Alright, it’s been a while since the last episode in my ongoing saga of posts about marketing and cycling and how the two are inextricably linked. We were previously caught up in the wonder of all things Social Media Jersey and since then Sarah’s been busy working out what you should all get her for Christmas (seriously, if you want to send Sarah a Christmas present, let me know and I’ll totally facilitate shenanigans).
Anyway, today the inimitable Kathryn Bertine shared a great interview with Colavita marketing VP John Profaci and it prompted me to get back into the minutiae of selling your soul to shill for corporate hacks (like me). It seems we (women’s cycling fans) have been thinking in this direction a bit lately, also spurred on by Amber Pierce’s excellent blogs, especially her Continuing the Dialogue article and the REALLY FUCKING IMPORTANT READ – Click Thru Thursdays. So it’s clearly time for us to get back into it.
Before we do that though, it’s really important to set the right mood and the best possible way to do that is to hit play on this great remix of the Notorious B.I.G. classic and let it roll while you read the articles linked above:
Alright, now that the mood’s set, let’s start talking.
Previously I’ve argued that it’s beneficial for cycling teams to understand themselves better as marketing agencies. At the time I argued that rather than asking a sponsor for money (which is a difficult proposition at best) instead:
“It’s a much easier sell to go to a potential client and help them solve a problem than it is to ask them to solve your problem.
I can’t state that strongly enough. Businesses are in it for the profit. They have obligations to their owners/shareholders to act responsibly and deliver value in every decision they make. On a basic level they may understand that sponsoring a team helps them, but if a marketing agency specialising in unique sports-based branding opportunities were to turn up and provide detail on how they will achieve success for their potential client/partner…
Well, let’s just say I believe that agency would be getting a lot more attention.”
In addition to this argument I would further suggest that cycling teams naturally inhabit the space that already exists between brands and potential customers. This is the natural habitat of marketing agencies and so while the day-to-day operation of a cycling team is highly specialised and very specific, the broader opportunity it offers to sponsors is to facilitate a connection between their brand/s and a dedicated and passionate base of ready consumers.
At the end of the day, sponsorship of a cycling team is a commercial relationship, even though it’s often undertaken in no small part due to personal passion on behalf of the sponsor or a key decision-maker in the sponsor organisation. So it’s important to understand that sponsors need to find value in their commercial relationships. In marketing, in the purest sense, there’s a strong focus on ROI or Return On Investment. In other words, how much you get for every dollar you spend promoting your brand. This is a particularly strong idea in this digital age where it’s much easier to measure every click and trace campaigns and partnerships much more accurately.
But marketers also have the responsibility to build brands and contribute to much less tangible outcomes, so the notion of sponsorship is not at all dead or worthless. To the contrary, for the savvy marketer, a good sponsorship opportunity will allow them to reach an audience that is important to them but that has previously been difficult to engage. In essence, this means that the commercial arrangement between sponsor and teams is a transaction in customer attention. The commercial good that the team can trade on is you, dear reader, and your willingness to support businesses and brands that support the sport you enjoy.
This can mean more than just buying the products sponsors sell (although that of course helps), but also means actively demonstrating your involvement with the sport, the teams, the riders and the sponsors. This is where an idea like Amber’s #ClickThruThursday has great potential to yield results. In marketing, and especially in online or digital marketing, everything is counted. Every page view, every hit on the site, every share, every like, every re-tweet. All of these are used to indicate engagement with an audience. And this is the key thing, it’s already happening. We interact with our favourite riders on twitter, we read their blogs, we watch their videos. So the next step is to help relate this interaction to sponsors.
Smart teams will find ways to do this more efficiently and effectively into the future. Smart sponsors are already working with teams to achieve this. Really smart sponsors understand that when it comes to interacting with the key financial decision makers, you need to be reaching outside of the traditional “male” audiences. I mentioned this in my last post about funding in women’s cycling, linking to this article on the importance of women in marketing.
Colavita are an excellent example of a sponsor who is operating ahead of this curve, and finding great success in doing so. John Profaci told Kathryn Bertine as much, saying:
” I would say traditionally, the most effective way for a company to promote its brand in any sport has been to enter it on the men’s side, simply because the media focus and attention remains skewed to the men’s teams. However, because data shows that women outnumber men when it comes to household-product purchasing decisions, this creates somewhat of a dilemma for brand marketers. Unlike other corporations who sponsor only men’s teams, Colavita sponsored both men’s and women’s team programs simultaneously. I’ve said this many times over the years: The reason we can support the pro men program is because of the value we receive supporting the women’s team.”
[Ed. Note: Bolding added by author]
Marketers are already actively looking for ways to engage with non-traditional audiences and to relate to them through shared enthusiasms and experiences. I work for a company that wholesales and retails tyres. All the way up to mining tyres (the ones that will crush you to death if they fall on you) and all the way down to tyres for your boat trailer. We know (we have the data that shows us) that over 60% of our retail product research is done by women, and we also know that our industry obsessively markets through traditional automotive sports (i.e. car racing). We see a huge competitive advantage in deliberately reaching outside of that traditional field and finding new ways to engage with potential customers. The value in a sponsorship for a sponsor is in engaging with that type of community.
I was very pleased to note John Profaci sharing a similar idea in his interview with Kathryn, as he commented on what he’d learned from NASCAR:
” Although I decided it wasn’t a good fit for us, I learned that a sports sponsorship value is not necessarily about the visibility of the logo on the car — unless you are the title or a major visible sponsor — but the “license” to boast the sponsorship in your company’s marketing, PR, event planning and advertising to enchant the millions of fans of the sport. The fans of the sport embrace the brands who keep the sport alive.”
Of course, in marketing these days words like “engagement” and “relationship” are thrown around regularly enough that it’s easy for people to sometimes forget what they mean. These are not simple transactional terms. They are complex and represent the interaction of many (sometimes competing) ideas, goals, needs, desires and possible outcomes. It’s essential that fans, teams, riders AND sponsors understand this.
Sponsors aren’t just some giant cloud of money in the sky that allow cycling teams to exist. But neither are they exempt from a responsibility to understand and engage with the fan-base of the sport that they’ve sponsored. And that is why (again) I say that cycling teams in this respect have a very similar role to play as that of a marketing agency. In helping to quantify and understand their fans, they are able to identify sponsors who can in turn offer real value, benefit and opportunity to those fans. In turn the sponsor is justified in their investment, and is more inclined to grow their investment in the community that they have come to understand, appreciate and be a part of.