Sponsorship can be a powerful strategy for connecting with consumers, but getting the most out of your investment requires more than buying space on a banner.
When Visa approached the Olympics about being its official credit card sponsor, the company didn’t just secure valuable ad space; it insisted that Visa would be the only credit card accepted at the games.
That sponsorship prompted increased spending by Visa cardholders and improved brand awareness and perception among non-cardholders. With this aggressive approach to exclusivity, Visa overtook American Express as the preeminent credit card company within just a few years.
At GES, we recently surveyed both exhibitors and event organizers to identify trends in the sponsorship space regarding performance measurement, sales strategies, reporting, and trends. We found that 59% of exhibitors said they sponsor events to increase brand visibility and 40% use sponsorships to generate sales leads. But you don’t have to sponsor the world’s biggest sporting event to plan, develop, and execute your organization’s marketing initiatives. You simply need to identify opportunities that best align with your marketing goals.
Choosing Your Targets
The four main sponsorship goals are raising awareness, reaching a targeted audience, launching a new product or service, or demonstrating support for an industry or event. The most common types of sponsorship opportunities are:
1. Events: This includes everything from golf outings and happy hours to education tracks. Events give sponsors a platform to connect with attendees and raise awareness of their brands.
2. Signage and displays: This includes banners, billboards, window clings, entrance units at a live event, and any other visual display you can think of. Sponsors most often use signage to create brand awareness.
3. Food and beverage: Meals or refreshment breaks at events create opportunities to meet an immediate need while showcasing your brand. For example, one of our clients gave away coffee with a branded topper about its new efforts in psoriasis care. It was not only an unexpected element for the physicians standing in line, but also a way to facilitate dialogue on resources to improve patient care.
4. Attendee materials: From paper and pens to lanyards and hotel keycards, attendee materials are often used to raise awareness and promote new products and services. This tactic gets your name or product directly into people’s hands—and it’s growing fast. Our survey found that among more than 150 event organizers, attendee materials and handouts were the most commonly sold sponsorship opportunity in 2015, up from fourth place in 2014.
5. Areas and destinations: Attendee lounges, charging stations, food court tables, coat checks, press rooms, and hydration stations can all be used to connect and engage with attendees.
6. On-site media: This includes social media walls, TV monitor advertising, digital signage, and wayfinding signage. As social media and displays have increased in size, clarity, and dimensionality, sponsors are taking advantage to collect or distribute information and promote their offerings.
7. Online advertising: This is an opportunity to target particular groups of people and promote specific capabilities through keywords, mobile apps, pre- and post-event emails, and push notifications.
With the right strategy, sponsorship can lead to a turning point for your business, but how you use these opportunities determines their success.
Getting Your Strategy Right
Many marketing executives have pursued promising sponsorship opportunities only to find that they’ve wasted a lot of resources and accomplished very little in the way of revenue generation. Here are the biggest sponsorship mistakes and how to avoid them:
1. Not setting clear goals: Before requesting or reviewing sponsorship opportunities, make sure the brand and event goals are specific, measurable, and actionable. It’s critical to quantify each goal. Don’t just try to talk to a lot of engineers; instead, aim to connect with 100 engineers who work for companies with $100 million or more in revenue. Then, once you’ve invested in sponsorship, make sure you measure the results. (Forty percent of our survey respondents set aside up to 10% of their budgets to measure effectiveness.) Also, make sure the sponsorship prompts attendees to request more information, connect with an employee, or promote the brand in post-event interviews.
2. Not tailoring sponsorship offers: The official sponsorship list should be a launching pad for ideas. Customize a sponsorship to your brand’s needs, and aim for exclusivity. The more sponsors that are involved, the less your brand stands out. NFL fans know that Motorola once dominated coaches’ headsets, and now Bose does the same on the field. The goal is owning the space and making sure there’s no competition for viewers’ attention. Whether you’re sponsoring a meal, a keynote speaker, or a parking lot, go for exclusivity and tailor it to convey your brand values.
3. Not coordinating the full journey: Effective sponsorships undertake pre- and post-event marketing and have plenty of touch points on site. Incorporate the sponsorship into the entire attendee experience. As the sustainability partner at SXSW, Glad didn’t just sponsor the recycling and compost bins; it brought in artist Jason Mercier to create a custom piece of artwork at the recycling station. Attendees could view and download the piece later, continuing their interaction with the brand throughout the event and well after it ended.
If you’ve never pursued sponsorship opportunities before, make sure you go in with a plan. You should understand how a single sponsorship fits in with your overarching marketing goals and know how you will measure success. Focus on what makes your brand unique, and always look for smaller opportunities within a larger event or space.
You may not be sponsoring the Olympics, but if you can showcase what you have to offer and connect with your audience, even a small opportunity can be a big victory for your business.