As we bask in the afterglow of Team GB's Olympics success and look forward to another season of the beautiful game, we are repeatedly reminded of the all-pervasive nature of sponsorship in today's world. Just as direct mail became a mainstream discipline decades ago, sponsorship is coming out of the shadows and is increasingly recognised as a core component of the communications mix. However, before we embark on exploring DM's amorous relationship with sponsorship, we would do well to understand what sponsorship really is and what it means to marketers. The truth is, sponsorship has become a catch-all word that encompasses a multitude of virtues and sins. Even among us marketing experts, there seems to be a lack of clarity ... Is it a channel or is it a platform? Is it a tactical tool or a strategic pillar? Is it indeed "sponsorship" or should we refer to it as partnership or associative marketing?
At its broadest definition, sponsorship represents a vast landscape and part of the skill of sponsorship specialists is to navigate this space effectively and develop marketing solutions that fit the needs of brands. Clearly, where expert support is most often sought is when brands sponsor (or partner!) larger, more complex properties since these offer powerful platforms for consumer engagement and are often associated with significant investment. It is these platforms that also offer the most effective opportunity for integrated marketing communications, where Direct Mail often plays an essential role in engaging consumers.
The success of the relationship between DM and sponsorship is built on two key pillars. The first is the targeting that sponsorship can offer, namely to reach the right consumer with the right message. Sport and entertainment sponsorship give brands access to consumers that often share not only socioeconomic and demographic similarities, but also attitudinal and behaviourial consistencies, allowing DM to work to maximum effect and drive response rates. When white goods manufacturer AEG gave us the challenge of engaging influential, female, empty nesters, we discovered that in certain key regions, golf indexed strongly against this core target. By creating a partnership with the Women's Golf Association, we established a vehicle and database to reach these affluent opinion formers and cascade influence.
The second key pillar that sponsorship offers DM is emotional engagement with consumers. In the case of AEG, the client needed to raise the profile of its new product range as well drive broader consideration. Our first DM campaign was targeted at the secretary of each golf club in the UK and offered female members the chance to participate through their local clubs in the first ever AEG British Ladies Amateur Golf tournament. We also offered the chance for each participating club to win an AEG kitchen for the club and its members. Further, an AEG roadshow was aligned to the later stages of the competition and women were invited to experience the product on-site. The fact that more than 35,000 women took part in the tournament in year one was an achievement, but it was the brand metrics of those exposed to the sponsorship that secured success.
Connecting emotionally with consumers through their lifestyle passions is an important factor in exploiting the intimacy and physicality of DM. When that connection offers consumers access to exclusive sponsorship lifestyle content, the effects can be dramatic. The success of the O2 DM campaign, which offered existing customers an exclusive VIP-style area within its sponsored music festivals, amply demonstrates this. In a category renowned for churning customers, Vodafone has also been quick to harness music and used DM to promote its own more intimate series of Vodafone Live events, driving response to specific offers.
Using exclusive sponsorship assets as a means to enhance the cut-through of DM is becoming common in many industry sectors. When Honda sponsored the Honda Classic Senior Tennis series, its customers were mailed offers for free tickets with proof of servicing from local dealers. Likewise, Amex has used its sponsorship of Wimbledon to great effect with premium card holders, offering experiences that no other card can deliver.
Leveraging DM with sponsorship also works effectively when targeting business-to-business and trade customers. Part of the value of sponsorship comes from its ability to target multiple stakeholders with a consistent message. Prior to the Honda Classic, the title sponsor ran a DM campaign for its dealers, featuring a tube of tennis balls and a VIP pass for hospitality during the series.
So DM loves sponsorship, but is the love reciprocated? Does sponsorship only have eyes for DM? Well, the truth is, sponsorship is somewhat of a hussy and spreads her love across multiple channels. Successful sponsorship touches the consumer (and other stakeholders) through many points, but there is one particular reason why sponsorship makes special time for DM.
Sponsorship is often challenged by its ability to measure performance since it is often hard to evaluate results across multiple channels and stakeholders, while separating these metrics from main brand activity. The discipline that DM applies to measuring effectiveness is an inspiration to those of us who seek to answer these tough questions. As a result of analysing channels such as DM, our business has developed a series of measures that help marketers answer questions on performance. So, yes, sponsorship may be a bit of a tart, but we reserve a special place in our heart for DM.
- Tom Silk is the managing director of Velocity UK.
This essay was commissioned by Campaign to a brief agreed with Royal Mail.
Royal Mail and the cruciform are registered trademarks of Royal Mail Group Ltd. DM loves ... Sponsorship advertorial (c) Royal Mail Group Ltd 2008. All rights reserved.
THIS ESSAY IN 15 SECONDS ...
DM's relationship with sponsorship is built on two factors. First is the precise targeting that sponsorship can offer, inviting DM to drive response rates with the right people at the right time. Second is the emotional engagement with consumers and this can work with consumers, B2B and trade audiences. In many ways, sponsorship has something to learn from DM's traditional focus on measuring campaign effectiveness.