Build relationships not awareness

Go beyond brand badging

Build relationships not awareness

Tim Frith from Sport Five provides an insight into how businesses can go beyond brand badging, by activating sponsorships to build lasting relationships with their target audiences.

If I were to ask any football fan who their club sponsor was, they’d have an answer for me, instantly.  In most cases they’d probably tell me the name of the club’s shirt sponsor - the name they see on the chests of their heroes every time they watch a match.

Sponsorship, and perhaps sports sponsorship more than any other kind, offers huge potential to build brand awareness through badging or logo placement. In football, we see logos on shirts, on stadiums, on pitch-side advertising hoardings and on the team seats of the home and away benches.  As it happens, Epson is the office equipment provider sponsor of Manchester United.

However, while badging can boost overall brand awareness and affinity, the key to maximising the value of a sponsorship is through more targeted activation strategies.

What is an activation strategy?

Businesses sponsor sports teams to support a variety of targeted objectives. Common objectives are to drive sales in consumer or business markets, or to improve staff loyalty and retention.  A sponsorship activation strategy is a promotional campaign that runs in parallel to core sponsorship. It helps promote the contracted benefits of a sponsorship to directly achieve these goals, by building lasting relationships with key target audiences.

However the activation strategy shouldn’t be an afterthought to the sponsorship agreement.  Understanding precisely what your brand wants to achieve from a sponsorship (and how) is critical to negotiating the required inventory of rights with the club or team you wish to sponsor.  For example, beyond basic rights like hospitality and entertainment, does your activation campaign require access to facilities, star players and even the club manager?

Target ‘can’t buy’ experiences for your audience

Sports fans are emotionally connected to the competition on the field, and away from it are voracious consumers of news and infotainment content to do with their teams, and even their rivals.  Offering your target audience access to ‘can’t buy’ experiences related to the teams they follow provides a highly potent incentive for engagement with your brand.

For example, offering your target audience the opportunity to meet star footballers or managers, or walk on the turf of a legendary football ground like Old Trafford (the theatre of dreams), is for many a dream come true.

The key to a successful activation programme is to build the offer of these experiences into a package that will motivate, incentivise and ultimately realise your brand objectives.

The Epson World Cup

As well as building greater global brand awareness through its sponsorship agreement with Manchester United, Epson has been able to benefit from a number of different activation events to promote products, revenues and most importantly lasting relationships with key partners.

One useful case study of Epson’s sponsorship activation strategy is the Epson World Cup. This is an event that Epson Europe has established for high-performing salespeople in its channel partners around Europe. Teams of salespeople representing each European country in which Epson operates are flown to Manchester for two days of entertainment, competition and fun.  They then compete in the knockout stages of the Epson World Cup at Manchester United’s Carrington training facility, not only for the Epson World Cup, but also the right to play in the final on the world-famous Old Trafford pitch. Along the way they meet and chat to club legends like Bryan Robson and Gary Pallister, and even meet some of the current crop of stars.

However, alongside the opportunity to build close relationships with important business partners, there is a clear return on investment for Epson built into this initiative. To be able to participate in this unforgettable experience, team members from each European country must outperform their colleagues in the sale of Epson products. So the Epson World Cup provides a powerful sales incentive for some of Epson’s most important business partners.

This is just one fantastic example of the way that the inventory of rights you negotiate as part of a sponsorship can be used to drive targeted relationships, positivity and bottom line benefits for your brand through unforgettable experiences.  An industry rule of thumb is that to maximise the benefits of a sponsorship you should commit an equivalent budget for your activation strategy as you did for the original sponsorship.