For decades, partnering with the most successful sports teams and hiring the latest superstar athlete has allowed brands to connect with their consumers on a figurative field that is both near and dear to their hearts.
According to sponsorship consultant IEG, North American sports sponsorship spending reached $14.35 billion in 2014, and industry experts predict sports-related spending will take up as much as 70% of the overall sponsorship market in 2015. But numbers like these also beg the question: Have sports sponsorships become so saturated that they’ve lost their relevance to consumers?
The answer is yes if all you’re doing is paying for your company’s logo to appear on a jumbotron. More than 80% of consumers say they are more likely to consider a brand that offers them a great experience, and nearly 60% are willing to pay extra for that connection. Today’s savvy sports marketers understand that this connection to the consumer–the experience, the memory–is far more vital to driving ROI than awareness alone.
So how can you deliver a truly memorable experience that creates a connection and spurs activation? For starters, smart companies are taking a page from the likes of Red Bull and GoPro, two brands that have mastered this art. But even traditionally conservative companies–including (gasp!) banks–can leverage sponsorships to drive more measurable impact.
Where do you begin? First, know what you want to achieve. For years, my company, Associated Bank, a leading Midwest bank, has enjoyed promotional partnerships with the Green Bay Packers and its revered quarterback, Aaron Rogers. But last season we wanted to shake things up with the goal of fueling new customer acquisitions, deepening existing customer relationships, and raising the favorability–not just awareness–of our brand. We learned a lot along the way.
1. Make fans part of the game: While most of us left our athletic careers behind in high school, that doesn’t mean our deeply personal passion for sports has gone away, too. Marketers who understand this are using technology to connect fans to the game in ways that inspire. Virtual reality technology is one way to immerse fans in a branded experience, transporting them into simulated game situations that are not only fun, but also reignite a connection to that long-held passion.
2. Create a digital narrative that gets people talking: Whether they’re checking in, sharing selfies or critiquing the ref’s botched call, today’s fans monitor their social networks during the game almost as closely as they watch the plays on the field. So why not take advantage of this by giving consumers a unique social currency that sets them apart from the rest of their followers? During our on-site “skills challenge” activation, we challenged Packers fans to test their football skills (accuracy, speed, etc.) against Aaron Rodgers’ stats, using the results to create on-the-spot branded digital football cards to share via social media.
3. Facilitate personal connections for your audience: As athletic sponsors know all too well, time is a precious commodity when it comes to your celebrity spokesperson. Rather than focusing exclusively on in-person engagements, consider how you can leverage the power of digital communications to reach more people where they are. Easy options include a Twitter takeover or Facebook Q&A session.
One of our favorite strategies was also fairly simple–we used a digital photo overlay of Aaron Rodgers to make it look like he was “photobombing” fans–just like he infamously does to his teammates. We incorporated the digital photobomb using the “fan-cam” during Packers games, and fans could also create their own images using a dedicated microsite. By the end of the season, the promotion resulted in 15,323 total photobombs created by 8,072 distinct users (many of whom shared their photos with friends online).
4. Define your goals and measure results: Are you collecting the right data that gives you greater insight so you can more thoughtfully tailor your marketing? Are you measuring the campaign’s bottom line? If not, you can kiss your marketing budget for future initiatives goodbye. Our team’s efforts resulted in a 180% increase of Associated Bank’s followers on Twitter and a 107% increase on Facebook, as well as 386,000 campaign-related video views. Why did that matter? Because we were able to establish a new path of communication with these customers–not just this once, but into the future.
Just as importantly, our efforts netted 2,176 new checking accounts, and more than a third of fans were able to correctly identify Associated Bank as a Packers sponsor. We also recorded 3,395 total visits to our experiential marketing activations at Lambeau Field, and 77% of total traffic represented noncustomers, many of whom agreed to receive future marketing communications.
Creating multiple touch points–on-site, social, and online–allowed us to start and continue the conversation with fans, ultimately resulting in continued engagement.
Let me tell you: There’s something magical about a Sunday afternoon (or Monday night) at Lambeau Field, even when the wind chill is -30. And despite the ever-evolving marketing tools at our disposal, the spirit of competition, the energy of the game, and the community that forms for those three hours transcend time and technology.
So while the big top-of-mind question for all marketers is “What’s next?” remember there’s a lot to be said for tapping into the most simple of human needs: a feeling you are part of something, a sense that someone “gets you” and shares your passion. Regardless of the channel, fostering that is how you create a genuine brand experience.