Time For Your Conference Sponsorship To Grow Up

Note to self; Grow up (132365) -p by David, on FlickrHas your conference sponsorship grown up?

Or are you still offering first generation sponsorship that flashes logos on any and all available space at your conference venue?

If you are, you have bought into the concept that displaying logos to masses of cynical consumers equals marketing return. Guess what, it doesn’t!

Four Generations Of Sponsorship

Kim Skildum-Reid, one of the world’s leading sponsorship mavens with more than 25 years of global sponsor experience, has written a white paper about Last Generation Sponsorship. In that research paper, she describes four generations of sponsorships and the pros and cons of each.

1. First Generation Sponsorship

First generation sponsorship is about gaining exposure and awareness. It’s about how many eyeballs see a logo or brand company name. It is a pure tactical approach to sponsorship where the goal is to get as many consumers to see the logo as possible as many times as possible. It’s all about media awareness. Skildum-Reid argues that press hits and media equivalencies are a completely inappropriate way to measure sponsorship.

According to Skildum-Reid, scientific evidence from 1991 and replicated many times since shows that first generation sponsorship does not change people’s behaviors or perceptions. Instead of measuring media exposure, you should be measuring sponsorship objectives.

Although first generation sponsorship was the norm during the 1970s and 1980s, most conferences and events still use it as their primary sponsorship vehicle. Unfortunately, it will eventually exhaust your sponsors as it does not ultimately meet their goals.

2. Second Generation Sponsorship

Second generation sponsorship, popular during mid-1980s and 1990s, focuses on driving immediate sales. Long term benefits were not sought or even considered. Sponsors measured results through incremental sales, sales promotion, participation and sales conversions as compared to the price of sponsorship.

Second generation sponsorship has mostly disappeared except for organizations trying to gain vending rights.

3. Third Generation Sponsorship

Third generation sponsorship focuses on the brand’s needs and the achievement of a variety of marketing objectives. This became popular in the 1990s and is still used by many corporate sponsorships today. It’s a step in the right direction. However, to realize the full potential of sponsorships, brands have to shift from the focus on third generation sponsorship “what can we get?” to “what can we offer?” which is last generation sponsorship.

4. Last Generation Sponsorship

Last generation sponsorship is where most organizations need to take their sponsorships. It’s about nurturing a brand’s connection with a target market. It’s about putting the target market’s needs first and then saying “what can we, the brand, offer them?”

Last generation sponsorship is not about how many times a brand can display their logo or get in front of potential customers. It is not about how many times a brand can communicate with potential customers. It is not about creating a bond with an event

It is about using relevant marketing media to emotionally and personally connect with the target market and improve their relationship with the brand. It is about creating a bond with the target market. It’s about the sponsor becoming a conduit with the target market.

Skildum-Reid describes last generation sponsorship as a “Win-Win-Win.” It’s a win for the sponsor. It’s a win for the sponsorship seeker. And lastly, it’s a win for the target market. The third win is the most important win of all.

Real Success With Last Generation Sponsorship

If you want to have real success with last generation sponsorship, you have to work with your sponsors to help them understand that enhancing the event experience reaches their target market. It’s about pulling back they hype, turning down the sponsor volume and changing the tone completely.

The target market sees their connection to the event as the most important part of the equation. Many conference attendees see sponsors as extraneous and disposable. Few sponsors have a good track record of enhancing the target market’s experience.

As Skildum-Reid says, “It no longer…

‘If you love the event, you should love our brand.’

Or worse…

Pay attention to us (and our logos)!

Instead it’s…

‘We know you love this event — we love it too! — And we’ve thought of a few ways to make it even better for you.'”

As sponsors help enhance the conference, they reach the third win–the target market.

Which generation of sponsorship does your conference offer? What will it take to transition from first generation sponsorship to last generation sponsorship?

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