One of the more enjoyable aspects of my job is that I get to see a lot of onsite sports marketing activations from multiple perspectives. As a researcher, I have the privilege of observing the “rubber hitting the road” on these programs through my own eyes as well as through the lens of the target audience. Efficacy testing is an important element of any sponsoring brand or property’s ROI/ROO measurement.
And I’ve often used this forum as a vehicle to express my strong opinions about the right way to do this. While it’s pleasing to see a greater emphasis placed on testing sports marketing effectiveness, too much of this testing is rife with methodological flaws and shortcuts that render the findings strictly self-serving, inaccurate or both. But this is not another rant on poorly designed research. Rather, it’s an opportunity to reflect on what we've seen work well over the years, through our testing.
First and foremost, I continue to be impressed by the creativity and attention to detail exhibited in most of the programs that we test. Perhaps there’s a direct correlation between well-designed and -executed efforts and the willingness of the stakeholders behind them, to invest in similarly well-designed efficacy research. But while on the topic of efficacy, we’ve researched enough programs to be able to conclude that there are certain common elements that go hand in hand with generating the greatest recall and positive brand association. Here are three key drivers.
So much research both within and outside of sports points to this being a marketing era where the collection of unique experiences is tantamount to driving engagement and positive brand association with target audiences. As such, it hasn’t surprised us that those activations designed as opportunities for participatory fandom are among the highest performers of all that we test. Whether these be as basic as the ubiquitous fan dance-offs or something more elaborate like contests or opportunities to create customized memorabilia, interactive activations have consistently tested better than simply passive messaging.
That said, there is also a fine line between engaging interactivity and the creation of too many hurdles for fans to jump over. The more that the K.I.S.S. principle can still apply to an interactive promotion, the greater opportunity for resonance. Such an observation would also be incomplete without also noting that requiring fans to do too much as part of the promotion, doesn’t necessarily preclude that a brand connection didn’t occur. I can recall a particular program we tested, where fans were asked to text back to enter a contest. The number of texts received were quite underwhelming, yet in our pre- vs. post-exposure testing, brand recall of the sponsor behind the promotion showed an extremely positive level of lift.
There’s also something to be said for on-site activations that tie directly to the sporting event itself. Be this something as simple as incorporating the home team or their players into a video board spot, or more elaborate meet and greets, mascot tie-ins or promotions that enhance the fan’s in-game experience through synergistic give-aways, the old adage of being target customer focused rather than exclusively sponsor product-centric, has certainly proven true in our research.
This also applies to the use of technology and social media. It still strikes me that too many activating brands become enamored with their chosen delivery mechanism or the opportunity to showcase the latest digital toy or social media tie-in, when the most resonant promotions that we’ve tested tend to align best with their proximity to a consumer’s needs or connection with the sports property itself, rather than those that seem to try to hard to be cutting edge or hip, while missing the actual sports specific connection.
Finally, there appears to be a strong and direct correlation between effectiveness and the old marketing 101 stalwarts of prime visibility, positioning and frequency of exposure. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that these elements are stronger correlates of engagement effectiveness than the simple reach metrics that too many sports marketing programs exclusively rely upon for ROI demonstration. I’ve used this space in the past to speak to how good sports marketing benefits from the viral elements of influential marketing, and here it’s worth reinforcing how that phenomenon, coupled with the other key drivers, above, can supersede reach, particularly if some of those impressions fall on deaf ears.