Sponsorship and Emerging/Improving Technology: The Rules of Engagement

Sponsorship and Emerging/Improving TechnologyI’m a nerd, and I love technology. My office, home, and travel is peppered with ridiculously-specced gear, and I don’t know what I’d do without it. I’m the first to admit that the emerging/improving tech available to sponsors is staggering – and oh so tempting – but is it all a good idea?

Short answer: No, it’s not all a good idea for leveraging sponsorship. But all too often, the jaw-dropping coolness of the tech seems to outweigh the actual effectiveness.

So, in what may well be a futile effort, I’m going to try to apply some strategy and filters how we use tech in sponsorship, as well as letting you in on the emerging and improving tech I currently like best for leverage.

Is it meaningful?

This is always my first litmus test for sponsorship and the ensuing leverage. Is it meaningful to the people you’re trying to influence?

In terms of tech and leverage, these are the kinds of questions you should be asking:

  • How can we use this technology to add value to the fan experience?
  • How can we use this technology to add value to the customer experience?
  • How can we use this technology to add value to the staff experience?
  • For any added-value ideas, are those ideas scalable, so all or most of the people in a target market are able to access them, or some version of them?
  • How can we use this technology to demonstrate our alignment with fans, customers, or staff?

You’re looking for natural, authentic ways to use the tech. If every idea you have is awkward, in a round-peg-square-hole way, put that tech aside. Just because something is cool doesn’t mean it’s going to be effective.

Is it scalable?

This is a BIG question around some emerging and improving tech, and one that goes amiss all too often. Why? I think a big part of it is that the sponsorship decisionmakers all get to partake in the technology – they get to experience the jaw-dropping tech in action – and decide it’s too amazing not to do.

The issue rarely addressed in all of this is how many fans actually get to experience it, too? What proportion is that of the overall fanbase? Is there any way to get remote fans involved? And what’s the opportunity cost?

Case in point: Virtual reality. It costs a fortune to create and man virtual reality rigs at events. And for the few hundred people a day that can participate, it is a fantastic experience. But that’s it – a few hundred people a day that get a “win” – so is it worth it? When best practice sponsorship is built on the concept of win-win-win, where the third win constitutes small meaningful wins for all or most of a target market, the numbers just don’t add up.

Before you all start in with, yeah but… but… but… what about Oculus Rift? It’s true that there are some households that have VR, but it’s not a huge percentage, and until that percentage is a lot higher (and someone solves the VR nausea issue), a true VR experience is nearly impossible to scale.

There are workarounds, including using cardboard headsets (with a mobile app providing the content), creating a mobile version, and creating a desktop version. These make the basics of a virtual reality experience scalable, and if I had to pick whether to do the immersive, headset thing for a few hundred people, or a less immersive, infinitely scalable version for thousands or millions, I’ll go scalable every time.

For more on win-win-win sponsorship, read “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux“.

Do your markets use the tech? Is it relevant?

This would seem like a no-brainer, but it’s apparently not.

All of the technology we all use was once emerging, and there’s a certain allure to getting in before the competition. I get that. But making big commitments to an emerging technology way before your markets are there – and before you even know if they’ll ever get there in a critical mass – is a big risk.

My recommendation is to use your brand tracking to find out what tech your target markets are using and how, as well as what they’ve tried or are considering. In an era where consumer-centric marketing is commonplace, don’t ignore what they tell you about what technologies relevant to them, and concentrate your main efforts on tech they use, possibly extending to adjacent technologies.

Does it have a critical mass of uptake? Is it just a gimmick?

The spectacular rise and equally spectacular fall of NFTs comes to mind. I’m not doubting the potential of digital ownership on the blockchain, but at this point, even gamers are sceptical, with two-thirds of them viewing NFTs as mere money grabs. Whether NFTs in their current form are a long-term goer or not, there’s a credibility gap to overcome.

People – including digital natives – are far more focused on how their devices add value to the real world than they are in immersing themselves in a synthetic world.

Then we’ve got the metaverse, where experts have wildly divergent takes on both its value and its future. Looking at it through a sponsorship lens, I believe the various existing metaverses are way too niche, and way too clunky, to be a great platform for sponsorship. That doesn’t mean there isn’t future potential, but right now, people – including digital natives – are far more focused on how their devices add value to the real world than they are in immersing themselves in a synthetic world. Some gamers do it, sure, but the thread that binds those worlds together are the games.

I don’t think the world is going to flood into a Ready Player One scenario anytime soon, and I certainly hope the world doesn’t get that dystopian. I’m ready to be wrong on this, and will certainly be paying attention, but putting a stake in the sand, I’m not convinced this is going to be a cost-effective sponsorship leverage strategy for a fair few years. Toe in the water? Maybe. Huge leverage commitment? No.

With all new technology, do your best to ignore the breathless hype, assess the leverage potential objectively, and keep assessing it, as change is the only constant.

My current favourites

There are some emerging/improving tech that have enormous scope for sponsorship leverage right now. That is, they offer meaningful, fan-centric opportunities to improve, expand, extend, and add value to the fan experience. My favourites are:

  • Augmented reality, in all its forms
  • Hyper-customisation, AI-driven or not
  • Face-mapping and deep(ish) fakes
  • Artificial intelligence, and all the amazing things it can and will do
  • Mobile versions of VR
  • Gamification
  • Visual recognition tools triggering various degrees of interactive or AR content

The upshot

Nerdy as I am, I can admit that I’m not an all-knowing expert on emerging technology. Sponsorship is my expertise, and my focus is on getting the best results for the brand, and doing it in a manner that is both effective and efficient. As a sponsor, your choice is to connect with people and nurture those relationships in the places they are now, or plant yourself somewhere they might be in 5-10 years and hope they catch up. If I’m accountable for results, I know where I’d rather be.

There are plenty of amazing tech options for leverage that make sense. As for the rest,  I’m paying attention and watching for these technologies to hit a tipping point where they make sense for sponsorship leverage. Some of them may hit that point soon, while others could be decades away, others still may explode onto the scene out of nowhere, hitting that tipping point almost immediately.

However and whenever it comes, if we keep the focus on meaning, adding value to the human experience, and scalability, we’ll know that tipping point when we see it.

Need more assistance?

You may also be interested in my white papers,  “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“. I’ve also got a self-paced, online sponsorship training course for sponsors, covering the whole process of sponsorship strategy, selection, negotiation, leverage, measurement, and management, with lots of inclusions. Interested? Check out the Corporate Sponsorship Masterclass. I’ve also got Getting to “Yes” for rightsholders.

If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer Sponsorship Systems Design for large and/or diverse organisations. Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.

© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. To enquire about republishing or distribution, please see the blog and white paper reprints page.

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