T1 Agency president Mark Harrison’s three most important sponsorship trends

Ahead of taking on the role of head coach at sponsorshipX 2018, T1 Agency president and founder Mark Harrison offers his thoughts on sponsorship trends.

T1 Agency president Mark Harrison’s three most important sponsorship trends

Recently I was asked to provide insights on what’s trending next in sponsorship marketing at the ‪2018 Irish Sponsorship Summit in Dublin. It’s a tricky topic to cover for many reasons. When looking at trends in the future, it’s impossible for the speaker to be wrong, which is always good news. The bad news however, is that it is impossible for you to secure agreement from your audience.

One issue I feel exists when people talk about trends is that they are often 'too trendy'. The researcher focuses too much on the shiniest, latest, noisiest toy coming to market. Personally, I don’t believe that what is shiny today is reflective of what’s important tomorrow. That isn’t to say that a current hot streak approach in marketing can’t be a leading indicator for a future trend, it does mean however that the shiny new toy isn’t the trend itself.

My brainstorming resulted in a long list of trends many of which we will be covering at sponsorshipX 2018, but here I am going to share what I believe are the three most important. As I share them for a second time, I am even more convinced that they will help you in generating profit from your sponsorships whether you are a corporate partner or a rights holder.

More globalisation means more localisation

I don’t think I need to tell anyone about what’s going on in the world on globalisation. From a business standpoint, anywhere you go in the world you’ll find very similar brands - every city has a Starbucks and every city has similar cars driving down the roads. Even in the sports sector you can see the effects of globalisation, like the New Zealand rugby union team aligning with the Harlequins from London for example.

My belief is that the rise of ‘globalisation’ will drive the importance of ‘localisation’ in almost a parallel fashion - the more globalisation takes effect, the more localisation will emerge as its counterforce. Taking advantage of your inherent localness will help you distinguish yourself from the mainstream. What does this look like? If you look at Airbnb they have a strong emphasis on being an international brand with amazing localisation strategy. Airbnb uses data to customise their consumer experience by determining where their travellers are from, what places they are likely to frequent, and where they would prefer to stay - even going as far as ensuring that potential dwellings accept their national currency.

How does this impact sponsorship you may ask? Well you can benefit from globalisation and localisation at same time. For example, you could create a 'Global Soccer Day' event where international, national, local clubs participate and secure sponsors and partners for each level. Everyone would be participating as a part of a global movement, but on a local scale. Yes, exclusivity will be hard to manage but growing sports participation is good for everybody.

The New Zealand rugby union team's partnership with Harlequins is a prime example of globalisation in the sports sector

Technology will help the smaller property more than the larger

Technology in itself is an obvious trend, when looking at the most successful tech businesses recently, they all are based off the concept of software as a service. Companies are either sharing assets that are already in the marketplace, like Airbnb or Open Table, or building one piece of software that can be sold on an ongoing basis. More importantly, small businesses are the primary targets for these technologies.

When I think about how sponsorship will be affected by this trend, I think of Patreon, a platform I believe all brands and rights holders should be leveraging. This sophisticated crowd source funding site allows creators to receive monthly donations from their supporters. Content creators like Amanda Palmer are making CA$40,000 a month from the thousands of patrons supporting them. This demonstrates how leveraging existing technology can really have a large impact on small businesses.

Still, I believe that sponsorship is not as innovative it could be. Sponsorship is too often sold as an advertising opportunity, which is inefficient, because a lot of big properties are relying on mass exposure, but they can’t prove sales results. Technologies, like blockchain, will provide brands with more advanced insights on consumer behaviour allowing them to demonstrate the true ROI of sponsorship. Small businesses are going to be able to capitalise on this gap and be more appealing for sponsors.

Small businesses fuel growth, employment, and innovation, hence why they are of interest to large technology companies. So who is going to launch the Airbnb of sponsorship? Imagine a platform that would act as a database for various small properties and companies to show their worth for brands. Brands could scale their sponsorship portfolios to a global level while small properties could gain exposure from big brands, all on one platform.

Imagine an Airbnb of sponsorship, brands could scale their sponsorship portfolios to a global level while small properties could gain exposure from big brands, all on one platform.

The prosumer is the consumer of the future

Although the word ‘prosumer’ has been defined many different ways, a prosumer is an individual who both consumes and produces the product - think of influencers, advocates, or ‘side-hustlers’. The prosumer in my mind is the only person, whether you are a brand or property, that you should be talking to in terms of marketing your sponsorship or property. They are advocates, entrepreneurs and experts in your field who are making money off of what you are doing, whether you embrace it or not.

What do prosumers look like today? They are the local CrossFit gym owner, who opened their franchise after being introduced to the fitness practice elsewhere. They are fans who start expos to celebrate their favourite movies, like LeakyCon, which brings Harry Potter fans together annually. Even I’m a prosumer - while I attend various sponsorship related conferences, I also run my own sponsorship forum, sponsorshipX.

So how can you capitalise on the rise ‘prosumerism’? Regardless if you are a brand or a rights holder, you need to aggregate and integrate prosumers into both your supply and distribution networks. Think of those that resell merchandise, build popup shops, create dedicated Instagram accounts - anyone who is making a profit off your brand or property should be included, rather than excluded, in both your supply and distribution networks.

What’s next?

It’s one thing to predict trends in the market, but the more important and obvious discussion is how will you react to these emerging movements. Will you put a plan in place to leverage these trends to make your sponsorship more profitable? Do you have a good grasp of the consumer or stakeholder journey to ensure that your capitalising on these trends at the right moment? Who in your organisation will be the maverick that brings these ideas to the top of your agenda?

Every year we gather the top sponsorship and marketing professionals from around the world to sponsorshipX, a forum where we connect, learn and discuss how these future trends will affect the state of our industry. I invite you to come learn more about these trends and how to strategically respond to them.

In the end, implementing a strategy that best benefits your consumers will ensure that what’s trending next is you.

Mark Harrison is the president and chief executive of The T1 Agency