Not Your Grandfather’s Sponsorships

Sponsorships are everywhere. From local landmarks to the presidential inauguration, long-familiar names are being replaced with corporate monikers.

For online marketers, sponsorships can be an effective way to solve many complex marketing challenges. In particular, sponsorships can extend reach and increase revenue. With advertiser demand for targeted audiences exceeding the amount of available and appropriate inventory, tailored sponsorships can meet that demand. Online retailers also benefit from sponsorships by defraying promotional expenses.

As a marketer, you’re aiming for a win-win-win for the big three Cs: customers, clients, and company. To succeed, a sponsorship must provide value for all.

Sponsorship opportunities are often just waiting to be created. Actually building them requires rethinking content strategy. Instead of working hard to offer content that appeals to the broadest possible audience, consider how to make that content appeal to multiple niches. In essence, you must run a portfolio of narrowly oriented networks.

From an advertiser’s perspective, innovative online sponsorships can be a big win as well. Dynamic Logic research demonstrates online sponsorships can be an effective way to break through clutter, compared to ad campaigns that only include standard messaging units.

Some sponsorship opportunities on your site:

  • Targeted content. Create specific areas within your site that appeal to special interests or provide unusual content. A cosponsored subsite with a related look and feel is another option. The work doesn’t end when you identify an opportunity and complete the deal. You must still drive qualified traffic to the new content area and incorporate the sponsor into promotions. Ensure sponsors, like customers, benefit as much as possible from the promotion.

  • E-mail. A variation on targeted content is email tailored to appeal to a group of customers with a well-defined interest, enhancing usage and driving traffic to both your site and your sponsor’s.
  • Contests/surveys. Attract new visitors with an engaging contest or survey of interest to your target audience. This offers the potential to collect contact information and follow up with other marketing.
  • Webinars. Underwriting a well-known speaker who attracts attendees is another way to engage sponsors. Sponsors benefit from the registration process and follow-up handouts, while attendees get something unique and valuable.
  • Subscriptions. Build your paid subscription list by having a sponsor subsidize free subscriptions. The sponsor is promoted in your acquisition email, registration process, and site or newsletter. One option is to only offer these subscriptions to potential subscribers who have proven they won’t pay for a subscription.

    Economist.com has offered sponsored subscriptions. “The primary driver for this product for us is advertising revenue,” says Paul Rossi, Economist.com’s publisher. “We sell this option as a lead generation tool for advertisers where we can offer a real value to a tightly defined segment of our audience. A secondary benefit is that we get an audience that has qualified itself as engaged with the product.”

  • Blogs. “Sponsored or advertising-supported blogs are becoming more common,” observes Debbie Weil publisher of WordBiz Report. “They work best when the topic is very niche and the writer has an avid following. Examples include Weblogs Inc.’s Autoblog or Gawker Media’s Gizmodo.”
  • Streaming video. Add sponsors to tailored content. Be careful the sponsor’s promotion integrates into the offering and doesn’t overwhelm the presentation. This can be a fine line. Offering viewers the option of paying for ad-free content can bring in extra revenue and show users that a sponsor is useful.

Implementation Considerations

Consider how sponsorships can be implemented without alienating customers. A reader photo section is an example of a great sponsorship opportunity. But be careful not to reduce photo size so much the sponsor promotion detracts from the photos’ value. Select a relevant sponsor, such as digital camera company, incorporate links to the Web site or a landing page with suggestions on how to take better photos and to upload them. Include “notify a friend” links for viral marketing.

Develop ways to create cobranded content to drive readers to tailored landing pages where sponsors can offer information, capture users’ email addresses, give away coupons, or engage customers in surveys or contests. Consider ways to extend this effect. For example, use survey information in a fun press release.

Create ways to incorporate sponsors into the customer experience. When developing sponsorships, consider the sponsor’s needs in your overall plan. For example, one client had a major sponsorship deal in which the sponsor hadn’t done any overt marketing to date. As part of the sponsorship, elements to enhance the sponsor’s brand on- and offline were built in the overall marketing plan including market research, PR, and events.

Measuring Sponsorship Outcomes

The following steps are recommended for both sponsors and publishers/ retailers:

  • Survey users before and after to measure improved brand awareness from online sponsorships. According to Tom Deierlein, Dynamic Logic’s COO, online sponsorships positively affect all five brand/persuasion metrics. Based on data from 174 sponsorship advertising campaigns through Q3 2004, aided brand awareness, ad awareness, sponsorship association, brand favorability, and purchase intent all showed increases on average as a result of online sponsorship exposure.

  • Measure CTR (define) for sponsor links and landing pages. Count visitors to special sections, email registrations, coupon downloads, or contest participants. (Remember to include plans to nurture these leads.) Consider related and longer-term actions.
  • Assess either fully loaded costs (from a sponsor’s perspective) or net revenue (from a publisher’s perspective). As sponsorships are tailored to meet both the publisher’s and sponsor’s needs, they’ll probably require special accommodations with incremental costs to develop and execute. These costs must be added to the sponsorship cost if you’re the sponsor or subtracted from gross revenues if you’re the publisher.
  • Measure the sponsorship’s viral effects by tracking landing pages from “forward to a friend” links.
  • Monitor customer feedback to ensure there’s no significant level of negative customer feeling.
  • Count news placements, if relevant (particularly for surveys).

Test some of these opportunities to help meet 2005 goals. Think of creative ways to expand traffic and increase revenue. Sponsorship is an area where marketing creativity can be more valuable and effective than a large budget. Consider partnering with companies that may not pay but are willing to trade sponsored sections.

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