Technology Enabled Sponsorship Strategies Demand Different Approaches – Claire Ritchie

May 28, 2011

In a recent white paper that I wrote for the Journal of Sponsorship published by Henry Steward Publications entitled Technology Enabled Sponsorship Strategies, I examined the drivers for technology brands to become involved in sponsorship. In this, my first post, on the Sport Technology sub community, I am doing a bit of scene setting and over the coming weeks, I look forward to sharing case studies and discussing and exploring the world of technology and sport in greater detail.

According to a recent IEG report, changes in the economy, demographic shifts and the fragmentation of media have all contributed to sponsorship becoming the marketing medium with the most consistent growth. Although sponsorship spending in North America fell in 2009 for the first time in 25 years by $0.1bn to $16.5bn, the global market in fact rose by an estimated $1bn to $44.4bn. This growth in sponsorship is despite the toughest of economic climates.

For consumer brands that want to increase brand awareness, shape consumer attitudes, drive retail traffic, influence buying behaviour and connect emotionally with fans, the decision to use sponsorship as a tool in the marketing mix is quite clear. This might explain why IEG even goes as far as suggesting that sponsorship now accounts for 25.4% of overall marketing, advertising and promotion spending on average.

So what is it that drives technology brands to become involved in sponsorship? With the demise of tobacco advertising starting in motorsport in the late nineties brought on by tighter public health legislation, the likes of Hewlett Packard and Nortel set the ball rolling by taking their place in Formula One. Other sports such as golf and tennis saw such partners as Cisco and IBM come on board whilst Avaya supported the 2006 World Cup and more latterly the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Most recently Mitel has become the communications partner of the 2010 Ryder Cup having been a partner of the European Tour. So there must be some powerful catalysts driving these types of companies to get involved with sponsorship if they are not purely driven by brand awareness?

Obviously technology companies, including consumer tech companies can still benefit from the usual rights of a sponsorship package such as branding, image rights and hospitality opportunities in the same way as a consumer brand would. But for technology brands and technologically innovative companies, a key component for the sales cycle is the ability to demonstrate products and services in an existing client environment. What better or more engaging showcase in which to do that than a top class sporting, arts or music spectacle which not only creates excitement and invokes passion but allows technology to be used to the maximum. This means that technology companies are among the leaders in the way in which they leverage sponsorship to deliver business strategies and objectives. It is this integration of the technology into the property that gives sponsorship activation for tech companies an extra dimension over consumer brands.

The first stage in getting this different approach right is a clear and considered technology enabled sponsorship strategy where the thinking moves on from simple assessments of brand visibility and demographics. Technology companies also want to consider which sponsorship platforms would enable them not only to demonstrate their products and services in a mission critical, cutting edge environment. The idea is to give the sponsorship property a competitive edge or to enhance the guest and fan experience. A well thought out and executed technology enabled sponsorship strategy will take into account the various product ranges within the company and select appropriate sponsorship platforms to demonstrate those products and drive that business while providing different areas of interest for their target audiences. Not all their target customers may be interested in motorsport for example so by having other platforms such as art and entertainment or product placement programmes in TV shows and films, all aspects of the business can be covered as well as playing to the tastes of multiple audiences.

So a key driver of a technology enabled sponsorship strategy is how it showcases the company’s proposition to its target audiences. Whether it is behind the scenes infrastructure technology or something more visible, how does the proposition come to life in a showcase that can be integrated into the sales and marketing mix?

Many or all of the usual activation avenues are still available to such sponsorships, but technology companies also have the opportunity to exercise and integrate additional areas of the business with a well considered sponsorship platform. As a b2c technology company SanDisk exercised its sponsorship of the Ducati motorcycle racing team right across its marketing and promotion activities for its photographic flash memory cards. In-store promotions, point of sales materials, end-user programmes, channel incentives, advertising, product licensing and hospitality were some of the ways the sponsorship integrated the various elements of the go-to-market mix.

In b2b environments companies might rely more heavily on popular marketing tools such as PR or Executive Briefing Centres. These two can be easily integrated and supported by an appropriate sponsorship. What better way to engage with customer decision makers about the value and performance of your proposition than in the relaxed yet informative surroundings of a sponsorship partnership. The same goes for PR cases. While the experiences delivered within the time or location boundaries of the sponsorship environment itself may be more powerful, the highly relevant messages and value still translate effectively when they are delivered in a company environment.

With either business model, channel engagement and mindshare are critical success factors that can be greatly strengthened through sponsorship. SanDisk have numerous qualitative and quantitative examples where channel relationships have been strengthened or shelf space and stock levels increased as a direct result of their Ducati partnership. Sales and channel incentive programmes based around sponsorship-related “money can’t buy” awards have proven to be highly successful for a number of major IT and communications vendors.

The simple thinking is that direct and channel sales people are either motivated by money or things they can’t buy or access with that money. Sponsorship can provide that access as part of a relevant and integrated incentive initiative.

Typically core technology based systems have been used to optimise performance and potentially revolutionise the way the property operates and runs. However technology is increasingly being used to enhance the guest or fan experience as a result of the clear link between technology businesses and the growth of the Internet, smartphones and other sophisticated mobile devices. It doesn’t matter whether the fan is actually at the event or looking to participate remotely, the digital revolution enables the content to be instantly available as and when demanded. This makes the property accessible to a media hungry audience while at the same time fuelling the fire of the sales of technology whether at an infrastructure level or the visible, mobile and increasingly sexy access devices.

Copyright Henry Stewart Publications. Originally published in the Journal of Sponsorship March 2011 Volume 2 Number 2 ISSN 1754-1360

Claire Ritchie is the founder and Managing Director of Sine Qua Non International. Having had extensive experience in sales and marketing at Hewlett Packard along with sponsorship at Nortel Networks where she managed the multimillion dollar Formula One partnership with BMW Williams F1, she has used that knowledge and expertise over the last 10 years with clients at Sine Qua Non to develop winning partnerships for technology brands in F1, MotoGP and World Rally as well as other sports.

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