Ten things we learned at The Brand Conference

Digital-ready content isn't worth its salt unless it's digestible. We learned that, and these ten other things at The Brand Conference on 29th and 30th September.

Ten things we learned at The Brand Conference

Digital-ready content isn't worth its salt unless it's digestible. We learned that, and these ten other things at The Brand Conference on September 29th and 30th.

1) Want to sell naming rights to an established venue? Change the narrative

Naming rights sponsorships are much easier to sell, and much more effective, for new venues. There is no historic brand equity to wade through, no misgivings of change-averse fans, and a blank canvas with which to work. Brett Yormark knew what he was doing when he signed British bank Barclays to a US$20 million-a-year naming rights deal for the Brooklyn Nets' new venue in Brooklyn. But for his next trick, the Nets and Barclays Center CEO will unveil a new naming rights partner for the soon to be revamped Nassau Coliseum, a Long Island venue with over 40 years of history. But how? He'll focus on what is new, rather than what is historic, by naming the wider retail and entertainment space project, rather than the arena itself.

Brett Yormark

Brooklyn Nets' CEO Brett Yormark discusses the pitfalls of naming rights deals for historic venues

2) Clean brands may be the luxury of the elite

Is there a tipping point at which a brand outgrows title sponsorship? From the start of the 2016/17 season, English soccer's Premier League will move to a 'clean brand', ending its 15-year association with Barclays, with the league's head of partnerships Tom Greenwood suggesting there was more value in letting the brand stand on its own. "Ultimately the key benefit of the title sponsorships for us and the clubs is about the revenue," he said. "If you take that away, though, you're actually leaving a bit of value on the table and putting some value back in the clubs." How much value is left on the table, and whether this provides a model for smaller rights holders to follow or is simply indication of the Premier League's ultimate ascension to the global elite, remains to be seen.

3) Premier League clubs are sometimes victims of the league's success

The Premier League has never been stronger thanks to the continued influx of TV money, spurred by surging popularity at home and overseas. Yet clubs aren't having it all their own way. While the Premier League brand of soccer continues to drive the numbers worldwide, it is becoming far more difficult for mid-ranking teams to cut through the clutter and the sheer volume of content available. It is a challenge that Felicity Barnard, the commercial director at West Ham United, said she knows all too well as her club looks to turn a potential audience of millions, spread across far-flung lands in Asia and beyond, into loyal Hammers fans and, ultimately, cold hard cash.

4) Activation should be a data capture exercise

Watching a cycling race live is as much about the collection of trinkets and tat as it is about the fleeting sensory experience of having a rushing peloton pass you on the road. Bidons, or water bottles, are prized items. Team Sky commercial director Hugh Chambers revealed that the British team have taken to plastering a unique code on each bidon taken to a race – and the team takes some 3,000 of them to the three-week Tour de France – and encouraging the recipients/scavengers to use the code when visiting the Team Sky website, an exercise, he said, that helps Team Sky capture "an immense amount of data."

5) Athletes aren't actors, and you've got to maximise their time

You've secured your sponsorship deal, and you've locked in your much sought-after 'athlete appearances', but now the hard work starts. Athletes, invariably, aren't actors. Indigenous sports brands like Nike have an advantage in that they can easily utilise athlete talent doing what athlete talent does best – at least playing at being athletic. But what do you do when the link is less tangible? Creative production agency 180 Amsterdam showcased what can be done with 30 minutes of player time, some nifty super slo-mo work, a bombastic soundtrack and an unremitting commitment to deadpan in their superb work for DHL and its involvement in the launch of Bayern Munich's online fan shop in China: tinyurl.com/py75ucp

6) Authenticity is key

In principle, the brand marketer's role is simple: create deep connections with fans and consumers in order to sell more units, whatever they may be. In practice, however, it is not quite so straightforward. Fostering brand loyalty, developing organic links and creating a sense of belonging – by now familiar phrases in the sports marketing lexicon – all rely on authenticity to be successful. Some campaigns, like Jaguar Land Rover's 'We Deal In Real' rugby initiative, spell out their intentions while others let content do the work. According to Sport England's Josie Stevens, the government agency's This Girl Can campaign achieved impressive results engaging British women around sport because nothing is more authentic than portraying real women doing real workouts.

Josie Stevens

Josie Stevens demonstrated the power of authenticity with Sport England's 'This Girl Can' campaign

7) Content strategy must embrace UGC and 'influencers'

Utilising the reach social media 'influencers' can lend to a brand can play a major role in delivering a successful content strategy. Strategic development director for Microsoft's global sport team, Stewart Mison, and Susan Agliata, the head of branded content solutions for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Google, both propounded the need to embrace user-generated content (UGC) and harness the reach of social media influencers such as YouTube 'superstar' KSI. Mison revealed that, through its client – Real Madrid – the Microsoft team has struck up a relationship with Brazilian defender Marcelo: "South America is a major market and we've seen about a ten per cent take up by using him in certain markets as an influencer," Mison said.

8) On the other hand, brands and rights holders must be sceptical about social media numbers

The emergence of social networks has offered unparalleled direct engagement with a mass audience, but brands and rights holders have to ensure they are not merely shouting into the void, argued Team Sky commercial director Hugh Chambers. "We'll look back on this time in 20 years and think how primitive we were in terms of understanding our fans," said Chambers, imploring his colleagues to work harder to build up their own networks and to own the data themselves, noting that a more curated, targeted approach which is seen by an engaged crowd is worth far more than reaching a huge but apathetic public.

9) Sport can do more to promote activism

While influential figures from the world of entertainment regularly throw their support behind political causes – British actor Benedict Cumberbatch recently urged for greater action amid the ongoing migrant crisis, to name but one – Lee Daley, founder and chief executive of Daley Strategic Advisory, suggested sportsmen and women could play a more prominent and impactful role in promoting activism, should they so choose, due to the sheer power they can command in the social sphere. "At some point someone needs to stand up and say, 'We have the power to affect change in society and we should do something about that,'" said Daley.

10) 'Official' is still alive and kicking

Like John Lewicki, McDonald's senior director, head of global alliance marketing, speaking before them, the day's final panel on brand focus and sponsorship, moderated by Unofficial Partner blogger Richard Gillis, drove home the benefits of being an official sponsor. Heineken International's global sponsorship manager, Tim Ellerton, cited the importance and "huge role" played by sponsorships across a variety of properties, not only sport, for the Heineken business, while Mark Cameron, the brand experience director, global marketing for Jaguar Land Rover, argued that despite some memorable campaigns, "by and large brands have to work harder if they are going to be effective outside the official space."

Register interest for The Brand Conference 2016 at www.sportsprotbc.com

This article featured in the November 2015 edition of SportsPro. Subscribe today here.