Finding sponsorship synergy
Sponsorship agreements can present partnered companies with excellent opportunities for brand leverage and promotion to wider audiences, but how can you ensure you’re picking the right partners?
In modern sponsorship agreements, success is most frequently characterised as being about the mutually-beneficial aspects of the partnerships where both partners benefit from the shared value created by the resultant whole. However, to achieve a successful union is by no means simple, and brand synergy – or rather the lack thereof – can make or break a partnership.
Therefore, planning your approach is of vital importance in the opening stages of your search for a prospective partner. What does your business wish to get out of a successful sponsorship agreement? Is it an increase in sales? Perhaps it’s an increase in visibility? It could even be that you want to position your business as an active supporter of an industry or cause that will dictate the terms of your search.
Epson’s international sponsorship partners are Manchester United Football Club and the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One team. The company has a close history with sports dating back to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics – the event got off to a flying start thanks to the company’s high-precision crystal chronometers and printing timers. Our current partnerships extend beyond the products we can provide and the sports the teams participate in. Instead, the aim of both is to highlight the similarities between teams that operate in very different worlds – none more seemingly different than the worlds of Formula One, football and technology.
The key to finding your business’s perfect sponsorship partner is in suspending your expectations of who you THINK should make the perfect partner – it’s not about what they do, it’s about how they do it. “Brand synergy” is an often-used phrase that describes the win-win scenario desired in any sponsorship agreement. It refers to a marketing phenomenon in which the association of two or more brands (co-branding, affiliation, etc.) will create an appeal to the consumer stronger than the sum of the appeal of each product.
Tim Frith, Account Director and head of the Brand Services Division at Sport Five UK (the agency that supports Epson’s sponsorship of Manchester United), comments: “Sponsorship is a fantastic way for a brand to achieve cut-through in a busy market place and to help build an affinity with its target audience. In order to drive the most value from a sponsorship, it is important brands invest in activating the sponsorship. This should be done as a genuine partnership, between a brand and the rights holder, working together to achieve a common goal.”
Take the example of the Nissan 350Z car on the cover of the Gran Turismo 4 videogame. Both products have a very positive image, and as a consequence some people will be drawn to the game because of the car, while others will be drawn to the car because of the game. The two brands clearly don’t belong to the same group, but there are mutual benefits to be gained by both parties working together in this way. Clear benefits included Nissan’s car receiving visibility on the front cover of a videogame that sold over 11.73 million copies worldwide (a huge and diverse audience). In turn, the game benefitted from featuring a brand new super car on its cover that helped to entice people to buy the game for the purposes of virtually driving it, thereby increasing sales.
The same is true for Epson and its relationships with Manchester United and MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS. Epson’s name is clearly visible on digital advertising boards all around Manchester United’s Old Trafford pitch on match days, on the post-match player interview backdrops, and is also prominent on the Formula One cars driven by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and the driving suits they wear. The global audiences of both sports and our products – numbering in their many millions – are immediately accessible to all parties involved, but it goes much deeper than just where your name is seen.
If we look at Epson’s partnership with Manchester United in more detail, it’s clear to see how it enables the Epson brand to create truly memorable money-can’t-buy experiences to incentivise and reward its target audiences. Tim Frith adds: “Last season’s Epson World Cup represented Epson’s largest global activation of its Manchester United partnership to date and provided its territories worldwide with a high-end sales incentive for its channel partners. The promotion achieved highly-positive sales results and rewarded 168 channel partners with the trip of a lifetime to Manchester where they got to play on the hallowed turf at Old Trafford. With the promotion being run across 15 territories worldwide, it provided a great platform for Manchester United to connect with a wider global audience and to build an affinity with football fans through Epson. This is a great example where two brands from completely different sectors can partner with each other to offer one another mutual benefits globally.”
Leveraging synergy for mutual benefit
Look for the common interests, the shared goals and visions that can be talked about over the course of your relationship. If your company operates at the cutting edge of technology, you would naturally look to partner with another company that does the same – but not necessarily in the same sectors. If your company has a reputation for innovation in its industry, then look for a company that does the same in its industry. Look for the similarities in your aspirations, at where you both want to be or to be seen by the public, and see if your goals match up.
One great example is the match-up of Coca-Cola and OPI (nail varnish manufacturer). The partnership has been established by marketing that position both OPI nail lacquers and a bottle of Coca-Cola as capable of brightening up a consumer’s day. A refreshing glass of an ice-cold drink can make you feel as good as painting a freshly-manicured set of nails with striking colours. The names of the nail lacquers also reflect the partnership: Coca-Cola red, Diet Coke silver, Coke Zero’s dark sophistication, Cherry Coke cherry, Vanilla Coke creamy crèmes, shimmering citrus green for Sprite, and juicy orange and deep purple for Fanta. What do the partners achieve? Visibility through each other’s marketing campaigns to new and specific audiences, and positioning themselves as brands that make people feel good.
Another good example, is our very own relationship with MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS. We both operate at the cutting edge of technology, and both work hard to create technologies that are kinder to the environment – in Epson’s case, projectors that consume less power, and in Mercedes’ case, creating engines that produce maximum power with less emissions. It’s just one attribute that offers a clear point of similarity and a great talking point for promotions and activations run by both parties either jointly or separately.
Once you’ve found your perfect partner, then what? Formalise the agreement, set in stone what you both wish to achieve and begin working together on joint marketing materials. Decide how you can best use each other’s assets, attributes and audiences, and promote the partnership as widely as you can. Set your sights on what you want to achieve and pursue this rigorously – leveraging your relationship effectively will reap huge rewards.
Choosing your sponsorship partners – five things to consider
Think strategically. Identify what it is that you want to achieve from a partnership. Are you looking to increase your profile among a new audience of consumers? Are you looking to gain any hospitality incentives to use as rewards for your sales staff? These sorts of questions must be answered before beginning your search, because they will influence the nature of the partnership.
Ask yourself what your customers would think? Setting your customers’ perceptions at the forefront of your search criteria is key. Simply put, find out through which brands your customers interact and through which mediums. Respond to their desires and needs and you’re instantly in a better position to judge a sponsorship relationship under the criteria that matter.
Focus on what you have to offer each other. Rather than keeping one eye on the cash element of any relationship, instead focus on what it is you have to offer each other. It could be mutual advertising, hospitality, value in kind agreements, strong social media followings, competitions, hospitality rewards – there are countless ways you can be useful to each other beyond financial ones.
Stay true to your brand. The best partnerships are those that see two complementary brands working together. Regardless of what the similarities are – you may have similar environmental goals, commitments to innovation, etc – what matters most is that something must complement the other to ensure the agreement is successful. Stay true to your brand and work with those who complement your positions.
Nurture the relationship. Like every good relationship, both partners have to work hard to keep it strong. Be honest with each other, balance what it is you want to gain with what you have to offer, and above all, be flexible with each other. An enduring sponsorship agreement will only get better the longer and more successful it is, and this can only be achieved through open communications. Success comes from activating the partnership through joint marketing. If you don’t activate it, how will customers know about it, and how will it deliver results?
Click here to find out more about Epson’s sponsorship of the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula 1 team.