Valuing a Sponsorship was Never Supposed to be Easy

Conducting research for a variety of sports properties and brands that activate around them affords me the opportunity to look at sponsorships with a fresh and unique approach, every time a client or agency calls us in. Yet it confounds me that for such a large and potentially high profile endeavor as investing in a sponsorship or sports marketing program, few still go beyond a fairly standardized approach of assessing potential exposure levels, translating these into GRP or CPM equivalents and, voila�out comes an empirical valuation. I get and subscribe to the K.I.S.S. principle, but time-out, there�s so much more to consider if you want to do this thoughtfully and accurately.

I’ve often belabored the point that not all “eyeballs” are created equal. We’ve done some really interesting proprietary work in the past year that certainly supports that statement. Evaluating potential sponsorship value from either the brand or property’s perspective is a lot more than trying to count eyeballs, attaching demographics and fitting the equation into a nice black box, despite the fact that traditional media planning currency suggests that this is legitimate and sufficient. I recently wrote a piece for Media Post that articulates how absent a clear understanding of the objectives behind a specific sports marketing activation, it is impossible to evaluate that effort’s performance, you can read it here. Beyond that, truly assessing the ability to provide return on those objectives is hard work, and I’d maintain that the evaluative criteria to measure it, should be as unique as possible to the specifics of a brand’s marketing challenge and/or a property’s offer. So as not to be hypocritical with my opening assertion, I’m not about to provide a one size fits all formula. Despite what some competitors may tell you, such a formula does not exist, and when you are investing significant dollars in sports (or selling that), good enough just isn’t very good. What I can outline are some common elements that any good measurement program should factor in, beyond simply the size and demographics of the target audience that you are reaching:

Specific Brand Recall and Competitive Set Confusion: First and foremost, what did the target remember about a sponsor and did it impact not just the activating brand, but the competitive set, as well? In highly competitive categories, how impactfully does the activation differentiate your brand?
Message Resonance and Receptivity: What did the target specifically take away from the activation? How accurate and on message is it? How credible and believable is it? What are the medium and longterm impacts?
Potential Behavioral and Perceptual Change Within the Competitive Set: Beyond recall, awareness and message resonance, what impact might the sponsorship have on category shopping behavior? If you really want to know this, you need to dive deeper than simple direct inquiries about purchase intent.
Understand the True Comparative Context: Stop trying to compare sports sponsorship to TV and traditional media. Despite all attempts to fuse audience effectiveness data across the media mix, it doesn’t take an advanced degree in statistics to understand that there are simply too many independent and interdependent variables. In fact, you probably aren’t doing yourself a favor by comparing stadium naming rights deals in different sports and sponsor brand categories. But you can better frame the context from which to measure by understanding the most important variables.
Incremental Impact of the Audience Beyond Activation: Who is the audience that you’ve reached, beyond demographics? Attitudinally and behaviorally, how influential are these people, and how might they deliver a reach far beyond those directly exposed to your sponsorship, within their own web of influence and communities? How does this audience compare and contrast with the “non-exposed?”
Other Stakeholder Impacts beyond the Core Program: A good sponsorship program has long tentacles that reach beyond a specific event or activation element, and I’d maintain that a thorough evaluation should seek to measure this as well. Again, revisiting objectives beyond exposure and or trial, sometimes suggests assessment of some of the same factors, above, across a wider audience.

Understanding marketing impact isn’t supposed to be easy. That’s not to say that the process is elusive, either. Rather, I’d advocate that you take the time to assess what you really want to know before signing on for research that won’t be worth the time, effort and cost. A custom approach can increase the likelihood that it will be well spent.