Social Marketing and Sponsorship Marketing – Are they really that far apart?

I recently returned from the World Social Marketing and Non-Profit Conference in Dublin, Ireland where hundreds of academics and professionals gathered to share the latest trends, tools and strategies on the use of marketing to modify societal behaviour, particularly in the health care field. I always find it fascinating to see what others around the world are doing when it comes to marketing and in particular, how corporate partnerships are being used to advance marketing objectives.  One of the key take-aways from the conference for me was that Social Marketing and Sponsorship Marketing are really evolving on similar paths. Here are a few trends I picked up at the conference and how they relate to the world of sponsorship marketing.

The use of corporate partnerships (or sponsorships) in social marketing is increasing. As government and non-profit organizations struggle with “doing more for less” and are increasingly faced with the challenge of reaching target audiences with messages at the right time and place (when they are most receptive to messages), there is a growing realization that the private sector can play an important role in achieving these objectives.  However, most organizations are still struggling with how to effectively engage the corporate sector and demonstrate the impact (on both sides) achieved through these collaborative arrangements.  The lesson to be learned here is that in order to be successful in engaging corporate partners in any initiative, we need to take the time to understand what potential partners want to achieve and how they will measure success. Once we can define value in their terms, we will know what we will need to do to sustain the partnership over the long-term. (As a sidebar, based on what I heard at the conference, I think North America is ahead of the rest of the world in this area)

Sponsorship Marketing and Social Marketing are on parallel paths. Social marketing appears to be shifting its focus from “reaching target audiences” to “participant engagement”. This is based on the notion that when audiences become engaged, behaviour change is not far behind. This closely resembles what is happening in sponsorship marketing with the increased focus on sponsorship activation as a means of engaging audiences in the “brand experience” vs. the old way of relying on interruptive messaging to make an impact with audiences.The lesson to be learned here is that we need to build in audience engagement (activation) elements into our sponsorship packages in order to generate real results.

Sponsorship Marketing can have a major impact on behaviour change. As we know, marketing is about influencing behaviour, whether it be getting someone to switch brands, register for a conference, stop smoking or increase take-up on a new program or service. One of the themes that came across consistently at the conference was that people need to be exposed to a message at least 5 times in different formats before they seriously consider any form of action or behaviour change. I think this is a “golden nugget” for for defining the value of sponsorships as a marketing tool because an effective sponsorship program exposes audiences to brand messaging and storytelling in a variety of formats including print and online profile, direct mail,  promotions, signage and on site activation. Therefore, the value proposition to a potential sponsor is that they will be able to leverage multiple tools (or tactics) to make a sustained impact with their target audience.

Finally, the line of the conference for me was “people are no longer dogs – they don’t come running just because we call them”.  This statement really sums up the fact that creating a better mousetrap doesn’t mean that people will necessarily buy it, by simply putting it on the market. As marketers, we need to do a better job at understanding our audiences, developing meaningful relationships and demonstrating real value to them before we can earn their business and loyalty.

Later,                                                                                                                                                     BC

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