Event sponsorship: A marketing yay or nay?

CMO asked the experts if event sponsorship is still relevant to marketing strategy

Given marketing and brand strategy have evolved so much in the past five years, thanks mostly to technology and new metrics, is event sponsorship still relevant to marketers?

CMO asked the experts just that question and the answer was a resounding yes – event sponsorship remains as relevant as ever, even more so for brand building. But beware: If you go into events with a sales mentality, it will fall flat. 

Rather, marketers should approach event hosting and sponsorship like they do any other marketing activity – with a clear direction and purpose, with metrics in place and with customer value at the centre of it all. 

Chief marketing, advertising and strategy director at Marmot, Simon Marmot, told CMO event sponsorship is still relevant. The reason is all marketing is about an emotional connection and storytelling. 

“It’s another touchpoint, an opportunity to have an engaged audience, and a place you can tell multiple stories,” Marmot said. “Now, touchpoints must all connect, each one connects and builds on your story, for a single-minded proposition, and for building a nice user experience. 

“However, one of the important things to consider is if an event is right for you; a lot of business don’t even have a branding or marketing strategy. So marketers must ask: Does it make sense to sponsor or have an event? What are the objectives? Is it increasing awareness, positioning, brand launch, new packaging, what story will you be telling?"

Another big question is knowing how will you measure success, from leads to driving transactional sales. To do this, Marmot recommended defining your top two or three objectives, then working backwards towards the event strategy and goals. 

“When it comes to measurement, like leads for example, you might have a lot but they might not be real leads, because they are not leading to conversions. Don’t go in with sales in mind," he said. "You have to introduce yourself first, there’s no way you’re going to sell at the first stage of a relationship. So you can track leads, but so what, how many accounts did you open? Did you build brand equity? 

“If you can provide value to the consumer, then finally you can talk about yourself. 

“Paying for sponsorship and doing nothing in terms of objectives while expecting quick results is similar to waiting for a miracle. Event sponsorship not something you should take on lightly. It is a large and important investment and needs to fit into marketing plans, it requires a lot of hard work.”

Research shows while sponsorship doesn’t deliver as much as other touchpoints in terms of short-term sales effects, it does deliver fantastic long-term brand building benefits, said national director of brand strategy at Kantar, Ryan France. The group's touchpoint research found sponsorship comes a fair way down the list of impactful touchpoints behind word-of-mouth and TV, but he noted huge variances.

"For some brands it is very impactful, for others not at all. This is a touchpoint with great potential for brands who get it right,” France said. “Sponsorships done well do more than help make a brand familiar and salient. The right event fit to brand, activated well, can really build a brand’s meaningful difference. Events provide a platform for brands to connect with things people care about, and a canvas for a brand to get creative, to express itself, and to participate.”

Read more: Sport and sponsorship: The value of event sponsorship

How data analytics is driving sponsorship for Football NSW

Long-term brand association with football pays off for Hyundai

The B2B events angle

Yet GumGum VP of global marketing, Som Puangladda, agreed it can be a challenge to find differentiation in a crowded space. The adtech player relies on B2B event sponsorships when it comes to showing presence at key conferences and industry events.

"This still helps drive our brand awareness and getting in front of key clients and prospects. When we have new messaging or educational insights to talk about, we still look for the right events to sponsor with guaranteed speaking slots,” Puangladda told CMO

“Of course, now there are so many industry events, sponsoring events based on the promise of a speaking engagement can present a challenge when it comes to both the quality of speakers and also the quality of audiences. When it starts to look too much like a ‘pay to speak’ opportunity, people tend to become more sceptical and disinterested, so attendance might be lower and those who show up might be less senior. We take that into account when evaluating which events we pursue for sponsorship." 

Other key tasks on GumGum's checklist are to study the attendee list and identify targets, ensuring our invited clients/prospects meet with its team, reminding organisers of branding activations, and rehearsing public appearances and speaking engagements.

"Exclusivity is also important if there are multiple sponsors, especially if they’re competitors or in the same industry. We make sure there’s no overlap,” Puangladda said.

In terms of metrics for success, Puangladda said GumGum tracks multiple touchpoints, including attendees, meetings, audience feedback, new contacts acquired and conversion to revenue opportunities post-event.

"What we also look for is a solid follow-up plan from the event organisers and feedback they gather on their end. All these key metrics are used to solidify our sponsorship for the next event," she explained. "If there’s enough ROI and positive seller feedback, we’ll sponsor the event again.”

Building emotional engagement

Publicis Sport & Entertainment director, Ashley O’Rourke, said outside of traditional above-the-line campaigns, well executed sponsorships can be invaluable in reaffirming a brand's purpose and also creating deep emotional connections with a select fan/audience group. The key is to plan ahead, rather than let sponsorship become an afterthought.

"The brands getting the best returns, both tangible and intangible, from their sponsorships typically plan and budget for them in advance. They play a core part of their broader marketing mix and are not a last minute decision,” O’Rourke said. “Be clear on what your brand’s core objectives are and the role you envisage sponsorship playing in achieving these goals. Look to secure an asset mix which is reflective of your business objectives.” 

O’Rourke also advised setting KPIs and measures for success and ensuring all stakeholders are held accountable to these. He noted more forward-thinking rights holders are recognising the need for accountability and are putting their money where their mouths are and allowing sponsors to pay a certain amount upfront followed by a final payment when KPIs have been hit. 

“As soon as the dust has settled, get together with everyone involved and completely review the sponsorship. Fans will not engage with your brand simply because of a logo on a jersey," O'Rourke said. "Aim to add value to fans’ overall experience and you’ll create a lasting impression. For example, what pain points can you alleviate as a direct response to your involvement as a sponsor?” 

As with the rest of the marketing environment, technology is also increasingly becoming a game changer. 

“Augmented reality [AR] and virtual reality present a massive opportunity, as technologies can personalise the event experience, opening it up for those who can’t attend in person or adding a new dimension for attendees. Live streaming allows brands to connect to reach more people beyond the event,” Marmot said. 

GumGum is looking to carve a position in this space itself, with an AR app aimed at delivering customised audience experiences. It's also built a personalised VR room to showcase technology and brand at larger events that provides a really memorable booth experience.

"That tech integration has been extremely powerful for us. GumGum is an AI company and a lot of our AI tech deals specifically with imagery and video, so AR and VR experiences are a hugely brand relevant way to interact with potential clients," Puangladda said.

“Remote audience access is an exciting prospect. Events and conferences are getting bigger and that’s meant less access to sessions and it’s made attending multiple sessions more difficult. The ability to join in on live speaking sessions via VR headsets will solve this problem.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia. 

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