Engaging clients and prospects through sponsorships and social media
It is that time of the year again. It’s summer in Canada and the noisy parade of festivals and concerts fills our cities from June to September. Montreal, of course, leads the list. Corporate Canada competes for high profile visibility through key sponsorships of these events. Event organizers have been on the prowl for big corporate dollars since the end of summer last year. Now, they are working hard to secure last minute deals offering potential sponsors who are late in the game, promises of heightened visibility and popularity for their brands. Every inch of banner space comes at a cost.
Marketers, especially brand managers, argue with CFOs and other executives in non-marketing positions that there is virtue and value in spending top dollars to be a major sponsor of these high-profile events. After all, this is a way of building brand awareness among prospects, engaging existing clients and getting them to do more business and add to the bottom line. In the minds of those closest to the financial planning process, there is no tangible proof that investing in sponsorships provides a healthy ROI.
Conventional marketing wisdom tells us that sponsorships and mass advertising of events patronized by target client segments, tends to build brand awareness and pre-disposes potential clients to give positive consideration to purchase products with the brand name. Now with the emergence and influence of social media, “Like us on Facebook” and “Follow us on Twitter” are commonplace on advertisements. But have these tactics supported business development? Debates rage on about how to calculate the ROI of investing in advertising. In my opinion, marketers and their corporate colleagues need to go beyond tactics and see the BIG picture.
The BIG picture
Access to information in various formats and through diverse channels offers the potential to influence and create engagement and new business opportunities. But consumers want more than information, and marketers and salespeople need to do more than just engage audiences. The “more” is all about building relationships based on authenticity and trust. Information and transparent communication from easily accessed sources builds trust and demonstrates authenticity, which sets the stage for sales and on-going business development. This, in my view is the BIG picture.
(And by the way, consumers have the means to quickly verify whether companies are being authentic and are worthy of consumers’ trust. We’re all aware of the social media disasters of McDonalds, Chrysler and Qantas.)
Information can be disseminated in a nanosecond through cyberspace. Bi-directional communication, between consumers and suppliers is possible through social media. ‘De-virtualizing’ social media contacts and interactions can be achieved through sponsorships and experiential marketing. The challenge that companies face, is how to bridge the gaps between information, communication and relationships so that engagement and trust are established and which ultimately result in new business from prospects and a larger share of wallet from clients. Consider the following important points that your company can focus on:
Build your social media community first. Identify social media platforms where your existing and potential clients interact. Participate in and contribute to social media forums on topics related to your business or to your community involvement, which are of interest to your target clientele. Become an influencer. Be seen as a major player in your field. In this way your company and brand gain credibility and authenticity, and more people who will like you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter and more importantly, recommend you to their networks.
Partner with organizations you sponsor, not just the events sponsored by organizations. The key to success is selecting organizations whose clientele, public reach and influence are similar to your target clientele. By establishing continuous visibility and alignment with the organizations whose events you sponsor, the frequency and depth of contact with potential clients creates trust in your brand and sets the stage for business development.
Be interactive, not only visible at sponsored events. Whether you’re handing out promotional items that are thrown away or hardly ever used, investing in a beautifully crafted banner with your company’s logo or drowning your logo in a sea of other logos from co-sponsors, your company may well be wasting financial and human resources. Don’t get me wrong, all of these tactics have their place and can be quite effective when coupled with opportunities to interact with your target audiences at sponsored events. Invest in sponsorships that allow your company to showcase its products and expertise in a way that makes your brand visible and credible and offers the opportunity to be in direct contact with your target audience. Is there a hospitality suite to which you can invite existing and potential clients, distributors, suppliers and influencers? If so, take advantage of this opportunity to build relationships. Make sure also, that you have the buy-in and on-site involvement of your business development people if the sponsorship will support sales and new business.
Always have a way to continue your conversation and interaction. Harvesting contact information from people attending promotional events, participating in contests, making inquiries etc., is a good way of creating engagement and interest and increases the chances of new business from prospects and more business from existing clients. Identifying the profiles of your contacts, segmenting and interacting with them in an appropriate communication style and with content relevant to their needs are essential to success.
A final word
Securing on-going budgetary support and commitment from the CFO and other non-marketing executives for sponsorships and social media programmes requires marketers to identify and optimize opportunities for business development. The effective tracking of prospecting and business development opportunities from these programmes must be a component of all sponsorship and social media activities that may well provide some encouraging, if not impressive ROI results.
See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.