Sponsorship as a B2B marketing tactic

Words by Warren Moss CEO and founder of Demographica

Wouldn’t budget spent on building relationships with a handful of key business customers go much further than spending millions on sponsoring a TV show?

Ellis Park emblazoned with Emirates Airline logos. Vodacom plastered over the Blue Bulls rugby kit. TV advertising for KFC running during the T20 cricket tournament. When you think sponsorships, it’s always B2C that comes to mind. But this particular perspective needs to change. Because, if we look at things differently, sponsorship could be a B2B marketing tactic that may be used very effectively, at a fraction of the cost.

Sponsorships as an above-the-line marketing tactic are nothing new. Used correctly, they provide the perfect platform through which to expose your brand to the right audience. But, used incorrectly, they offer very low returns on investment and are extraordinarily expensive.

Found in unlikely places

What I’ve realised over years of working in the B2B marketing space is that some of the most value from a brand’s sponsorship is often found in unlikely places. It isn’t just the potential consumers who are exposed to your messaging on the airwaves; it’s also the corporate customers you engage with as you take them to the stadium and introduce them to the team, who then go on to spend three times more with you this year than before.

From these learnings, I have coined the term “below-the-line sponsorships” as I think they’ll become one of the most powerful B2B marketing tactics of the future. Here’s an example to illustrate my point:

AON is one of the leading commercial insurance brokers in the world, a quintessential B2B company, and a specific focus is offering employee benefit packages to corporates. A few years ago it signed a sponsorship deal with Manchester United, one of the biggest consumer-facing brands in the world. To many, this partnership made little sense. Why did it do it?

One extremely valuable property

AON did indeed exit its sponsorship deal early but it held on to one extremely valuable property: the naming and usage rights of Manchester United’s training academy at Carrington. This isn’t the famed Old Trafford ground where the soccer team plays; it’s where it TRAINS, a ground that gets virtually no above-the-line coverage or exposure.

Why was this significant? Because AON could see a correlation: Manchester United was using that particular ground to create football superstars. AON’s corporate clients had a need relating to employee benefits that was also focused on finding and building excellence. Because there was this brand value alignment, they used that training complex to hold presentations with their customers, which had a way of making each of their relationships much more fruitful (of course, having a football celebrity walk into a meeting certainly sweetened a few deals). It’s in this way that BTL sponsorships may be extremely effective.

This got me thinking about whether there are any exclusive spaces or experiences that we could secure for corporates in South Africa, which could then offer that benefit exclusively to their customers? Perhaps it’s a members-only private wine bar with a view over the city that the public can’t access? Or maybe it’s tickets to an exclusive function that money simply can’t buy, or a visit from a famed sports team?

Go much further

Wouldn’t budget spent on building relationships with a handful of key business customers go much further than spending millions on sponsoring a TV show? After all, it’s that human element or personal interaction that clients respond to, not only how much you’re spending on your above-the-line brand campaign this year.

So it’s not all about naming rights, t-shirts or TV advertising; it’s time to think about sponsorships differently, and more specifically, how they may be used effectively in a B2B context.

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