Sponsorship investments come in all shapes and sizes, and are usually guided by a brand’s overall marketing objectives and brand identity. Due diligence is required before pulling the trigger on the selected property, sponsorship level, assets involved, and length of the sponsorship, but once you’ve settled on a good fit, the question then becomes ‘now what?’ In other words, how do we know if our NASCAR team investment is returning the value we sought after?
While there are standard practices to measure sponsorship success, such as awareness tracking or brand perception assessments, sponsorship research should be customized to each brand-property relationship.
Every sponsorship has a unique marketing goal, and therefore success is defined differently.
Moreover, sponsorships are multifaceted and layered with many elements that should be noted on the brand side and on the property side to help identify and manage expectations of a sponsorship, or what success could look like.
When thinking of the brand, things like brand awareness (independent of sponsorship awareness), brand category/industry, existing market share, length of the sponsorship deal, the time in which sponsorship research is taking place based on contract year and seasonality of the sport, and, of course, your targeted audience are all important frameworks to understand brand position and tracking sponsorship changes over time.
Conversely on the property side, in this case a NASCAR team specifically, history and forecasting are also important, keeping in mind things like performance on the track, personality of the driver(s), car manufacturer, other sponsors on the team, fan affinity, social media interaction and engagement, and so forth.
Regardless of what success looks like for your brand, you should plan to execute primary research in order to make the most of your sponsorship and ensure success is happening. It’s best to think through this process via the classic ‘who, what, when, where and how’ mentality:
Some sponsorship packages are much more straightforward than others, but no matter the structure, having a goal(s) for the partnership at the outset is important. The sponsorship goal(s) provides the roadmap of what’s to come and what to expect along the way.
Just like required maintenance on a car, you must build in maintenance on your sponsorship to make the most of its tenure. And like routine inspections at key mileage checkpoints, a sponsorship should be routinely measured to understand performance, impact efficiency and effectiveness.
A vehicle inspection has many obvious elements: tire pressure, oil changes, filter replacements, fluid adjustments, etc. and thus expectations and potential pitfalls are fairly easy to understand. If only a sponsorship were that easy.
Primary research, up front, is the crucial ‘servicing’ needed to gain insight into your partnership. Primary research requires talking to your key audience (and usually talking to your non-targeted market as a control) to understand how the sponsorship is resonating.
It is important to keep the sponsorship goals in mind when executing primary research. These goals inform the questions to ask, in order to answer ‘is this working?’.
The challenge with sponsorship success is that it looks and grows differently for each brand based on several factors: investment level, brand category, brand popularity, sponsorship exclusivity, sponsorship length, fan engagement, activation levels, just to name a few.
Although success can look different for various partnerships, one constant is that awareness of a partnership is always among the biggest drivers for success. If fans are not aware of your sponsorship, nothing can come from it.
Awareness should always be at the forefront to measure, with milestones in place for awareness growth expectation (i.e. 2-5 percentage points annually). From there, there are usually two paths to take for sponsorship impact research:
Return on Investment (ROI)
Return on investment is a no-brainer. Is the sponsorship selling more widgets? Are we gaining more business from investing with this NASCAR team?
This is the million-dollar question, and ROI is not so easy to calculate. At Navigate Research we have a comprehensive methodology to evaluate ROI, and isolating the sponsorship alone against sales revenue is a sophisticated process.
If your only goal with the sponsorship is ROI, it is critical to have internal data tracked to support and drive the ROI calculation. Expectations on ROI vary from year 1 to year 7, with all things considered.
Return on Objectives (ROO)
Return on objectives (or the sponsorship goals) is a much more achievable path for brands.
Whether your goals are to achieve ROI or ROO, the only way to get there is through a continuous partnership and authenticity. Given sponsorship awareness can take between 3-5 years to fully penetrate a fanbase, you must be patient with the sponsorship process.
If your contract is only three years, and you’re not seeing immediate positive results, the natural choice is to pull the sponsorship dollars and allocate them elsewhere.
While that may be a forced outcome based on internal structure, the smarter choice is to remain consistent and tweak the partnership based on feedback from the primary research findings.