The ABCs of sponsorship research

Daniel Buckley and Christopher Rigney are the principals of R.O.I. Sports & Entertainment Research Canada, which opened an office in Toronto last September. The firm provides sponsorship research services for such clients as General Motors of Canada, Air Canada, Sears Canada...

Daniel Buckley and Christopher Rigney are the principals of R.O.I. Sports & Entertainment Research Canada, which opened an office in Toronto last September. The firm provides sponsorship research services for such clients as General Motors of Canada, Air Canada, Sears Canada and Tim Hortons.

As an industry, sponsorship marketing is still quite young. Sponsorship research, however, is even younger.

In recent years, corporations have placed their sponsorship programs under increasing scrutiny. Their understandable desire to measure the return on investment from sponsorship – particularly in light of the way that rights fees are growing – has resulted in the rapid evolution of the sponsorship measurement industry.

As in any new industry, the body of knowledge upon which methods and practices are based remains very much in development. Right now, sponsorship research is still striving to find a balance between art and science in its use of qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Based on what we’ve learned to date, here are the ABCs (and Ds) of sponsorship research.

(A)ccumulate and employ normative data to evaluate sponsorship performance.

Companies with a broad sponsorship portfolio should make a concerted effort to develop normative measures against which they can evaluate the performance of their sponsorship programs.

Having the ability to analyze the results of a sponsorship against a reliable benchmark is vastly preferable to evaluating sponsorship in a vacuum. Comparing data from a specific event or program to normative data lends invaluable context to the findings, and answers the inevitable question: ‘Are these results good or bad compared to other events or programs?’

A key is understanding which elements of a company’s sponsorships are critical to measure, and then constructing research questions that will effectively address these issues. Take the necessary time to develop good questions early on: A poorly constructed question is difficult to eliminate from a research survey once it’s being used for benchmarking and trending purposes.

(B)e sure to establish sponsorship objectives up front.

To measure the performance of an event sponsorship, a company must articulate its specific objectives before the program actually launches.

While this may sound like a basic step, convincing a company (or its agency) to take it can prove a challenge. But without an understanding of what the organization hopes to achieve through sponsorship efforts, it is virtually impossible to conduct the post-event measurement exercise.

Measurement of the sponsorship program should be based on its performance against this pre-determined set of objectives. Did the sponsorship increase awareness, improve the corporate or brand image, fuel product trials and drive sales? Or all of the above?

(C)onduct ‘pre-search’ whenever possible.

Many organizations now commit a portion of their sponsorship budget to the return-on-investment post-measurement of programs. But few actually conduct research prior to making a sponsorship investment.

Research at this stage may not seem like a necessity, but it offers an invaluable opportunity to gain consumer insight into the investment that the corporation or brand is pondering. In some cases, it may raise concerns that prompt organizations to back away from investments, thereby ‘saving’ themselves a considerable amount of money.

By establishing a line of communication with consumers – whether through surveys, focus groups or in-depth interviews – companies can answer a number of key questions. Do the target consumers see a natural alignment between the organization and the property that it plans to sponsor? Does the sponsorship make sense to them? Does the idea resonate with them in any meaningful way?

Corporations and brands should also ask their target audience what they would like to see offered as part of a sponsorship program. Promotions? Ticket or travel giveaways? In-store athlete appearances? Online contesting? Try to assess this input from consumers objectively – don’t discount what they have to say. By gaining an understanding of the targeted consumer’s behaviour and attitudes toward sponsorship, organizations can decide whether investment in a property is worth pursuing, and determine which activation strategies merit consideration.

(D)on’t rely solely upon on-site research.

In some ways, measuring the impact of an event sponsorship can prove a good deal easier than measuring other types of marketing programs, given that the universe of consumers affected by the event is generally quite well-defined: People either attended the event or they didn’t.

Where problems arise, they often have to do with the means by which we collect information from attendees. All too frequently, sponsoring organizations try to conduct quick-and-dirty consumer research on-site. This generally entails writing their own questionnaire, and deploying ‘interviewers’ armed with clipboards and pens to intercept as many event participants as possible.

If all we wanted to do was to collect general behavioural information (who accompanied the respondent to the event, how far they travelled to get there, how they obtained tickets, and so on) this approach would be perfectly acceptable. To get a true evaluation of the program, however, the event sponsor needs to pose a battery of key questions that are best asked off-site – questions dealing with issues such as sponsorship recall, general attitudes toward the sponsor and willingness to try the sponsor’s product or service.

For this reason, sponsors should consider employing a ‘recruit and callback’ method, whereby respondents are recruited at the event, and then interviewed later by phone. Conducting the interview process a week or so after the event increases the likelihood that respondents will give ‘true’ responses, rather than the ones they think the on-site interviewer wants to hear. The ‘recruit and callback method’ also offers a more accurate measure of sponsorship awareness, since the interview takes place away from the actual venue, with all of its readily visible sponsor exposure.

Sponsorship research is capable of delivering relevant, timely and accurate information that helps corporations and their brand marketers gain a better understanding of their sponsorship investments. In the years ahead, sponsorship research will continue to employ both qualitative and quantitative techniques. But as the knowledge base matures and grows, methodologies and practices will be refined and standardized.

- Get Carter: Toronto Raptor is proving Vince Carter is proving to be just as hot off the court as on p.25

- Does it work for the brand? There’s no point spending the money if the event doesn’t further your brand’s objectives p.29

- Creative Trust pools fundraising resources p.30

Corner Officer Shifts: Martin Fecko leaves Tangerine

Plus, PointsBet Canada and Thinkific name new marketing leaders as Lole gets a new ecommerce VP.
Corner Office

Martin Fecko departs Tangerine 

After roughly two years of serving as Tangerine’s chief marketing officer, Martin Fecko has a new gig. And this time, the financial services vet will apply his marketing leadership to a new sector, having been named CMO of Dentalcorp.

Fecko will lead the dental network’s end-to-end patient journey, support its overall growth, and work to maximize patient experiences across every touchpoint, the company said in a release.

“Martin’s in-depth expertise in engaging and retaining customers through a digitally enabled experience will be valuable in realizing our vision to be Canada’s most trusted healthcare network,” said Dentalcorp president Guy Amini.

Prior to joining Scotiabank’s digital-only banking brand in late-2019, Fecko was country manager for Intuit Canada and spent 10 years at American Express in consumer and digital marketing.

PointsBet Canada nabs former Bell marketer as it pursues expansion

Dave Rivers has joined PointsBet, an online gaming and sports betting operator, as Canadian VP of marketing.

Rivers joins from Bell, where he was most recently director of brand marketing and sponsorship, responsible for driving the company’s national sponsorship strategy and portfolio. He will report to PointsBet Canada chief commercial officer Nic Sulsky.

According to Sulsky, Rivers will “play a key role as we prepare to launch a business that is unique to our roots here in Canada.”

PointsBet has a significant presence in Australia, where it was founded, and in the U.S. In July, it named Scott Vanderwel, a former SVP at Rogers, as CEO of its Canadian subsidiary, one of several hires aimed at establishing the company’s presence locally.

Thinkific names first CMO among other executive appointments

Vancouver’s Thinkific, a platform for creating, marketing and selling online courses, has appointed Henk Campher as its first chief marketing officer as it invests in marketing to support its growth plans. It has also upped Chris McGuire to the role of chief technology officer and moved former CTO and co-founder Matt Payne into the new role of SVP of innovation.

Co-founder and CEO Greg Smith said Campher and McGuire “will play key roles building high-functioning teams around them and optimizing investment as we continue to carve out an increasingly prominent and differentiated position in the global market.”

Campher joins from Hootsuite, where he was VP of corporate marketing. Before that, he was VP of brand and communications at CRM giant Salesforce.

Lolë names new VP of digital omni-commerce as parent company exits bankruptcy protection

The Montreal-based athletic apparel and accessories retailer has appointed Rob French as VP of digital omni-commerce.

French will lead Lolë’s efforts in consumer insights, supply chain-to-consumer models and online customer journeys. In what is a new role for the company, he will also work to grow the company’s retail brand. He arrives with sixteen years experience in ecommerce, having spent the last few years as chief digital commerce officer at sporting goods retailer Decathlon.

In May 2020, Lolë parent Coalision Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection, citing several years of losses as a result of a downturn in the retail clothing market, increased competition and excess inventory – problems exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the filing, Coalision was seeking an investor or purchaser of its assets.

It successfully exited bankruptcy protection last year and is currently rebuilding its executive team, according to a spokesperson.