Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Activation: The Fuel of Sponsorship Marketing

Sponsorship of sports leagues, teams, events, and athletes can be an effective strategy for building brand awareness, creating a desired brand image, or even attracting new customers. The power of sponsorship as a marketing strategy is not the mere association of a brand with a sports property. One of the most powerful differentiation points between a successful sponsorship and a mediocre one is how effectively a sponsor markets its relationship. Unfortunately, too many sponsors do not fully grasp the importance of integrating a sponsorship into the brand's marketing communications strategy and thus do not realize the potential impact.

Sponsorship = Horsepower

My favorite business author is the late Zig Ziglar. One of my favorite stories Zig told was about an old Indian man who found himself suddenly wealthy when oil was found on his property. The gentleman wanted to enjoy some of his newly found wealth, so he purchased a big Cadillac. He rode into town in his shiny, new car and was conspicuous not because of his luxury automobile but because it was being pulled by horses. You see, the man did not know how to harness the tremendous horsepower under the hood, so he made do with the only horsepower that he understood.

Activation = Fuel

What the old Indian man was missing (and thus not enjoying full benefit of his new car) was fuel to make the Cadillac's engine go. The fuel of sponsorship is the activation or marketing of the association a brand is entitled to promote as part of its sponsorship rights. Sponsors receive certain assets or privileges from properties, but it is up to them to create marketing programs around those assets to connect target markets to a sponsorship.For example, Coca-Cola is a long-time sponsor of NASCAR. An activation program that Coca-Cola has built around its NASCAR sponsorship is the Coca-Cola Racing Family, a collection of nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers including Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick, and Tony Stewart. Coca-Cola has activated using the CCRF since 1998, featuring drivers in promotions, packaging, special events, and advertising. The CCRF activation is a way for Coca-Cola to go beyond "official sponsor" designation and connect its brand with the NASCAR brand and driver personalities.

Budget for "Gas Money"

You would not attempt to go on a trip without putting fuel in the tank. Similarly, companies should not undertake investments in sponsorship without making sure they have adequate "gas money" to spend on activation. One measure of activation spending is a leverage ratio, a comparison of dollars spent on marketing a sponsorship to the rights fees paid. There are varying opinions about the optimal leverage ratio, with current industry average being about $1.70 spent on activation for every $1 spent on rights fees. Regardless of what you believe to be the right leverage ratio to strive to achieve, one thing is certain: A sponsorship will not "go" in the long run without activation fuel. Activation is the creative leeway that marketing managers can use to articulate meaning for their association with sports properties that they sponsor.

Note: This post first appeared on the Sports Biz U blog April 15, 2013

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Remember Who Really Owns a Brand

Branding is at the forefront of a marketer's responsibilities and challenges. We are caretakers and managers of perhaps the most important asset the business owns. Great pains are taken to ensure nothing is done to put a brand in a negative light and that the values and meaning of the brand are consistently executed. Despite the obsession with maintaining control over brand meaning, we often lose sight of the fact that our efforts are really in vain. Why? Because businesses do not own brands. Oh sure, the tangible aspects of a brand are owned- legal rights to use the name, logo, and other brand marks. But who really owns a brand, and how should the answer to this question affect brand marketing?

Brands Live in Customers' Minds

Brands matter only when they matter to customers. For all best efforts by marketers to achieve brand relevance, success is achieved only when a brand is relevant in the marketplace. Thus, building a great brand is more about creating relevance among the target market than attempting to persuade that same audience of the brand greatness. When brand relevance is achieved an interesting thing happens- customers become marketers for you as they advocate on the brand's behalf. They talk, post, and tweet about their relationship with your brand, attracting others in their network of contacts to the brand via the trust they have in your advocates. So, a key aspect of brand building is empowering brand advocates to take on a role of building brand relationships.

The 5th Line is 1st Rate

The latest reminder that brands are owned in the minds and hearts of customers comes from fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL. The franchise just completed a successful regular season, making the NHL playoffs for only the second time since beginning play in 2000. As the Blue Jackets fought to earn a playoff spot late in the season, one fan wanted to come up with a way for Columbus fans to come together to show their support. T.J. Nocar, a 25-year-old Ohio State University student, came up with the idea for a Twitter hashtag, #WeAreThe5thLine. The concept is similar to the 12th man in football, a fifth line being an "extra" force of support that can give a team an edge. The hashtag began trending within three days of its first use on April 5th. The idea behind #WeAreThe5thLine is to rally Blue Jackets fans at a critical time in the season. It is a way that fans can express their identification with the team and feel like they play a role in helping the team during the playoffs.

Tap the Wisdom of the Crowd

As a marketer, you do not have to have all of the answers, or more specifically, all of the brilliant ideas. Your customers and fans have an emotional connection with your brand; they are invested in its success. Embrace and even encourage your greatest advocates to become marketers in their own right by rallying their friends, contacts, and strangers in the way T.J. Nocar has done with #WeAreThe5thLine. Marketing a brand does not fall solely on your shoulders. After all, you only own certain aspects of the brand. Enlist the real owners of the brand to play a key role in building your brand.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Volunteer Your Way to the Career You Want

Image from Pixabay - Creative Commons

“How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside me, what can it be?”
- Unknown

Over the past 12 years, I have had numerous sports business professionals speak to students in my sports marketing classes. The inevitable question that is asked more than any other is "What advice can you give for someone who wants to break into the sports industry?" Interestingly, the answer to that question does not vary much from one professional to another. The answer heard most often is "get related experience and build a network of professional contacts. There you have it- two secrets to success for working in sports! Of course, the simplicity of gaining experience and building a network is quickly overshadowed by obstacles for doing these things. "How can I get experience" and "Who would give me an opportunity to learn" are examples of questions that stop many would be sports marketers in their tracks, planting self-doubt about one's ability to have a dream career.

Adopt a Service Mindset

 So, how do you gain experience in sports marketing when many open positions seek candidates with experience? Internships are an obvious answer, but they are very competitive to obtain and often unpaid positions. For many students, making a significant 4-6 month time commitment with an organization with zero compensation is not feasible given their financial situation. An alternative is seek out volunteer opportunities, short-term or one-off events that need "sweat equity" from committed volunteers in order to succeed. Volunteers of the unsung heroes of events ranging from a 5K race, to football game day, to a golf tournament. Their work is largely unnoticed and uncompensated, but volunteers benefit from intrinsic rewards of the sense of accomplishment by doing something that adds value to others.

Benefits of Volunteerism

If you are serious about wanting a career in sports marketing, you need to become serious about finding volunteer opportunities. They are more plentiful than internships and are potential learning opportunities. Three benefits you can realize from volunteering are:
  1. Low risk way to "kick the tires" - The short term nature of volunteer opportunities allow you to observe what goes on in a particular job or organization. For example, if you have an interest in collegiate athletics but are unsure if that interest translates into career interest, volunteering as support staff on football game days would be a way to get exposed to the responsibilities and tasks performed by employees in a collegiate athletics marketing department. Volunteerism is a form of sampling; you get small quantities of the job experience and can determine if you want to continue down this path or explore other opportunities.
  2. Build your skill set - Ultimately, you will be hired for what you can do more than what you know and certainly not for the list of courses you took in college. Volunteerism can take you out of your comfort zone and put us in situations in which you gain experience solving problems, dealing with customers, and meeting deadlines. Your goal is to get off the bench and get in the game; volunteering with sports properties gets you in the action.
  3. Expand your network - While volunteerism is thought of primarily for its potential to help you gain experience, do not lose sight of the fact that you will most likely be "performing" in front of other people. For example, several of my students volunteered this past weekend with the Nashville Sports Council in support of its work with the NCAA Women's Final Four. The event is attended by numerous athletic marketing administrators and corporate sponsors, creating potential opportunities to meet important people and engage in networking. I have even had students offered job opportunities (outside of sports) by fans with whom they have interacted while volunteering at sporting events.

Get off the Couch and into the Game

You may be interested in marketing spectator sports, but the marketing side is definitely not a spectator sport. The reality is you probably will not get hired because of the degree and list of courses taken that appear on your résumé. They are necessary, but not sufficient credentials to get hired. To be competitive, you need experience- it's that simple. Take control of gaining experience by converting from spectator to participant and volunteer to position your personal brand to compete in a very crowded space.