Branding on a team jersey, at a golf course or around the side of a pitch isn’t certain to be seen. It doesn’t guarantee brand salience or a successful outcome, even among sports fans
Ian Thompson
Ian Thompson has spent 18 years evaluating sports marketing and partnership activities for brands. His new company PACL helps brands improve and optimise performance through strategic and evaluation based consulting services.
Beyond brand visibility
2nd November 2017, 10:48
Sport can capture the imagination, deliver high drama and generate huge emotions both on and off the field of play. 

If marketers are to tap into these emotions, they must look beyond the visibility generated for their brands and the resulting media impressions to truly optimise brand performance.

Here are four ways for brands to capture the hearts and minds of their target consumers.

1. Don’t be blind-sided by the value of eyeballs

Brands often believe that they require their involvement in sports marketing to be seen by everyone, everywhere. Their focus is on optimising brand visibility and media impressions to ensure their sports marketing activities are recalled. 

However, branding on a team jersey, at a golf course or around the side of a pitch isn’t certain to be seen. It doesn’t guarantee brand salience or a successful outcome, even among sports fans! 

Just ask Phonak, the hearing aid company that is the former sponsor of a Tour de France-winning cycle team. It achieved significant brand visibility but was mistaken for a bicycle manufacture!

At the 2010 FIFA World Cup one of the sponsors achieved nine and a half hours of brand visibility per market, an apparent media value of $370 million! Yet in five out of six targeted markets, there was no increase in sponsor awareness nor growth in any key brand equity measures.

Why? Viewers didn’t focus their attention on the brand because it had no pre-existing connection to the World Cup and it failed to create a meaningful connection through its amplification activities. 

High levels of brand visibility guarantee high media values. However, as we’ve seen, media values offer no guarantee that sponsors will achieve desired brand related outcomes. 

Brands and rights owners must look beyond visibility numbers if they are to achieve or deliver effective sports marketing campaigns.

2. Understand what success looks like

Emotions are core to successful marketing. Emotionally-focused campaigns are more effective and they’re the key driver of long term brand equity growth. Further, contemporary psychology states that most purchase decisions are driven by emotions.

This plays to the almost unique strength of sports marketing. Sports, sports teams and sports stars are followed by people who genuinely care about them. These people are emotionally engaged; some significantly, some a little and others occasionally. Sports marketing can help brands tap into these emotions.

According to leading marketing scientist Professor Byron Sharp, successful brands have communications that are salient, create relevant associations, elicit an emotional response and build and refresh memory structures. 

These are the outcomes that sports marketing campaigns should be aiming to achieve. Successful campaigns make people feel more positive and closer to a brand. This leads to increased consideration and improved likelihood that the brand will be recalled at the time of purchase. 

Sports marketing shouldn’t be limited to visibility and boosting image. It’s about being relevant and building longer term brand growth. 

3. Create a meaningful narrative

Brands are far better at amplifying their sports marketing assets today than they were 15, 10 or even five years ago. Most recognise the importance of having a dialogue with fans. They invest significantly in generating content which is distributed via social media and other digital platforms. 

There is a danger, though, that brands are generating content for content’s sake. Sportcal's Conrad Wiacek makes several valid points in his article ‘Is there real value in social media’. He references how few of us can remember the last few last Facebook posts we saw, how little time we give to video and how little we engage with sponsor generated content. 

Yes, there’s value in content, but only when the brand creates a meaningful narrative around the sports marketing activity. O2’s #WEARTHEROSE campaign to support its England rugby team sponsorship is a great example of this.

Brands must remember that fans don’t generally care too much about them. Fans’ emotions are invested in the sporting entity  

Context is vital. It’s the context that unlocks the potential of content. The context for sports marketing is based around the connection between the brand and sporting entity. Brands must remember that fans don’t generally care too much about them. Fans’ emotions are invested in the sporting entity.

Brands therefore need to carefully consider their role in this three-way relationship. They must articulate why they’re involved or what value they add, if they are to optimise outcomes. This narrative must be meaningful, purposeful, informative or rewarding if it’s to catch and focus the attention of the fans.

4. Evaluate robustly

This doesn’t mean counting eyeballs, applying media values, adding up impressions or looking at other output-based measures. This is about planning the evaluation programme upfront with the aim of establishing performance and driving effectiveness and efficiency.

Think 5 ‘I’s: Impact, Improvement, Independence, Investment and Insight:

Impact: Don’t lead the witness to the answer you want to hear. Assess the impact the activity is having on the brand in its proper (competitive) context. Establish drivers of performance and associated diagnostics.

Improvement mind-set: Assess every aspect of the programme and look to learn and understand about how and why the activity performs.

Independence: Don’t mark your own homework and don’t let your agency mark its own either. Seek an independent and objective opinion. This will provide a new and refreshing perspective. 

Investment: Plan evaluation upfront and budget sufficiently. A robust evaluation will deliver a positive return on investment. Invest between 1 and 5 per cent of total expenditure.

Insights: The cumulative effect of the above approach will provide the fresh insights needed for brands to optimise outcomes. These will then lead to brand growth through sports marketing.

Sharp recently said that open-mindedness and scepticism are the two most important attributes of a great marketer. These marketers demand evidence and logic. They are constantly looking for alternative views and are willing to change their minds in light of new evidence.

Application of these attributes in the world of sports marketing will make a significant difference to the outcomes enjoyed by both brands and rights owners as they battle for the hearts and minds of the consumer.