The Lamp Post Revisited

In the March 9th Marketing: Sports SLRG President Jon Last speaks to the three most important things that marketers should think about when measuring or justifying sponsorship ROI.

Those who’ve seen my presentations have heard my parable about how too many organizations use research like a drunk uses a lamp post … for support rather than for its intended purpose … illumination.

Recently, I’ve spoken across the country about the heightened demand for ROI measurement. And while I’m pleased that this topic has come to the forefront, I’m irked to report, that the old parable probably needs some reinforcement. Too many people continue to look for the typically flawed “official scorecard” to prove a point, rather than take a more holistic approach that can build a brand by moving away from an elusive and declarative singular “number,” towards true insights.

Here, then, is what we all need to remember when thinking about measuring the impact of our sports marketing investments.

Move beyond scorekeeping: If research becomes nothing more than a number to mark your territory and position yourself against the competition, you will inevitably be disappointed. First, so much of the current or proposed “currency” is built on flawed methodological short-cuts that your brand or property can become commoditized by those who can benefit by doing so (for example, an agency negotiating down a CPM).

I’ve written previously about how media and sports properties continue to victimize themselves by futilely hunting for the easy, catch-all, cross-channel measurement tool that is simply not cost effective or possible in a world of marketing mix convergence. To paraphrase a favorite quote, “[Too many] media researchers want data that is perfect and add little analysis or interpretation to it. Good marketing researchers know the data they use is flawed and use it with other information to converge on a solution.”

Return on objectives is a more realistic and productive measurement goal than ROI: Absent rigorous experimental design, it’s simply inefficient to attribute direct investment return on singular marketing tactics. But one can design research programs to gauge how effectively your brand’s (hopefully) differentiated benefits and message points are resonating with your target audience. You measure this by incorporating you and/or your marketing partner’s objectives into the custom research.

The research directors of the major team sports leagues I spoke to in New York generally agreed with this premise. And I would assert that such an approach can reasonably assess the impact of your messaging over time, while being less threatening than scorekeeping because all parties “win” fresh knowledge that ideally transforms the relationship to one of mutual cooperation and insight. Such an approach also takes into account the importance of building brand equity among a wider audience of stake-holders.

There are other elements in the value chain between the message and the consumer: In high-involvement categories such as sports, our research demonstrates that the path between brand messaging and ultimate purchase has become more complex and more considered. This supports the earlier points that attribution of a single marketing mix element on a purchase is largely folly. But it also suggests a need to look at other impacts in measuring branding success.

In particular, some of our recent work reinforces the heightened importance of understanding how one’s brand is evangelized virally (both through literal word of mouth and social media) and at retail. This is increasingly critical, in today’s more value-conscious environment. The best consumer marketing in the world can become undone, if other category influencers sway a target away from your brand. Absent a look into those elements, you might mistakenly throw the baby out with the bath water.