They say that “there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle.”  When it comes to experiential marketing for a sponsorship, sponsors often face the choice of focusing on lead generation or branding. I used to lean heavily towards branding as my outcome of choice. However, I’ve learned that the middle ground deserves exploration when it comes to choosing between branding and lead generation.

I love experiential marketing as a sponsorship activation tool. Great experiential marketing engages consumers, enabling them to experience a brand. We often see this tool in a fan midway area of a sponsored event. While sponsorship enhances the sponsor’s image, an experiential activation cements that image with a lasting and positive impression of the brand. So, consumers remember the experiences much longer.

For example, in 2012, I took my sons to the NFL Fan Experience at the Super Bowl. The NFL’s major sponsors brought their experiential A-game with serious displays for fans. That year, GM’s GMC brand created an opportunity for fans to pretend they were diving for the game-winning pass in the endzone, and they received a 3-D photo to remember the experience. My sons still remember the GMC display and have talked about it during every Super Bowl since. That’s ten years of brand “warm fuzzies” for the GMC brand.

Forget the Experience. Give Me Your Email Address!

In contrast to brands leveraging their sponsorship by creating experiences, some sponsors lean on their event activations for strictly lead generation purposes. You know what I mean if you’ve spent time at events recently. These activations offer free t-shirts or other prizes for spin-to-win or corn hole. Some brand ambassadors will simply hand you a free item if you cough up your name and email address.

Historically, this approach ticked me off, as I chalked it up to lazy marketing. However, whenever I see a spin-to-win or t-shirt giveaway, the consumers line up in droves to offer their lead generation data. This data solidifies a sponsor’s return on investment and thus serves an important role. For this reason, I’ve come to appreciate a more nuanced approach that blends lead generation and branding. Sponsorship activation should combine both. Here’s why.

Sponsors Have a Special Status in the Consumer’s Mind.

Unlike advertising, which is usually in your face, sponsors gain permission to market to consumers through the sponsorship relationship. This approval element makes the audience more amenable to sponsor messages than advertising. Since the pump is primed in the consumer’s mind, the sponsor has the opportunity further to accentuate the impact of their brand message through activation.

Any brand can obtain a consumer’s email address if they bribe them with the correct premium item. However, it would be a shame to simply waste a sponsor’s special status for a t-shirt-for-an-email address exchange. Wouldn’t you want someone’s son to remember your activation for a decade if you were a sponsor?

Therefore, I recommend a minimum blended approach with some branding combined with lead generation. Perhaps “spin-to-win” lures consumers in, but the right branded experience leaves them with an invaluable impression.

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