Event Marketing: Associative marketing

Michael Lang is president of Lang & Associates, a Toronto-based international event marketing agency with offices in Vancouver, Montreal and Atlanta.Kirsten Armitage is an account executive with Lang & Associates, and co-ordinator for the Event Marketing column. Contributions, ideas, media releases...

Michael Lang is president of Lang & Associates, a Toronto-based international event marketing agency with offices in Vancouver, Montreal and Atlanta.

Kirsten Armitage is an account executive with Lang & Associates, and co-ordinator for the Event Marketing column. Contributions, ideas, media releases and feedback should be directed to Kirsten at (416) 229-0060 or fax (416) 229-1210.

Event marketing as a discipline continues to grow and evolve.

This growth can be clearly illustrated by the increase in dollars spent on event marketing each year, while marketplace trends more subtly mark turning points in the industry’s evolution.

The current North American event marketing industry size is estimated at $14.1 billion, reflecting annual double-digit growth in spending on events and sponsorship for the past decade.

According to the International Events Group in Chicago, North American spending on sponsorships will increase 11% in 1995, raising the total dollars invested by companies to $4.7 billion.

This can be compared with McCann-Erickson estimates that u.s. advertising spending is expected to grow by 6.8% in 1995, and Veronnis Subler & Associates estimates that u.s. sales promotion expenditures will increase by only 2.9% this year.

Past trends have seen the event paradigm shift through four distinct phases.

The 1970s saw event involvement driven by a sense of community and social responsibility. The strategy was based on emotion. Corporate involvement was funded through donations dollars.

In the 1980s, objectives shifted to image and awareness driven mainly through sponsorship involvement with an employed strategy of leveraging the association to the benefit of the corporation or brand.

pr/communications budgets supported much of this type of event involvement.

As marketing department dollars began to be committed to event programs in the 1990s, event marketing emerged as a sales-driven, integrated communications strategy led by involvement with a core event or property.

The future trend in traditional event marketing is based on corporations taking equity positions with the event or property to meet sales, image and motivation objectives.

Greater control of the property, heightened image, and the opportunity to generate income from the event and sub-sponsor involvement provide for a greater potential return on investment.

This is not to say all event marketers and corporations involved in events have followed this paradigm shift. Many marketers continue to use events in the traditional sponsorship realm.

They buy properties that they can associate their brands with in hopes that the relationship is strong enough on its own to link into the consumer’s decision-making process.

A fair portion of the dollar growth in event marketing can be traced to more corporations spending more dollars in the traditional sponsorship sense.

Here in Canada, recent sponsorship deals have seen large sums of money exchange hands for naming rights to new spectator venues – The Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in North York, Ont., GM Place in Vancouver, and the soon-to-be-built Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

These deals are akin to buying the biggest billboard around. Name recall will be high, but the jury is out as to any tangible results these deals will ever deliver.

Marketers recognize that while event marketing has been evolving, so, too, has the relationship between the corporation, its brands and the consumer.

With so many product categories at market saturation, the market is faced with a situation of ‘monopolistic competition.’

This market condition describes a market in which no one brand dominates, product differentiation is in product perception, not product performance, and price competition is intense.

The determinant factor that will affect product purchase is the relationship that a brand enjoys with the consumer.

Consumers are now in control of this relationship – and they are relishing it.

Organizations must become consumer-focused if they hope to be able to respond to this dramatic shift. Marketing efforts in successful consumer-focused organizations will centre on creating, nurturing and building strong and lasting relationships with their consumers.

The new fight will not be over market share, but, rather, share of customer.

Events in the traditional sense have always provided an opportunity to initiate a dialogue with consumers.

Consumer-focused corporations that approach their consumer from a relationship marketing standpoint are prepared to embark on new initiatives in consumer and event marketing.

‘Associative marketing’ is a new term for this new perspective on traditional event marketing.

It is the taking of the emotions, imagery, or activities that the consumer holds dear and associating those emotions, imagery or activities with the corporation or brand for the purpose of achieving corporate business objectives.

This association is much like a bridge that connects two points; it will be a conduit of information, it will hold the two points together.

It will allow for an ongoing dialogue to be established and a relationship to be nurtured.

Successful corporations will build bridges that will allow consumers to come to them; they will be invitations, not impositions.

Successful associative marketing does not need to focus on traditional events.

The link may be an education program or a community outreach initiative – the key is to design the bridge based on the lifestyle activities, events and emotions that are most relevant to the consumer.

Careful research into consumers’ behavior, interests, likes and dislikes will determine what associations will be appropriate for a corporation to pursue.

The onus will be on the corporation to deliver meaningful programs to its consumers.

When designed properly, with a long-term vision and strong commitment to the consumer, associative marketing programs will invariably meet corporate needs and objectives.