Sport Industry

Opinion: The Power of B2B Sponsorships


Matt Kiernan, Associate Director at rEvolution, explores how and why best practice B2B sponsorships provide an effective way for brands to touch their focused target audiences and drive business results.

Over the past few months, we have seen numerous eye-catching B2B sponsorship announcements across a range of sports, such as Salesforce x ParalympicsGB, Oracle x Red Bull Racing, Wasabi x Liverpool FC, as well as Gallagher renewing their title partnership with Premiership Rugby.

So why do these deals continue to be attractive for both established and emerging businesses and a key revenue stream for rights-holders? B2B sponsorships offer a fantastic business case study for the brand and provide the rights-holder with a very valuable service.

Below I have explored five key outcomes from effective B2B sponsorships:

1. Driving Familiarity and Fame

There is a growing consensus that B2B and B2C marketing needn’t be treated differently. The core principles remain the same – strong and familiar brands are more likely to influence people to engage with them compared to weaker or lesser-known ones. While B2B brands are invariably interacting with a more targeted audience, ultimately, they still need to be recognised and understood to be successful.

Sponsorship can also help B2B companies to be more distinctive. It can often be hard for these brands to stand out among a sea of similar businesses offering similar things. Through impactful partnerships the brand can stand out by appearing in an uncluttered space and become more memorable.

Legendary marketing researchers Les Binet and Peter Field have explored what B2B businesses can do when early growth has stagnated and whether the same marketing approaches that rejuvenate B2C also apply in B2B in ‘The 5 Principles of Growth in B2B marketing’.

One of their key findings is the importance of maximising “mental availability”. Put simply, if a business doesn’t come readily into mind in buying situations, then the brand will struggle to grow. Data from the study suggests that “campaigns that aim to increase a firm’s share of mind are the most effective, and the more famous they make the company, the better the business results.”

This principle showcases one of the great strengths of sponsorship: driving top of funnel brand awareness and creating fame amongst a specific audience. Good sponsorship connects brands with fans through the things they care about.

B2B sponsorships are no different. In fact, a previous client of mine describes their B2B rugby sponsorship as, ‘The Trojan Horse’ which leads on to wider business-focused conversations. The way Amazon Web Services uses their partnership with F1 is a notable example. They turn distinct data points into interesting and digestible insights that bring the action closer to F1 fans. From here, they engage with clients and prospects about AWS products and services that power these insights.

2. Long-Term Brand Building

Binet and Field are renowned for their ‘balanced’ principle for effective B2C marketing, which explains the importance of balancing long-term brand building activity with shorter-term sales-driving tactics. As Paul Cash and James Trezona argue in the excellent ‘Humanizing B2B’, “B2B isn’t just about short-term performance marketing, but about value and revenue creation through branding as well.”

This content is backed by research from LinkedIn which suggests that only 4% of B2B marketers measure impact beyond six months. Again, sponsorship can play a significant role in changing this short-term mindset as sponsorships tend to be based on multi-year deals, pushing B2B brands to invest in a long-term strategy.

IBM’s sponsorship of Wimbledon over the last 30 years is a notable example of this long-term brand building in action. IBM has continuously innovated and evolved this partnership, successfully bringing their AI platform ‘IBM Watson’ to life in recent years.

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3. Growing Trust

Speaking of IBM, while the well-known phrase from the 70’s ‘nobody gets fired for buying IBM’ is perhaps a bit dated, it makes a significant point about the importance of trust in B2B sales.

Again, sponsorship can play a role here, as shown by Nielsen’s recent ‘Fans are changing the game’ study (above) – where they state 81% of fans “trust brand sponsorships in sporting events”, which was second only to “recommendations from people I know.”

Often one of the key audiences within a B2B sponsorship campaign is an internal one. The big technology companies are currently competing in a scramble for the best talent and face a huge challenge in retaining and recruiting enough capable staff to satisfy their ever-growing pipeline. Internal engagement experts cite ‘trust’ as one the most important attributes for retention and if an employee trusts the business that they work for, then they will have a much higher tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty.

4. Using the Power of Emotion

There is a misconception that B2B marketing can be less interesting and impactful than B2C. Sport sponsorships alleviate this concern. The beauty of sport is its unrivalled ability to create emotions within ready-made communities of fans. Sport can produce stories that transcend age, gender, race and language. These narratives provide B2B brands with the opportunity to harness emotion in a powerful way.

From the same Binet & Field B2B study, they found that, “emotional campaigns are more effective in the long-term than rational ones… this is because emotional campaigns are better at brand building.” Cash and Trezona agree; “B2B buyers respond to the language of emotion and will happily pay more for your products and services if they’re spoken to in that language.” The launch film for the recently-announced Capgemini partnership with Rugby World Cup France 2023 provides a good example of the power of rugby to stir emotions whilst still landing a brand message.

5. Making a Genuine Difference

We have all seen the rise in purpose-driven marketing over recent years. B2B sponsors can play an authentic and lasting role in this space, particularly by using their services and expertise to work with rights-holders to make a real and lasting difference. Fans are now looking to sponsors that champion societal issues.

One of my favourite B2B case studies that made a genuine difference is from Accenture’s sponsorship of the National Theatre. As the NT’s Partner for Innovation, Accenture used their digital innovation expertise to create augmented reality smart caption glasses that allowed deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees to follow any live production. This programme is a brilliant example of a sponsor behaving like a partner, recognising a problem, then using their own world-class technology capabilities to find a solution.

As companies and rights-holders continue to take steps towards a post-pandemic future, it is going to be fascinating to see which B2B brands will use these principles as part of their sponsorships to connect with target audiences, meet their objectives, and ultimately help them to win in business.

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