The power of purpose – sponsorship’s missing pillar

In an age where money has been the gravitational force that makes the sporting world go round, the impact of COVID-19 has forced the Sport & Entertainment industry to take stock. With a recent history of living hand to mouth, broadcast deal to broadcast deal, event to event, relying on the long-standing myth of AVE and media exposure, the cessation of live sporting action has led us all to question “so what”?

For those expecting a crystal ball article and reassurance of what’s to come over the next six months, you may be disappointed. Six months ago, MKTG were in full prep mode for the rest of the Premier League season and about to kick off some ground-breaking activations around Euro 2020. I would not have been able to predict where we are now, and it’s safe to say I am not best placed to predict where we are going. What I can do however is use data and insight, rather than the sports marketing equivalent of tarot cards.

MKTG’s global Frontier survey is now into its 5th year and one area we have focused on is the industry’s ability to work at a more meaningful level than just brand awareness. In terms of trends, over the last five years we have seen a steady decline in the importance of brand awareness as a primary objective, but a stubbornly resilient approach to continuing to use media value as a key metric. This is perhaps a story for another time, but it does hark back to the overarching issue that while sponsorship can be used for so much more than brand awareness, the full effect and value is not seen if you rely on media values alone.

So, what is the point of sponsorship?

Frontier shows that 90% of people interviewed believe sponsorship makes a meaningful connection with customers. Historically this might have been passive i.e. if your football team is associated with a brand it might make you more likely to buy said brand. The hiatus in live sport and entertainment however has accelerated the need for brands to focus on how they are building a meaningful connection with fans and what they want them to do off the back of that connection.

The opportunity here is to build a more meaningful connection with the people you are trying to reach. This is nothing new. Brands have, and should have been doing this for years, but the interesting element is how? Gone are the days where handing out a 4 or 6 card at the cricket or a blow-up plastic stick at the rugby was enough to engage with fans. That is not engagement, that is environmentally unfriendly brand awareness.

Using sponsorship to create meaningful, believable demonstrations of brand purpose will drive the industry forward and give a more credible, significant answer to the “so what?”.

The success of this approach relies on several factors. Firstly, a brand having something interesting to say and a purpose to their story, which then needs to be matched to the partner. Where are the synergies? What is the shared purpose and direction of travel? Once this is in place it gives brands a perfect opportunity to act and move from words to deeds. Activated in the right way, sponsorship can bring a brand’s purpose to life in a meaningful way. Frontier shows that this can work, with 95% of people believing meaningful brand action through sponsorship can build customer loyalty.

The world is increasingly looking at brands through the lens of their deeds and actions rather than their words. Givewith, the pioneering US-based social impact company is quoted as saying that 88% of consumers expect brands to create social impact, and sponsorship offers a way to do this above and beyond the traditional advertising mix.

Used in the right way sponsorship can give brands personality and provide physical demonstrations of them living what they breathe. According to Frontier, 67% of people believe sponsorship is a better platform for purpose-based marketing than advertising. More brands should be capitalising on the power of sponsorship to affect change in behaviour through purpose-driven partnerships.

If you look into the history of persuasion and the construct of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, where permission, empathy, and logic are the three main pillars of influence, it would be fair to say that sponsorship, as a medium, is clear on the Ethos – partnering gives you permission and a voice in a relevant space. We as an industry need to work harder on the Pathos and Logos – the emotional and rational drivers to create change.

Media will always be important and reach and scale are credible reasons to associate with a property, but we need to do more to unlock the full power of partnerships. Having a greater consideration around the purpose and potential societal good of a partnership will only lead to more efficient effective engagement with fans.

By Charlie Wylie, Head of Sports & Entertainment at MKTG