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5 Takeaways from IEG 2015

5 Takeaways from IEG 2015

Each year, MKTG returns home from the annual IEG Sponsorship conference fueled with passion, armed with insight, and full of optimism for the increasing health and sophistication on display by the industry we are proud to be a part of.

In past years we have been amazed by the Canadian contingent on display at the IEG Conference, proof of the fact that Canada is a center of excellence in the world of sponsorship. This year, Canada was represented not just in the audience, but on the stage as well. Representatives from all stakeholder groups in the sponsorship industry (sponsor, property, and agency) shared their ideas.

In this week's MKTG Insights blog, we take a pause from our weekly industry analysis to provide the sponsorship community with key learnings from the 2015 IEG Conference.

1. "Shift from Instinct to Knowledge"

Data-driven decisions are table stakes in an industry long ruled by gut and instinct. IEG provided a host of examples of sponsorship marketers driving value through data-based insights. Much is often made of the importance for corporate sponsors to build data capabilities  in order to optimize decisions. The same insight applies to properties. Rights holders who invest in understanding their fans can not only build powerful sales platforms for sponsors, but help to educate their current roster.

Case Study: Prior to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the Canadian Olympic Committee analyzed previously gathered data and determined that Canada is one of the few nations in the world who prefer the Winter Olympics to the Summer Olympics. Based on that knowledge, "We Are Winter", a national advertisement campaign promoting the Canadian Olympic movement was launched. Results were impressive as the COC strongly increased their social media presence ( 600% increase to Twitter Followers, 75% increase in Facebook fans) and had a 5,000% increase to their website traffic. The "We Are Winter" platform provided a rallying cry for not just fans, but corporate sponsors too. Companies such as Molson Coors , Hudson's Bay, and Mondelez Canada included #wearewinter in their brand tweets to position their brand as a fan of the team.

2. Leverage Sponsorship Not to "Push" But To "Pull"

The classic "push" of information onto consumers can be at times intrusive vs. value-add. Brands who simply leverage sponsorship for branding purposes (to "push") do not need a sponsored property to do so. If brands are going to invest in sponsorship, they must recognize that properties are an enabler of passion points and can't buy experiences that indulge consumers. Smart brands partner with a property to "pull" an audience into a shared circle of their interest (sports, arts, etc.) where they can be provided with unique content and/or experience.

Case Study: Heineken activated their sponsorship of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festivals with the #DMDS (Dance More Drink Slow) initiative. The campaign was built to shift the perception of EDM events as places of excess drinking and substance abuse. Instead of "pushing" the consumption of their product during the festivals, Heineken focused on "pulling" people in the direction of their passion for EDM and brought in the best DJ's in the world to promote more dancing and less drinking, a counter-intuitive movement for an alcohol brand. That move reinforced Heineken as a responsible organization that prioritizes their customers' experiences and building long-term relationships rather than selling higher volumes of beer at one-off events.

3. "Make Sure You Get Invited to Your Athletes' Birthday Parties"

The endorsement landscape is often labelled as contradictory. Athletes endorsing junk food. Celebrities mentioning their love of products that conflict with sponsor categories. In an age where authenticity is not always apparent, companies must seek to align with influencers who share their core beliefs and values. Brands can accomplish this through deep relationships and 360-integration. IEG spoke to the importance for sponsors leveraging more than just dollar signs in their pitches to athletes. Brands must nourish relationships so that money is not the only draw for an endorser.

Case Study: Go-Pro demands authenticity in its athlete strategy; they want ambassadors to be enthusiastic about the brand so they will use the company’s products to express their creativity. For this purpose, the company hosts “athlete summits” – events where they bring together all their Go-Pro endorsers to play, learn and teach other best practices with a Go-Pro camera. The brand builds out a family in their endorsement roster that creates a sticky relationship. Further, marketers themselves must build relationships with endorsers. When ambassadors feel accountable to not just a contract but an employee, their commitment will be amplified. As Todd Ballard, Sr. Director Lifestyle Marketing at Go Pro said during this year’s conference: "Make sure you get invited to your athletes' birthday parties".

4. "I'd Rather Be a Pirate Than Join The Navy"

A sentiment hammered home by Alexander Koppel, CCO at Red Bull Media House and an advocate for brand bravery. While no sponsor should act off-strategy or without their due diligence, there is real value in taking the road less traveled.  Today's marketing landscape has become largely "me-too", wherein brands rinse and repeat the tactics of the past. By being a "pirate" and refusing to confirm, Red Bull acknowledges that not every effort will succeed, but that in the long run they will be best set up to hedge against consumer fatigue. IEG 2015 was full of successful risk-taking examples including companies like Mountain Dew, ANZ Bank and Adidas.

Case Study: The World Cup inspires consistent activation thematics brought to life by corporate sponsors. Typically sponsors build programs around star players or fans who are united in their transcendent love of sport. Last year in Brazil, Adidas decided to instead build equity in a previously underutilized asset - the World Cup match ball. The German-based apparel brand created a persona for the official ball of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, assigning wit, banter and personality to an inanimate object like a soccer ball. Adidas made the Brazuca ball Brazilian, female and even gave the ball its own twitter handle. In addition to the uniqueness of the campaign, the Brazuca ball was also a constant source of content that allowed Adidas to bring an ongoing narrative to keep its audience engaged.

5. "The Best Defence Is a Good Offense"

Sponsorship marketers often fear a loss of attribution as the result of a competitor ambush attempt, resorting to defensive tactics such as legal action. However, Olympic-rights expert Bill Cooper, COO of the TwentyTen Group, tells sponsors that in the world of ambush sponsorship, defense doesn't always win championships. Smart sponsors shouldn't build reactionary efforts around ambush attempts, but rather design partnerships with the assumption that an ambush attempt is inevitable, proactively focusing on their offensive efforts - by building out exceptional activation activity and securing assets that are quite simply not possible to replicate: behind-the-scenes content, exclusive access,"money can’t buy” experiences for key stakeholders, etc.

Case Study: During the 2014 Sochi Olympics,official sponsor Molson Canadian was ambushed by Budweiser's "Red Light" campaign. Rather than get defensive and threaten legal action, Molson turned ambush from a vulnerability into an advantage and used Bud’s challenge as an opportunity to prove their authentic relationship with Hockey Canada and the COC, positioning Budweiser as lacking authenticity due to the fact that the brand was claiming support for both Team Canada and Team USA (as an official sponsor of USOC).

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