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Mirella Vitale, SVP Marketing, Communications & Public Affairs at ROCKWOOL Group, has 15+ years as an influential global B2B branding leader.
The events of the last 14 months caught us all off guard. A global pandemic changed how we live, but also perhaps what we consider to be meaningful. Who would have imagined that restaurants and bars, as age-old social gathering spots, would be closed or restricted in capacity for so long?
Equally significant is how live sports were radically altered. We lost the roar of the crowd and camaraderie of fans in the stands through social distancing. No high fives with the stranger next to you; no bonding as friends in fanship.
The business of sports has already been experiencing transformation. The rise of esports and sports-simulation games for organizations like FIFA have already implanted a degree of remoteness in sports. Teams and fans have begun asking questions about the ROI of star players and the rise of player activism and brand support.
With the pandemic accelerating how we experience and think about sports, is now the time to ask, why can’t sports and purpose go hand in hand?
Aligning Authentic Values With Sports Sponsorships
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Organizations have altered how they think about purpose during the long year of Covid-19. Global sports, and brands activating sports sponsorships, have been connected with charities, fundraising and generous donations for decades. These acts of altruism are important, but they are largely a “do good, feel good” part of the business — motivation that’s altogether different from authentically aligning the principles of a sport with the core values of an organization.
Today, values alignment is where there is real power for global brands and sports sponsorships. As we enter the post-pandemic recovery era, eager fans and engaged customers are again attending live sports events around the world. As marketers, it’s our responsibility to be the voice of the customer. Today, customers want to know what a brand is doing to improve the world, with interests ranging from personal concerns like health to big-picture topics like sustainability.
A clear purpose becomes more than an identity. It’s a set of values that inspires those within the organization while telegraphing a company’s brand principles to the world: why it exists, what it can offer or solve, and how it interacts with and supports society.
As values become a more important driver for decision-making, consumers and other stakeholders will choose brands that align with their values and avoid those that do not. Companies that truly lead with purpose and build around it can achieve continued loyalty, consistency, and relevance, through all situations and events, even crises.
So how can a sports sponsorship be authentically purposeful? By connecting with the natural advantages of the specific sport and the experience it offers fans. Sailing stands out as a unique and authentic showcase for the power of nature: boats racing on the ocean propelled only by wind. Given that one of the world’s biggest sailing leagues actively works to achieve sustainability within its sport and within our communities, my company decided becoming a sponsor was a natural alignment of mutually shared values.
Combining The Enthusiasm Of Sports With Values Magnifies The Power Of Sponsorships
The social nature of live sports positions sports sponsorships as unique opportunities to connect with joyful, uplifting moments of laughter and sunshine. We all yearn for those moments as we leave the isolation of lockdowns and reconnect with people and the outdoors. Elevating human experience may be the best a marketer can do, and the power of live, world-class sports help make that happen.
Smart brands that offer uplifting moments of hope, joy, laughter, and encouragement are making a difference. Restaurants and bars were other business sectors hit hard by lockdowns, and like live sporting events, they’re vectors of human connection that we’ve sorely missed. As bars and restaurants have increased capacity, we see how brands have been combining values and celebration. This year’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States provide instructive examples.
With bars and restaurants able to host Cinco de Mayo celebrations again, tequila brands Jose Cuervo reimbursed people who ordered from restaurants. Don Julio provided vouchers to spend at local eateries. Tostitos-brand corn chips presented a virtual fiesta, while Estrella Jalisco Beer partnered with the “world’s first” LGBTQ+ mariachi band.
These brands became “sponsors” of the return to festivities but with a side of purpose. Because the timing of the holiday occurred just as the dining sector started reopening, brands had an opportunity for these brands to support their stakeholders and bring joy to consumers in authentic, meaningful ways. Think of what your brand could achieve with a well-planned, long-term, global sports sponsorship driven by shared purpose and excitement.
Marketing With Purpose
The sudden complexity of the events of 2020 has provided an opportunity to reassess how marketing’s role can make a difference amid so much change and uncertainty. As consumers become more attentive to the ways companies and brands go beyond advertising and marketing to make other positive contributions – they’ve changed the customer-brand relationship. In response, marketers need to develop a sophisticated understanding of the ideals of brand purpose and of what it truly means to be a purpose-led organization.
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Author: Mirella Vitale, Forbes Councils Member
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