Sponsors around the world are becoming preoccupied with data acquisition – to the point where it is a primary goal of many sponsorship strategies. This is a big mistake.
I’m not saying data acquisition is a bad thing – far from it. Adding to and rounding out your databases is clearly raising the usefulness and value of a major marketing tool. But making it a focal point of a sponsorship program has some major flaws that could damage, not enhance, your results.
Best practice sponsorship is all about providing small, meaningful wins to lots of people – lots of “fans” of whatever you’re sponsoring. (For more on best practice, read “Last Generation Sponsorship”.) Despite that, sponsors around the world continue to run promotions where there is just one winner, and require some kind of connection from the fan to participate.
The problem is, every time you ask fans to part with information about themselves before you have established some real rapport with them, they see it as a one-sided deal favouring you. Whether you have any intent of abusing the relationship, we’ve all been abused enough that we’re now cynics, and we regard companies who do this with suspicion.
And how many sponsors are gathering data and likes and follows, without any strategy for developing and sharing the meaningful content that will keep the fans engaged? If your plan extends largely (or solely) to bludgeoning these fans with offer after offer and talking ad infinitum about your brand, you’re going to lose them as fast as you got them.
I’m not saying that Facebook or hashtag promotions can’t be best practice, or that you can’t reward your existing followers with a sponsorship-driven win. Either of those can work really well. The key is that lots of people have to win and you can’t ask very much from people at the start of the relationship.
A good example is HCF, a health insurance company that sponsors my favourite team, the Sydney Swans. They ask people to upload photos of themselves at the game onto Twitter with the hashtag #HCFGoSwans. Then, instead of running ads for insurance during the game – and who really wants to see one of those? – they run a montage of fan photos on the big screen. That is a very gentle way to connect, with a clear and relatively immediate benefit for the fans. The hashtag is getting so popular, people are using it for their general Swans commentary, not just for photos. HCF are amplifying the fan experience, establishing rapport, and can now start deepening that relationship.
A few decades ago, sponsorship was all about mechanisms: Getting awareness, getting exposure, building databases. Then, our industry grew up, and we realised two very important things about sponsor objectives:
Embracing these two concepts has underpinned astronomical growth in the sophistication of sponsorship, to the point where sponsorship is often the most effective and most accountable marketing channel in a sponsor’s portfolio.
And now this. We’re backsliding into mechanisms as objectives. And how will those results be measured? Not by changes in perceptions of your brand, or behaviours around your brand. Not in changes to preference, loyalty, intent, consideration, advocacy, sales, alignment to the brand, or any of hundreds of other real marketing objectives. No, it will be measured in how much data you’ve gathered, their response to your inevitable “targeted marketing messages”, and how many times you abuse that data before you tick them off badly enough that they break the connection (AKA, “attrition”). Well done! Kidding.
Then there are the sponsors who appear to just say, “Stuff collecting our own data. Too hard. We’ll just get the rightsholder to give us their database!”
Despite privacy laws in most developed countries prohibiting the transfer of database information without the consent of the people on that database, sponsors still ask. I’ve even seen some major sponsors trying to take advantage of that special blend of huge donor databases and a distinct lack of cash that marks many charitable organisations, to muscle them into providing the database as a requirement of a sponsorship.
Listen up, sponsors… They can’t give that data to you. Stop asking.
As for getting your partner to send out promotional email on your behalf to get around those laws? Also not a great idea, as now they think both you and the sponsee are abusing them.
The part about this preoccupation with data acquisition that annoys me the most is that it totally misses the point. The point with all marketing media is to change perceptions and behaviours, and sponsorship is one of the most powerful ways a brand can do that.
When a sponsor invests in a sponsorship, they are buying the privilege of connecting with people through something they have already decided that they care about. The media itself invokes passion. By aligning with those fans, and adding value to that experience they’re so passionate about, sponsors are enormously successful in achieving those marketing objectives.
So, following the logic that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, why would we do anything else but use the most powerful and personally resonant marketing media we have to directly influence perceptions and behaviours around our brands? Why make an unnecessary detour to data-land?
Deepening your relationship with a target market does not require their email addresses, mobile numbers, Facebook likes, Instagram follows, or any other individual piece of data. It simply requires you to understand, respect, and add value to the things they’re passionate about. And if you do that, they’ll volunteer their data to you.
You may be interested in my latest white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.
If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive sponsorship capacity-building service for large and/or diverse organisations.
Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.