Getting the Most Out of Event Sponsorship
The Significance of B2B Event Sponsorship
The path to building a consumer brand typically involves some substantial advertising through proven avenues like television, websites, and "out of home" channels such as billboards and sporting events – plus a substantial amount of marketing through search optimization and social media. Building a business to business (B2B) brand presents very different challenges. Certainly, there are products and services for which these media outlets remain effective (advertising pharmaceuticals to consumers in order to influence doctors; RIAs marketing personal wealth management; or selling a common B2B service like commercial banking), but as B2B products become more specialized (prime brokerage to hedge funds; AML compliance software for banks; or orthopedic surgical devices) businesses need more specialized ways to reach their target customers.
Since the traditional media channels are less effective, and many of these B2B products are high value, most B2B companies focus their attention on direct sales efforts through salespeople, CRM tools, lead generation software/services, and channels for direct prospect referrals. While companies have developed effective robust strategies for selling, which include sophisticated software technologies, it is less common for B2B companies to allocate a meaningful share of their budgets to advertising and building brand. This is due in part to the lack of channels through which companies can build a B2B brand, but it is also due to the lack of an effective way to plan, track, and measure results from such campaigns.
Branding Options for B2B Marketers
Historically, there have been two prominent channels available to build a B2B brand for almost every industry – trade magazines and trade shows. Trade magazines offered a highly targeted audience that was easy for the publisher to measure and target directly. Ad placements were often combined with contextual editorial, and companies could immediately gain industry wide exposure through the right combination of PR efforts and media buying.
The print advertisement has not only been replaced by the web advertisement, but the approach now requires a better content marketing and social media strategy online.
Trade magazines still exist, but all of them have a website presence and far fewer are distributed in print form. Since websites provide a different experience for the reader – specifically, much more targeted access to the right content – the opportunity to place a full-page ad on page 5 and be guaranteed that over a third of the industry will see your brand by Tuesday has been lost. The print advertisement has not only been replaced by the web advertisement, but the approach now requires a better content marketing and social media strategy online.
What has not changed with respect to advertising through trade magazines and websites is that marketers have access to highly specific data about the target audience and engagement, which allows for data-driven planning, tracking and measurement of results, including click-throughs and CRM integration.
Building Brand Through Industry Events
Sponsoring industry events of various sizes remains one of the last truly targeted methods to build a B2B brand, which is why third party research shows that 14% of B2B marketing budgets are spent on in-person events. Large trade shows still present an obvious and effective means of getting your brand noticed by a large number of industry participants, and they provide opportunities to combine advertising with content (speaking and exhibits) and direct in-person selling. Many of these larger shows also offer excellent analytics about attendees and brand exposure, but too often, these are the only events for which chief marketing officers have any quality information.
Small events also offer great branding opportunities for sponsors – partly because there is easier integration of sponsorship with direct selling - but also because a firm’s brand does not get lost in a long list of sponsors. It is often the case that a company can get more brand lift by serving as the only sponsor for a series of 50-person events than by acting as one of ten "bronze level" sponsors at the industry’s largest annual conference. Too often, sponsors ignore the value of smaller event sponsorship, because it is too difficult to allocate, track and measure results. Instead, a firm’s event marketing strategy is usually limited to tracking individual sales interactions at industry events.
Individual sales efforts at events is definitely important and effective, but firms often sponsor small events with too much focus on the small subset of attendees that they will meet in person vs. the entire guest list that is exposed to their brand. Building brand through event sponsorship can lead to exposure and brand recognition by buyers and influencers, and affiliation with the right events, hosts, co-sponsors, and content/experiences can have a meaningful "brand lift" – measured as the net increase in positive brand perception by the customer.
Clearly, small event sponsorship has a role in both branding and business development, so the question is “why don’t firms allocate more planning and budgets to building brand through event sponsorship?”. This is due to three challenges:
- difficulty of allocating sponsorship to small events;
- lack of tools to plan, track and measure;
- challenge of integrating brand impressions with direct sales management (CRMs).
When sponsoring industry events of all sizes, firms need to focus more attention on building brand to achieve longer term, broader market results.
Plan, Track and Measure Branding Through Events:
- Chief Marketing Officers need to be engaged in allocating budget, setting expectations and measuring results from campaigns.
- Develop an event marketing strategy that includes branding and marketing as a component of a long-term plan for acquiring greater market share.
- Set campaign plans and expectations that are based on quantifiable results - integrating event sponsorship and online branding/content with relationship building, referrals and direct customer interaction - using a consistent set of metrics, tracking, and ROI measurement.
- Select events for sponsorship that can deliver real data on brand impressions, attendee composition.
- Determine how brand lift occurs in your industry: is one impression sufficient, or does it require multiple impressions with the right affiliations to have an influence?
- Determine whether or not sole sponsorship is more or less beneficial than being one of many.
- Allocate sponsorship dollars based on yield per target attendee, and employ a system that standardizes data across events large and small.
- Utilize tools to integrate data from sponsor impressions with direct customer interaction (CRM) and other campaigns (online content, etc).
- Be thoughtful about "creative" when sponsoring: images, messaging, providing services or benefits to attendees, and follow-up.
- Insist that event hosts collect and provide relevant data, and hold them accountable.
- Integrate data from sponsoring with event hosting and attending - with a common set of goals, tracking, and measurement.
- Incorporate event data with CRM and other sales efforts for better targeting and monitoring results.
Until now, building brand through events yields a limited amount of data that is useful for planning, tracking and measurement, and small events offer almost nothing beyond a promise to deliver direct access to a list of prospective attendees. Firms can change this by expecting a greater amount of transparency to standardized data, which will open up greater opportunities to systematically allocate sponsorship across industry events large and small and measure results.
Function4 is a platform and software solution that delivers a comprehensive tool set to help your firm create, execute, and measure a data-driven Event Marketing Strategy – integrating hosting, sponsorship, and event attendance, with a focus on your industry and the relevant data and metrics. We have built the tools necessary to help your firm plan and execute a data-driven sponsorship campaign across industry events.
Learn more about how your firm can begin using Function4 today.