship opportunities. Some may be more important than others depending upon your business, but all should be factored into your evaluation.
Is this a custom program … or a logo slap? Ideally, any sponsorship should have the ability for you to communicate a unique message of your brand — not just remind people you exist by flashing your logo about. One way to evaluate this is through your competition. If the proposed execution highlighting the Chevy Bowtie can as easily be replaced by the Dodge Ram Head—or worse, the Geico Gecko—you may be paying for expensive eyeball exposure.
Always push for a more customized activations and brand integration, not only signage. Allstate’s Good Hands Field Goal Net was a great way to tie their core tagline into their NCAAF sponsorship. And if you are the new 2019 Silverado pickup touting the biggest bed in the business, demonstrate what that means: roll out a Silverado overflowing with toys during halftime of the Thanksgiving game and give all the toys away to local disadvantaged kids.
Key lesson: Always push for creative ways to use the sponsorship to tell and activate your brand message.
Is this a sponsorship a perfect fit for your target audience … or just an audience? I have vague memories of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom as a child and host Marlin Perkins’ attempts to tie something about wildlife to insurance (e.g., “Just as the mother hippo will protect her calves, an insurance policy from Mutual of Omaha…”). It was a stretch, but for the enormous family audience watching that show (in the era of three channels), this was a great sponsorship.
In today’s fragmented media world of ever-shrinking audiences, more specific content sponsorship is a better investment (e.g., home insurance sponsoring The Property Brothers, AmEx’s or Deluxe’s small business initiatives enhancing Shark Tank, etc.).
Key lesson: Always seek out sponsorships with as much natural synergy with your brand as possible.
Will this potentially delight a handful … or just be noticed by many? Sponsoring the scoreboard at the local little league field might be a great way to connect with parents from both teams who can show their appreciation through their patronage on the way home. On the other hand, getting your brand logo behind the catcher during the World Series will be seen by tens of millions and can be quite effective in keeping your brand top-of-mind. The first might be perfect for the local pizzeria while the second is great for a national retail chain like Target.
In truth, analysis would probably show the little league option to be the more efficient play for both brands, but companies with the scale of Target probably don’t have the field force to track down every local baseball diamond. They are still better off playing in the big leagues.
Key lesson: Evaluate the impressions of every sponsorship versus the cost, but don’t lose sight of the additional expenses of trying to scale smaller opportunities.
Will this create awareness of your brand … or drive short-term sales? Although traditionally seen as an upper-funnel play, sponsorships are also quite capable of both shaping brand opinion and driving immediate transactions.
A sponsorship of the underfunded local high school debate team by the local Staples or Barnes & Noble, for example, can improve the overall impression of the national brand in that community.
And revisiting A Tale of Two Stadiums above, in either case, a contextually-relevant, immediate call to action can be far more impactful than a logo (e.g., the local pizzeria offering unlimited $4.99 large cheese pizzas for the winning team, Target promoting unique MLB memorabilia exclusively at target.com during the World Series, etc.).
Key lesson: Your sponsorship can achieve anything from brand-building to sales. Be clear on what you are trying to accomplish, and design the sponsorship accordingly.
Will you track the sponsorship’s effectiveness … or is it a “spray and pray”? Everything can be measured in this day and age, and you don’t need massive samples to get a pretty clear read on whether the program is doing what you set out to accomplish. The key is defining both what you intend to gain from the sponsorship and a plan to measure it at the program’s inception.
For example, if you have a stadium sponsorship and are trying to shift brand perception, survey the fans before, during and after the season and see if you are moving the needle. If you want to drive short-term internet sales, set up a mobile offer restricted to a geo-located area (e.g., people in the stadium). Or, alternatively, open it up and measure how influential the fans are in taking the message that only they can see and spreading it outside of the stadium walls.
Key lesson: Always set up your communications objectives and a measurement plan before you commit to anything.
Sponsorships can be a great channel to achieve your business objectives. Take the time up front to ensure the opportunity is as integrated, relevant, scalable, measurable and capable of delivering the intended response that you need it to be.
For more thoughts on the “real” role of marketing, check out All Marketing is Sales: 5 Things All Marketers Must Remember.
Alex Hultgren is Chief Marketing Officer of Quantum Storey, the world’s first Virtual Reality Book company. Once decreed as “the King of Marketing” by a well-meaning colleague who — in spite of being British — apparently had no real authority to bestow such titles, Alex is nonetheless an internationally recognized digital & social expert, valued consultant, sought-after speaker and author. Follow him at http://www.linkedin/in/alexhultgren.