Why Do We Keep Measuring The Wrong Things In Evaluating Sports Marketing Activation?

Sports marketing programs continue to become more sophisticated, but measurement of their impact has not kept pace.  In the latest Media Post: Marketing insider, SLRG offers their take on why and how properties and brands need to gauge return on objective.

For many brands, it’s planning season. Couple that with the push by some to utilize opportunistic funds in the fourth quarter, and properties, brands and agencies are kicking into high gear to roll out their latest sports marketing programs. Since I first got into the business, there’s been a growing willingness and recognition of the necessity to measure return on investment in sports marketing.

For most, we are well past the days where partnerships were solely driven by a “C-title’s” affinity for a particular team or sport. The stakes are higher both from an economic and strategic perspective and that, coupled with the embrace of data and analytics, has spawned a push towards measuring program impact.

Consultants McKinsey and Company suggest that some 60-80% of overall sales are driven by a brand’s strength in the minds of target consumers. Yet, as a classically trained marketing researcher with a focus on sports, I’m still bemused by shoddy, largely futile attempts to quantify actual direct sales impact of singular marketing executions. To aim for such a result, amidst today’s dynamic and fragmented marketing mix is nearly impossible and prohibitively expensive.

A singular initiative may facilitate a transaction, but extensive study of the purchase funnel reveals a much more iterative process, where broader messaging sets the stage for consumers to place a brand within their consideration set. That’s why I’ve always advocated that a more pragmatic approach is the measurement of return on objective. Such a strategy can yield insightful efficacy measurement, justify program expense and correlate more directly to the brand strength that ultimately drives purchase decisions and brings about desired increases in market share and revenue.

But too many sports marketers continue to plod ahead with deployment of more dated measures associated with traditional advertising, and our profession’s roots as “sponsorship” rather than sports marketing. Counting exposed eyeballs, CPM equivalents, page views, clicks, shares, likes or even the dollar value of tickets and client access can certainly sound good in a recap report, but these measures say little to nothing about the impact of sports marketing to move the brand equity needle. How do such measures tell us if the right people are being reached? Further, how do we know if the differentiating aspects of featured brands are breaking through in a meaningful, equity-building fashion?

Brands and properties that want to measure or demonstrate activation efficacy need to delve more closely into what experimental design research can easily measure in terms of pre- and post-activation exposure impact. Reach equivalents say nothing about the relevancy of that audience, nor do they uncover the resonance and staying power of activation. Yet, when the measurement focus turns more appropriately to proper brand association with key message points, awareness, loyalty or perceived quality, one begins to gain a more insightful comprehension of the power of a particular program.

Of course, such a focus sounds easier than it really is. A thorough and thoughtful analysis must also deploy the rigor necessary to assure proper sampling and data collection procedures. Effective experimental design requires the ability to target demographic, behavioral and attitudinally representative populations, both pre- and post-exposure. We’ve stressed that this can best and most efficiently be accomplished through active screening of potential study participants.

Self-administered comment cards or place-based kiosks have been shown to over-represent those who feel strongly one way or another. Geolocation-based digital sampling capabilities are still not robust enough, to capture a stable enough population, so we strongly advocate on-site intercepts. But the proper approach also necessitates data collection instruments that obfuscate the activating brand through the use of a relevant competitive set, appropriate brand alignment measures and well crafted questions that do not lead respondents into false positives or negatives.

You are throwing out your money if you directly ask someone who attended an event if the presence of sponsor X made them more likely to buy their product. Ask yourself if you can honestly answer that question yourself, and you’ll recognize the limitations and false reads of a lot of what passes for sports marketing research today.

Net-net, the sports marketing investment is too significant and the results potentially too powerful, not to properly measure its efficacy. That said, to truly benefit from such an effort, one needs to subscribe to the old adage that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right!