No matter what sector you’re in, no matter the geography, one of the greatest threats to your business for the foreseeable future is commoditization. Your competitors are very likely selling similar products or services, in the same size and shape and at the same price.
Half a generation ago, there was something we called the price-quality gap. If you were buying a consumer product, there could be a significant delta in quality from one brand to the next depending on what you were willing to pay. While you still get what you pay for (think of the kinds of choices you make when booking air travel), the relativity of price and quality has changed. The lower end entries in most categories have risen to a decent base standard. Consumers won’t tolerate otherwise. Consumers don’t need to. Consumer choice is no longer limited to what they can find on the High Street. The internet of things gives them access to almost infinite choice.
Aside from delivering access to more choice, the internet is the new front line for marketing communications. It’s where consumers go to see not only what you are saying about your products and services, but what others are saying. Consumers show up to purchase better informed and better ready to buy.
Research tells us that emotion has a significant impact on how consumers interact with brands. Depending on your category, emotional over rational considerations may truly drive purchase decision. Even in categories considered to have low engagement purchase consideration, like insurance, fear, hope, safety can all be strong emotional drivers to brand preference and brand choice.
In his best-selling book Start With Why, author and speaker Simon Sinek presents a simple yet powerful idea. People, he says, don’t by what you do, they buy why you do it. Apple’s success, suggests Sinek, isn’t because they make well designed and intuitive-to-use products. Well designed and intuitive-to-use is the table stakes. Apple has been successful over time because they have demonstrated that they exist to challenge the status quo and to think differently. Consumers have had no problem buying PVRs, phones and MP3 players from a computer company, because Apple has convinced those same consumers that Apple believes what they believe.
The largest cohort in human history, by size and by purchasing potential is the Millennial generation. As a consumer segment, they value experiences over things. Millennials are brand loyal, but only if your brand is meeting their needs in a meaningful way. Millennials see traditional advertising as inauthentic.
In the context of increasing commoditization, almost limitless consumer choice, emotion-driven purchase decisions – a powerful brand experience is a necessity. Simply put, brand experience is the experience a consumer or customer has with your brand.
That experience, whether in a retail environment, through a digital, mobile or social media platform, at an event or through a sponsorship activation, enables a brand to demonstrate its brand values. In Simon Sinek’s view, a brand experience would prove to a consumer that your brand believes what they believe.
Traditional advertising can communicate a brand promise, communicate brand values, but it asks for only vague involvement from its audience. The more involved a consumer is in a brand experience, the deeper the connection and the more resonant the experience is. Watching a television advert can only go so far, assuming consumers are watching.
Sponsorship presents an opportunity to create brand experiences that drive emotional connection, they align your brand with something people are passionate about. On approach, start with what matters and start with consumer insights. What is it that your consumer audience cares about and what are the things that you can activate in a way that is authentic to your brand. Look for the things, the properties, that will provide you the opportunity to demonstrate your brand’s values, to show what you believe.
If consumer insights show that a core target consumer audience is passionate about cricket and one of your brand’s values is hard work, that can lead you somewhere. If it’s still cricket, but one of your brand’s core values is community, that can take you somewhere else, still within a passion point for your consumer.
To be authentic and genuine, the connection to brand values through a sponsorship is essential. Against the mission of creating brand experiences, show up as a super fan. Demonstrate that you believe what they believe. Old-model assets like camera visible signage with a sports property or branding in a gallery or theatre still have their place in creating and reinforcing the association between the property and your brand. But branding on its own is wallpaper – likely missed and probably ignored.
As a sports property, elevate game time and bring fans closer to the team. If that doesn’t fit your brand authentically, and community does, look for ways to be part of the bridge between the broader community and the team, or maybe even between the property and a cause initiative that you’re already part of. Create opportunities for consumers to experience your brand in a way that resonates, and in a way that helps them understand, like and care about your brand more.
Extend. When you activate a sponsorship, think in terms of a 360º activation wheel. The sponsorship in the middle, surrounded by your consumer and stakeholder touch points. Leverage the sponsorship assets in your retail channel to enhance your brand experience there. Use the sponsorship to create content for your digital and social platforms. Use the sponsorship to enhance to the brand experience of your own employees.
Powerful brand experiences create strong emotional connections between your audience and your brand. Differentiate, decommoditize, stand out.
Ian Malcolm, President, Lumency