On the eve of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games, sports sponsorship for brands is drawing greater interest. Will pollution, crime, political bungling and Zika impact ROI? Probably not. Getting the highest ROI for event sponsorship depends “activation”most of all—and that extends far beyond the event itself.
If all you are getting for your sports sponsorship is your logo pasted on a few communications, you are missing an opportunity and surely are not getting your money’s worth.
Event sponsorship should generate returns in the areas of:
- Increased exposure
- Enhanced reputation
- Conversions—selling product
To win across all three areas, you must “activate” with a solid strategy and tactical follow-through.
Establish Sports Sponsorship Brand Strategy
Your sponsorship strategy begins with the “why.” You must have a compelling story of why your brand connects to the event. I helped develop Johnson & Johnson’s sponsorship strategy for its first-ever Olympic Partners Program worldwide sponsorship of the Beijing Olympic Games. For many sponsors, their Olympic sponsorship story is obvious. Nike is about athletic achievement. Coca-Cola is about enjoying the events. For Johnson & Johnson, maker of diverse products from baby shampoo to replacement hips, the story wasn’t immediately obvious. After considerable research among all stakeholders, the company adopted the story En Ai Er Shung—“Because we care.” Caring for people became the powerful unifying narrative relevant to every brand from Tylenol to DePuy to Splenda. Getting the “why” of the sponsorship right is what enhances your reputation and what underpins all tactical execution.
Spread the Story
Once you know your why, you must get the word out. Obviously put the logo everywhere. Wherever you can expand the story with at least a tagline, do it. Then go beyond the logo and tagline, to long form narratives, imagery, graphics and more. Think about everywhere your company touches audiences, internally and externally. Include the story on signage, marketing materials, vehicles, uniforms, email signatures, even invoices. The more you tout the sponsorship, the bigger your exposure benefit. The old novelist’s saw of “don’t just tell it, show it,” has relevance here. Create stories that dramatize the why of the sponsorship. Johnson & Johnson brought the caring message to life through dozens of initiatives, such as the Sight for Kids Program that provides vision screening, education and care to the children of migrant workers in rural China. Make the “why” more than a tagline—turn it into real life actions told through every possible sort of media.
Promote the Sports Sponsorship
Doing good is rewarding, but companies need to realize business goals as well. Developing customer-facing promotions and activities is the key to driving sales and profits. I had the opportunity to work with a BMW dealer group during the run up to the London 2012 Games. The BMW Olympic sponsorship strategy focused on a story that linked advanced technology to performance. They created the “Drive for Team USA” program that offered a special performance test drive experience, a $1,000 new vehicle purchase allowance, and a $10donation to Team USA for every test drive taken. I cannot reveal the specific dealer group results, however, the program nationally led to 26,535 test drives, 25% of which converted into new vehicle sales, for a return of some $150 million. Turn the purpose of your sponsorship into a practical program to stimulate sampling, demonstrations, education programs and other lead and sales generating programs.
Involve Your People
Your best sponsorship ambassadors are your employees. Make sure they understand the “why” of the sponsorship and the goals you hope to achieve. Spark their creativity by sharing best practices by other sponsors. Then ask them to help. Employees are a great source of ideas, big and small. Ideas can be as specific as ways a particular person or department can contribute, to as large as national programs. Educated, motivated and engaged employees are what can truly turbo-charge your sponsorship.
Keys Sports Sponsorship ROI
Winning at sports sponsorship takes many of the same qualities athletes need to win in sports themselves:
- A compelling motivation
- Ubiquitous and consistent effort
- Sustained from start to finish line (and beyond!)