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Sponsorship Activation Defined: What is it and How Leverage Works

by | February 18, 2020

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Sponsorship activation can’t be defined by any one single act. Instead, it encompasses the entire sponsorship experience based on the agreement between the rights holder and the sponsor. It takes the assets a sponsor “buys” from you and sets those assets in motion. That means it can take many different forms and see many different results based on the level of sponsorship and what that sponsorship “package” includes. We like to look at activation as the fun part of sponsorship.

It’s not just placing a logo on a sign but is the nitty-gritty of the sponsorship where the sponsor’s brand, your event, and the audience merge in what hopefully proves to be a positive and measurable outcome. And there’s the rub: Activation success is based solely on making your audience happy. If you miss the mark and set up a burger bar at a vegan conference, well, you can imagine the results. Here is a closer look at what activation is and how leveraging activation works.

Why Activation Has to Work

In a nutshell, a sponsorship fails if activation isn’t triggered, executed and received correctly. When people attend events, they have something in mind. For some it is to learn, for others, it is to be entertained, while some might be looking to network. A large group will expect all three. The trick is to anticipate your audiences’ goals and match them with your sponsors’ assets. Going back to the beef burgers served at a vegan conference, this represents just one aspect of getting things wrong. Other examples would be failing to feature free water at a marathon or having boring presenters who cause people to leave.

There are certain expectations that will be easier to meet, while some might be less obvious. If the expectations aren’t met, sponsors will fail. If you meet expectations but fail to exceed them, you pass the test but don’t necessarily gain a lifetime sponsor who will want to sign up for your next event.

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How to Use Experiential Marketing in Sponsorship

Experiential marketing is a very important aspect of sponsorships. It provides a unique and meaningful way for sponsors to create memorable experiences for attendees. The experience can be fun, educational, impactful, thrilling or enlightening. The point is to impact attendees in a way that makes them feel they got their money’s worth.

Some examples of using experiential marketing at an event can include:

Do Something Unexpected

A good example of surprising attendees is a life sized StayPuft Marshmallow Man coming out of the floor at a subway station in London. It shocked people, made them laugh and best of all encouraged them to take pictures and post them on social media. This type of display is a great way to get some exposure through social media and using a hashtag with your event name is a must for it to work well. Some ideas at an event might be having a very detailed background relevant to your event where people can take pictures, having an iconic prop such as the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones for photo ops, or even having a surprise appearance by a relevant celebrity.

Credit: forbiddenplanet.com

Credit: forbiddenplanet.com

Create Immersive Experiences

Allowing people to immerse themselves in an activity can be very empowering and fun. Examples might include practicing sports using interactive video, coming up with an AR experience, walking through a replicated iconic movie set or an escape room.

Credit: Grand Visual Theory Ltd

Credit: Grand Visual Theory Ltd

Use Technology

This spans a wide number of options but can include using projection mapping to create extremely convincing optical illusions or social media walls that display real-time social media posts using your event hashtags. You can also set up video activations that are triggered to play in places such as bathroom stalls when people enter certain halls or leave the event. This can be costly but adds an additional way to keep people engaged.

Free “Treatments”

Wellness and beauty events can be very successful when they offer free treatments such as massages, health readings, acupuncture, free diet advice or beauty makeovers. Treatments can work anywhere such as free foot massages at a marathon, or a free test drive in a luxury sports car at an auto show.

How to Use Social Media to Activate

Using social media is a given to activate sponsorships. First, make sure you are reposting, sharing and retweeting anything they post even if they aren’t about the event. Choose wisely and you will help them gain attention. Continue this during and following the event to maintain traction for them. Make sure you focus more on organic posts and try to avoid the out and out adsy posts to get the best results.

Come up with a plan to create mutually complementary content on your blogs and social media. If you can showcase their good work, their brand relevancy and their commitment to certain causes, you can increase reach, especially when images and videos are impactful. If you are willing, allow them to engage directly with attendees in social media feeds.

Ask attendees to post themselves using a sponsors’ products with an event and sponsor related hashtag. Post images that get your sponsors’ names front and center whether it is on banners in the background, someone wearing a t-shirt with their branding or someone using their name.

Make sure you are telling a story that makes both you and your sponsors look good. Bring value through stories that will resonate with attendees. This helps build trust through honest accounts of situations that people can relate to. Don’t forget to consider running contests or promotions with sponsors that can be featured on your social media pages.

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Have a Brainstorming Session with Your Sponsors

Offer to hold a brainstorming session with your sponsors to come up with the most relevant and potentially successful ideas. Have some set questions prepared to get the ball rolling such as:

  • Considering the theme of the event, what will our audience like to see?
  • What have you done successfully at past events or promotions?
  • What will be of no interest to our audience based on your experience?
  • Is there anything you can see in our packages our audience might hate?
  • Which experiences could you offer that will help offer solutions and solve problems for attendees?
  • Do you see any potential challenges with what we are proposing?
  • Is there anything you would add to our package?

Throughout the process, both sides can pitch ideas and come up with an agreement on what will work and what you feel is worth trying. This will give you a new list of assets that will help provide creative sponsorship activation.

How to Create Sponsorship Activations

Activation is where audience and sponsor goals achieve the expected outcomes of both parties. However, this can only be achieved when you meet the expectations of your attendees. Therefore, to create sponsorship activation you must:

  • Know what your audience wants and share it clearly with your sponsors
  • Know what your sponsors want so there are no misunderstandings on what you need to deliver
  • Brainstorm with your sponsors to come up with solutions to solve audience problems and meet expectations so everyone gets what they need
  • List your assets and execute them to perfection
  • Ensure all the elements of the sponsorship are leveraged to see the outcomes you desire
  • Be certain to have a clear picture of what each sponsor expects and collect data and social proof you have met those expectations

Remember, your ultimate goal is attendee satisfaction. Without it, you can’t achieve activation. By following through with data collection and attendee surveys you can continue to improve activation and ensure each sponsor brings something of value to the table.

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