Thursday, February 24, 2011

Branding, Sponsorship, and Sports- Part II: Know Your Audience

The key to any good marketing campaign or well established brand is the ability to understand and know your audience. For an athlete of any skill level looking for sponsorship it is important to realize that you are the brand, and in your quest for sponsorship, the businesses you target are your audience. So ultimately, to earn that golden ticket of sports sponsorship, you need to have a strong appreciation for what drives the decision making process for businesses allocating marketing/sponsor dollars.

There are several key factors that advertisers and marketing managers use to determine whether an athlete(s) is/are a good fit for sponsorship. Here's a quick overview of them;

Communications objectives and fit- All businesses should have a specific objective for how marketing and communications dollars are spent (or they should anyways). These objectives may be as simple as establishing their presence in the community and building brand recognition, or more commonly trying to actively to drive sales. Its key that you give some thought to what their objective(s) may be and how you can appeal to that. Example; A new health food store opens up in your town, building a relationship with them may make sense for both parties. In exchange for logo placement on your jersey they may be able to provide you with nutrition, vitamins, supplements, etc.

Who is Your Target Market's Target Market?- Lets face it Viagra isn't going to sponsor you if you're a fertile young man in his 20's (or female for that matter). This is another thing you have to think about when you choose who you're going to approach for sponsorship, do you and your audience's target market have a natural fit? In the Viagra example perhaps not, but if a marketer recognizes that you're age group happens to be their exact target demographic, then thats one more point in the pros column for you. This is a no brainer if you look at any pro-triathlete's race kit, but sometimes at the local level you might have to look at other ways your brand appeal can work with a sponsor's, and matching demographics are one important way.

Personality- There are good personalities that you want to be spokespeople for your brand, and there are not so good personalities that have been spokespeople for brands. It goes without saying that a socially active individual in their community presents more opportunity for exposure than a recluse who doesn't know what Facebook is. So its important to have a sincere, positive, and high level of interaction with those in your real world and online community. Essentially, the way sponsors see it, the more people who like you, the more people who may have a receptive response towards their brand.

On the flip side of that coin, is how important it is to realize that the more exposure you and your brand develop, the more important it is that you reflect positively on your sponsors. The only reason Nike didn't dump Tiger Woods when he failed to keep it in his pants was because they had invested far too much in building his brand to simply write him off. Sure you won't ever be subject to the level of public scrutiny as Tiger is, but in a world where social media can make everyone a star in their own little corner, you have to be careful with how you represent yourself and your sponsors.

Your Track Record and Your Story- You don't have to win every race to get brand sponsorship, but results help. Consistent podiums even within your age group should start to turn some heads and will get you noticed even when the sponsorship application consists of an online form through a medium such as . But if you're a team of like minded individuals getting into the sport, or an age grouper with a story to tell, or just a dedicated and hard working triathlete, that counts for something too. The Team in Training athletes rarely win races (sorry guys), but they've got Nike, Powerbar, and Runner's Mag as some of their top sponsors. What is key here is that something sets you aside, it can be race results, it can be a story of overcoming individual adversity, or it can be the fact that you've motivated 50 people in your community to race their first tri, but its got to be something and its got to be good.

Return on Investment- What you ask a sponsor to invest is going to have a lot of weight on whether or not you're going to receive a sponsorship. If you go ask your local bike shop for $10 000 cash to fund your travel expenses to the Abu Dabi tri as an AGer, they'll tell you to get lost because its $10 000 invested that won't turn into a single sale. CycleOps provides introductory levels of sponsorship through discounts on merchandise, which works for them because they forgo a little margin on product in return for guaranteed sales, and marketable individuals using their brand.

What works best is that you find opportunities for sponsors to help you through in-kind contributions. For instance, all triathletes need nutrition, shoes, clothes, bikes, hotel rooms, travel to races, etc, and these are all things that sponsors are more forthcoming with than cash outright. On the other hand if its cash that you need for coaching, etc, build a relationship with your local businesses and eventually present them with your sponsorship proposal with differing levels of commitment, and they may be willing to work with you on that basis.

Think about these key things before you approach sponsors, and with them in mind cater your proposal and approach to your target audience. Do that, and you'll be well on your way to standing out from the masses.

Stay tuned for my next blog in the series on Branding, Sponsorship, and Sports.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Branding, Sponsorship, and Sports- Part I: The Importance of a Brand

This will be the first in a four part series on the important of personal branding for athletes from amateur to elite. My focus over the next four posts will be to highlight to Age Grouper and Elite Triathletes alike how the field of branding and marketing can help elevate your level of exposure and ultimately sponsor attractiveness. For the record, I hold a Commerce degree in Marketing and work as a consultant in that field, in addition to my experience in Business Planning and Development (incase you were wondering whether I'm qualified to write this).

We're all familiar with marquis brands built up from individuals such as Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, and David Beckham. Of course at that level we can see the obvious benefits towards properly managing that brand. With that level of exposure comes the associated sponsorship dollars, individual recognition, and opportunity to further your development as an athlete by having the means to focus more greatly on your sport. But by no means does sponsorship and the importance of having a personal brand need to be limited to professional sports, nor does the benefits.

The challenge for age groupers, amateurs, and emerging elites in many sports is to determine how or if you can have access to a small piece of that sponsorship and recognition pie. In this first blog post I'm not going to cut too deep into the details but I'll summarize what the next few posts will discuss and I'll try to convey one important point; that winning races can help, but sponsorship opportunities is all about knowing your audience and developing a strong and consistent personal brand.

Obviously winning races is a huge plus that will really get you recognized but its not as important as having a personal brand that will positively reflect on potential sponsors and appeal to the target market of the sponsors. Athletes of all levels who are trustworthy, have a positive outlook, are highly interactive with the community (online and real world), have strong reach and influence, and who can speak well about a product, are considered to be the safest bets which will yield the greatest return on investment for the budgeted sponsorship dollars.

Take for instance the sponsorship opportunities available through sites such as Promotive whose brands include Adidas, Helly Hansen, Suunto, and CycleOps. The mandate of Promotive is to sponsorship opportunities to athletes who have significant influence in their personal and professional communities. With over 150,000 members, to M.O. isn't to dole out sponsorships to the select few who win the prize money, but to connect sponsors with individuals who will use their product and can share information on its benefits within their social circles.

In the next few blog posts I'll cut more in depth into specifics, with the general topics as follows;
  • Part II- Know Your Audience
  • Part III- BYOB, Be Your Own Brand
  • Part IV- The Basics of Social Media
  • Part V- Putting it All Together
If you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments.