Interact, don’t interrupt

Interact, don’t interrupt
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The importance of sponsorship and lifestyle marketing is continuing to grow in the communications mix, with the increasing sophistication in strategy, analytics and accountability now possible in this area.

Sponsorship, to take one example of lifestyle marketing, has gone from being primarily a “media channel” to a whole-of-business asset, touching on sales, distribution, product development, customer loyalty, data management and staff engagement functions.

What’s crucial is that the target audience, be it consumer, trade or staff, sees an integrated communications theme that supports and amplifies all other brand touchpoints.

A marketer has three basic choices about how to reach and influence their target audience – interrupt, intercept or interact.“Interrupt” is the traditional media model that has served brands and agencies very well for over a hundred years. Brands find out where their target audiences are consuming other people’s content, be it TV, online or print, and pay to insert advertising into the experience.

“Intercept” is when brands learn about people’s activities and travel patterns and try to temporarily sit alongside those moments and have a brand conversation. Shopper marketing and various experiential opportunities fit this model, but so too the burgeoning out-of-home options in cafes, shops, pedestrian precincts and the like. Digital screens make this more attractive and flexible than ever.

“Interact” is about involving the consumer in the moment. Learning about their passions and making the brand an integral and valuable part of that experience, not an interruption or an intrusion. Creating lasting positive memories of an experience in which the brand played a role. That’s the “holy grail” that we should be aiming for.

Where it gets more interesting is comparing experience in media agencies with some of the decisions brands have made in sponsorships. Five years ago it was becoming vey common to see advertisers spending the same or more money on major sponsorships (primarily major sporting events or teams) as in mainstream media.

The media investments were invariably based on very solid work by a reputable media agency – great research unearthing useful insights, which in turn informed a well-built strategy. Then media assets were chosen based on strong data, and everything was measured against an agreed performance criteria.

Well and good. At the same time, however, a larger sum of money would go to a sports sponsorship with very little rigour, little or no reference to the media or creative strategy, no strong insight underpinning it, and no measurement regime in place. It became very frustrating.

Regardless of the process, it became clear that this discipline of sponsorship, or lifestyle marketing, or associative marketing, or whatever you’d like to call it, was growing and becoming more central to brand thinking. At the same time, traditional media options were fragmenting and migrating to the digital world.

It became clear that it was time for a new integrated agency that knew consumers and strategy but also understood lifestyle marketing;

to bring to lifestyle marketing the same level of rigour, strategic sophistication and true accountability that media agencies take for granted. And then to surpass it.

Marketing will continue to move further away from interrupting and intercepting people. As consumers take more and more control of their own media and content consumption, unasked for ads will simply be avoided. Brands need to offer compelling stories in their own right, and invite interaction because they offer a value not found elsewhere. Whether that value is a better experience, enhanced content, an ability to share the moment or whatever else is for agencies like ours to help figure out.

Naturally sport and entertainment are attractive environments for this to play out. But the future of sports marketing is not just about media exposure value, or tickets to the Final, or “value adds” to a TV buy. It is about a brand identifying a genuine opportunity to connect with an audience at their passionate moments, and helping make that experience stronger and more memorable. Enduring, valued brand interactions.

Just as our predecessors identified the need for media to specialise and concentrate and become more than a back room service to a creative agency, the time is right for sponsorship experts to do the same again, and unlock the real power of lifestyle marketing as a strategic and accountable discipline in its own right.

Tony McKay is head of strategy at Team Epic

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