Sponsorship Done Differently

SportsPro Magazine
March 2013
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When your company wants to reach out to a new audience through sponsorship, do you dive in, hoping your latest campaign will compete well in the shark-infested waters? Or do you search out blue water, somewhere no sharks are swimming, somewhere your campaign will make a splash?

Blue water is the concept forwarded by INSEAD professors, W.Chan Kim and Renee Mauborge in the book “Blue Ocean Strategy: How to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant”. Instead of operating in a known market space where you have to outperform your rivals to succeed they suggest seeking out an original market space where your company can reap the rewards.

Not so many years ago, sponsorship would have been considered blue water marketing. It was, and still is, held up as an innovative alternative to the interruption advertising available in traditional media, allowing a sponsor to both speak to and engage with consumers. Look around the perimeter of any sport stadium or on either side of a concert stage now, however, and no matter how effective the activation the platform itself can hardly be described as blue water.

According to Bill Cooper, the chief operating partner at the TwentyTen Group, there are several ways to avoid allowing your sponsorship message to drown in the clutter.

Seek out blue water activation ideas that bring innovation to established sponsorship platforms, such as major sport or entertainment properties, or engage with an untapped property still undiscovered enough that the activation message is not fighting for space. For optimal return on investment, sponsors can also merge both innovative activation and a blue water property together.

Take, for example, the opportunity to engage a guest at a mountain resort or destination property through sponsorship. Both the platform and the activation opportunities represent unparalleled blue water. Here a brand can speak loudly, engage authentically, and become adopted into consumer ritual, all within a loyal and high net worth community. Guest visits to a mountain resort usually significantly exceed what a major festival or professional sport team gets in attendance and with most of them now offering year-round activities it becomes a 365-day-a-year storytelling opportunity for sponsors.

TELUS, a leading Canadian telecommunications company, discovered early the appeal of establishing an uninterrupted conversation with mountain resort enthusiasts while their competitors fight for airspace around Canada’s perennial sponsorship draw – hockey. Recently they renewed their relationship with Tremblant and added a further four years to an already 15-year partnership with Whistler Blackcomb. And with the explosion of smartphone use amongst consumers who enjoy an active lifestyle, the future of these partnerships looks bright.

Nicholas Cartmell, a sponsorship leader at TELUS, describes how his company seeks blue water in leveraging mountain resorts as a platform. “Partnering with celebrated resort destinations provides a year-round opportunity to engage with our customers in an authentic, future friendly way. The ability to integrate our products for guests to share their experiences with friends and family in real time makes the activation more meaningful and compounds our investment. That’s the differentiator for us and why we enjoy activating these kinds of properties.”

With a property like a mountain resort, the sponsor has an opportunity to not just tap into an event, but weave itself into a lifestyle. Diving into blue water, though, can be intimidating and requires courageous investment, especially when market history reminds you of the comfort and convenience of going back to what is known. In order to help clients identify and harness the opportunity presented by blue water properties, Cooper says the TwentyTen Group takes them through an ideation process that analyses consumer rituals inspired by the sponsorship property being considered. From there, they identify meaningful junctures within those consumer patterns best suited to engage the consumer with the sponsor’s brand, product or service story.

As an example, when recently identifying assets for GoPro to access as part of a partnership with Intrawest mountain resorts brokered by the TwentyTen Group,

Cooper’s team did not limit activation options to the on-hill experience. They reviewed resort visitor rituals and identified that often consumers will begin thinking about how they will capture their memories before the ski holiday. As a result, significant GoPro messaging is set to appear throughout the travel booking process, driving awareness and potential sales of GoPro products before visitors even hit the slopes.

“Our goal is to get our cameras into people’s hands in environments that inspire them to capture the moment,” said Dan Kelsay, Resort and Camp Marketing Manager at GoPro. “Mountain resorts like Whistler Blackcomb and the Intrawest properties provide us with authentic touch points with our consumer. From the moment they book their trip to the moment they take their last run down the mountain, we aim to help create memories and share them with the world.” GoPro and TELUS have embraced an uncluttered conduit through which to reach an audience that is highly aligned with their objectives and have developed authentic points of interaction which take that audience deep into their brand and product story. Not only have they found blue water, but they are using it to full advantage. What about you – are you fighting the masses close to shore or are you ready to swim a little further out into the ocean?