Event Sponsorship: Harnessing Compelling Content Strategy

Attracting event sponsors is – and will continue to be – a hurdle. Nine out of ten event professionals believe it will be a challenge to secure sponsors for events this year, according to an Eventbrite survey. Nevertheless, there’s no magic bullet for attracting and retaining sponsorship partners. Sponsors are looking to see exactly what every business seeks when measuring the success of marketing efforts: return on investment.

Event owners who can show a good return on sponsor investment will inevitably have an easier time attracting and retaining sponsors than those who can’t. While this might imply that data measurement, as it relates to sponsorship, is the be-all, end-all, event success in the eyes of sponsorship partners isn’t always a numbers game. Event hosts have to actively drive ROI with an effective, integrated content strategy.

Technology Meets Strategy

Sure, it would be nice to draw a straight line between event sponsorship and an impact on a businesses’ bottom line, but these days it’s not so direct. ROI has many different dimensions and identifying what is most valuable for a potential sponsor is crucial. To do that, event owners need a modern, technology-driven content strategy.

Christopher Powell, chief marketing officer at Commvault, told IDG Communications that organizations – both hosting and sponsoring – can’t expect robust ROI from an event simply because they showed up.

“You need great content for your events,” Powell said. “Is it relevant for that audience? How are you going to engage them with compelling content?”

Sponsors want to spread brand awareness, but they also need to offer value to event attendees to kindle relationships. After all, attendees are consumers, so the event should mirror the buying process. Attendees go to events to talk, learn and network. The event owner’s responsibility, therefore, is to facilitate this conversation. And to do that, owners must integrate sponsors into the event’s content strategy.

What does that integration look like? In most instances, it’s a technology play, including:

  • Digital billboards/apps with content playlists
  • Digitally enhanced presentations and panels
  • Event specific apps
  • Networking receptions and one-to-one meetups

Specifically, an effective content strategy should leverage responsive technologies such as AI-augmented playlists showing attendee interests, live streaming and captive-audience marketing techniques. Each solution should seek to create opportunities to engage target personas on a personal level.

Part of the Conversation

Simply throwing money at tech isn’t going to guarantee ROI. Technology is just the foot in the door: It’s a sophisticated, smart content strategy that’ll position sponsors to fully leverage the power of an event – which in turn will help event owners attract and retain sponsors. The goal is to make the sponsor an integral part of the conversation. Opportunities to position the sponsor at an event beyond lanyards and banners include:

  • Active sponsor participation with main stage content
  • Sponsor-owned fireside chats with exclusive seating
  • Playlists populated by sponsor generated/curated content
  • Branded charging or other resource stations
  • Exhibit floor opportunities

The goal is to do more than just put up a sponsor banner and hope attendees form positive associations. Sponsors must have a voice in these sessions and opportunities. Weaving sponsors into the content being presented puts the brand value of a sponsor – in the form of knowledge, authority or as a forum for relevant industry conversation – front and center while limiting the “hard sell.”

The effective employment of content strategy is a universally beneficial affair, making an event that bolsters the bottom line of both sponsors and event hosts. That’s where the tech comes in handy: Technology quantifies opportunity. When event organizers can show robust ROI, they can charge sponsors a premium. Event owners should be able to show that their event represents a highly exclusive marketplace filled with desirable buyers. And nothing is more convincing than hard data. Utilizing data from RFID technology, beacons, event surveys, social media engagements and more demonstrates value in a clear, measurable way.

Event content needs to be targeted at specific personas.

Event content needs to be targeted at specific personas.

Selling Knowledge, Selling the Brand: The Times They Are a Changin’

B2B marketing has changed a lot in just the past five years, and the crucial lessons of the past don’t hold the water they used to. It’s no longer true that you perfect your product or service, hang out your shingle and wait for the market to find you. Today, sponsors need to sell valuable knowledge to develop brand loyalty and perception, which will in turn drive sales of products and services.

Like technology, business models change quickly. Twenty years ago, a company could develop a strategy that would carry it well into the next decade. That just isn’t possible in today’s market. Look at Netflix, for instance: Less than a decade ago, Blockbuster was poised to dominate the direct-to-home video market, but a failure to adapt its business model made it all too easy for Netflix to gobble up Blockbuster’s market share. And Netflix didn’t stop there. It went from a content distribution platform to a business that spends upward of $8 billion a year on developing its own content.

Event owners need to think like Netflix if they want to aid sponsors in accomplishing their goals. Five years ago, a great sponsorship strategy consisted of banners, lanyards and booths – and not much else. That strategy doesn’t cut it anymore. Sponsors need to be integrated into the event’s content strategy so they can educate attendees and foster relationships.

Mona Charif, CMO at DATA Services, speaking with IDG, noted that organizations have to leave old strategies behind in favor of new methods and technologies.

“A couple of decades ago, we would take months to research and build a campaign and then put it in market, at an audience,” Charif said. “Now, what we’re doing is more agile development of our content. It’s not so much a campaign as it is content that is meaningful and useful. We develop it with a persona in mind.”

In other words, event owners and sponsors shouldn’t try to interact with attendees the same way they did five years ago. They can, but someone else is already doing it better. A content strategy that integrates sponsors directly provides multiple opportunities for appealing to attendees – which fosters fruitful, long-lasting partnerships between event owners and sponsors.