Building brands, making customer connections

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Commitment to sponsorships yields an array of benefits for businesses in New North

Story by Larry Avila, New North B2B Editor

Sponsorship as part of a marketing strategy may be among the recommendations Appleton-based Willems Marketing makes to a client.

In most instances, being a sponsor for a major community event or festival can get a company’s logo, name, brand or product in front of a lot of people, which can make a lasting impression on attendees and potential customers.

When agency owner and president Dave Willems decided to muster the resources of his marketing firm to aid national recording artist and Appleton native Cory Chisel in launching Mile of Music across downtown Appleton, he never imagined the overwhelming success of the event would reshape his business.

“Though it wasn’t our motivation for launching Mile of Music in such a big way, the success of the event and the attention it has received as being the catalyst for the creative economy movement in the Fox Cities has certainly helped re-energize our team and our company at Willems Marketing,” Willems said. He renamed his firm Willems Marketing & Events, which will continue to provide marketing services but now will also produce unique or distinctive artisan events for corporations and groups.

“I truly wanted to do something big, something unique, and something that changed our thinking in the Fox Cities from a more passive or gradual approach to creating big splashes to one of ‘this is a pretty special place,’ and ‘we can do this,’” Willems said.

The success Willems found through making Mile of Music a reality is similar to what other businesses have achieved through sponsorships.

A robust sector

IEG International, an authority on sponsorships, projected sponsorship spending in North America could reach $20.6 billion this year, up 4 percent from $19.8 billion in 2013. A majority of the spending, about 70 percent, will go toward sports, with the next largest share, 10 percent, going to entertainment and the remainder split between causes; the arts; festivals, fairs and annual events; and associations and membership organizations.

Why businesses decide to sponsor everything from a Little League baseball team to Independence Day fireworks displays varies from simply showing they want to be seen as being community minded to raising awareness of a name, service or product.

Ultimately the motivation behind sponsorships is to drive sales through developing connections with a target market, said Don McCartney, a senior lecturer of marketing at the Austin E. Cofrin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

NASCAR is viewed as one of most successful sponsorship venues, McCartney said.

“Research shows 79 percent of the people who consider themselves NASCAR fans buy the brands they see advertised on the cars,” he said. “That’s huge (because) the sponsors are reaching people who watch the races on TV and who are at the tracks.”

Corporations pay millions for the naming rights to stadiums, which house professional sports teams. California-based Lucas Oil in 2006 committed $120 million over 20 years for the naming rights to the Indianapolis Colts home field, named Lucas Oil Stadium.

McCartney said research showed over two years, Lucas Oil’s naming rights fee was estimated at $12 million but the exposure it brought to the company was valued at $73 million, just over six times a return on investment.

“Theoretically (sponsorship) is advertising and it isn’t free, but it is an opportunity to be seen in a lot of places in a lot of different ways,” he said.

Raising awareness

When a company’s logo is seen alongside other business logos, it may be presumed lost in the crowd and doesn’t create the effect hoped.

Sara Steffes Hansen, assistant professor of strategic communication at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, said even when a logo is seen for a few seconds it can make a lasting impression.

“If a company logo is on the shirt of a kid’s soccer team or water bottle, over time, people can make a connection between that business and an event, and if they have a positive connection, people will start to align the brand or logo in a positive way, which will raise awareness of that brand in a positive way,” she said.

But building brand awareness via sponsorship, whether it’s through securing a stadium’s naming rights or having a logo on a youth sports team, requires commitment, Hansen said.

“It can take years for it to actually make an impact,” she said. “With advertising, you want to have enough impressions or contacts, one exposure may not be the best but you don’t want to be overexposed so that your brand becomes annoying, but you want to be visible.”

The right fit

Linda Hollander, a Los Angeles-based author, speaker and expert on business sponsorships, said the medium provides businesses a more targeted focus than traditional advertising.

“If a company is looking to target moms or new moms, because the parent market is huge, businesses know those moms and new parents will be spending a lot of money on kids, so you want to associate with an event that caters to moms, or support mom blogs or a (website) that has information on parenting,” she said.

Hollander said by supporting a specific property, it establishes a connection and a company begins to engage the potential target market.

Through sponsorships, a business can enhance an experience by having a contest where people are asked to share their experiences and then offering a prize from the sponsoring business.

“It makes it more interactive rather than a one way push message,” Hollander said.

Sometimes a business wants to align what it does or offer when deciding to become a sponsor.

Hollander said in some cases, businesses simply decide to devote resources to something simply for mass exposure. Candy maker Mars Inc. has found success promoting M&M’s candy through NASCAR.

“NASCAR is going after the family market, so M&M’s is a good match there,” Hollander said. “They’re a food vendor at every race, so they do see immediate effect.”

Discover Card and Smucker’s also have seen results being long-time sponsors of Scott Hamilton’s Stars on Ice.

“Those businesses also wanted to focus on the family market and (Hamilton’s) event hits that market,” Hollander said.

Results are often wanted quickly but businesses must realize sponsorships in most instances don’t bring immediate returns, she said.

“Sponsorships tend to look bad on quarterly statements because the return on investment does not come quickly,” Hollander said. “Sponsorships are about building relationships with the core (customers) you’re trying to target.”

Making it their own

This is what MBM, an Appleton-based provider of document management services and seller of Xerox and Conica Minolta equipment, hoped to achieve through its 360 My Office contest. The contest offered a pair of technology makeovers – one totaling $15,000, the other $10,000 and three printers – awarded to needy and worthy non-profit organizations in the greater Fox Valley.

Michele Yahr, marketing director at MBM, said the company decided to do the contest as a vehicle to raise its profile in the community as well as find potential new customers.

“Our company, like many others, often get requests to sponsor something or donate to a cause, we just thought we needed to do something that was ours and the contest was it,” Yahr said. “We specifically wanted to help non-profits because technology always is the last thing they can afford to spend money on.”

The contest led to partnerships with area media, which helped promote it and gained exposure for MBM as well as the non-profits who entered the contest.

In some cases entries were provided by people who served on non-profit boards and entered on behalf of their organization, Yahr said. Some of those individuals represent an assortment of businesses from the region.

People then were required to vote for those organizations online. The top 10 would receive additional promotion and ultimately a winner selected at a breakfast event on Oct. 21.

A lot of time has been invested in the contest, Yahr said. But the benefits will be long-lasting.

“The (good) PR is a piece of it,” she said. “(Businesses) need to give back to the community and we found a good way to do it … we do hope to get business out of it too, but 90 percent of the reason we did (the contest) was to help non-profits.”

Brian Gottlieb, president of Tundraland Home Improvements in Kaukauna, said his company sponsors events where it can make a face-to-face impact.

“We develop activities where we can stand out and not get lost in the mix,” he said. During Mile of Music, Tundraland sponsored a singing in the shower challenge, where the company set up a show display in the lobby of the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in downtown Appleton and invited patrons and performing artists to sing in the shower.

The promotion was deemed successful since it drew 250 people, but it also raised $2,000 to benefit local youth music education, Gottlieb said.

“For us, it’s really about supporting grassroots, community activities like Mile of Music where the partnership can help create local, grassroots success stories,” he said.

Connecting with youth also gives his business a connection with next generation customers.

“It’s not the only reason we utilize event marketing, but finding new customers always is important,” he said. “For us though, it can also be about finding new employees because we tend to do fun activities with our community and event sponsorships … it’s proven to be a great way to recruit new talent.”