Brand Activations: Stealing a Profitable Idea

Part 1 of a conversation between Gene Carr, Founder, and Paul Miller, VP Sales – Non-Profit Ticketing, PatronManager:

Gene: During the past few years, I’ve become aware of a trend in brand marketing that flies a bit under the radar in the non-profit world but is big business in the commercial sector. It’s called “brand activation,” and simply put, sponsors of live events are no longer willing to just slap their name on an event or park their luxury car out front of a venue and feel like they are getting value. They (like almost everyone else) want the names of the people who are interested in their products — and to achieve this, an entire industry called “brand activations” has emerged.  

Brand activations are a way for a brand to engage with a passerby who agrees to trade their personal information (typically an email address) in return for some kind of benefit. These benefits are sometimes games — “enter to win” or a branded photo booth where the patron gets a photo to post on social media or share with their friends. Last week at the U.S. Open in New York, American Express offered its cardmembers a free headset to listen to commentary about the matches in progress — and in return, the company learned who was actually at the event. 

As another example, I was at a big fan event sponsored by Disney featuring a Star Wars-themed brand activation. It enabled people who registered to don Star Wars props and take a picture against a green screen that made them appear as if they were in the movie. That photo booth was jammed all day! 

How does this relate to the arts? Whenever I see sponsorship at cultural events, it seems that we’re still living in the dark ages. We offer sponsorship naming rights to a concert, or put the brand name on the wall, or park that luxury car out front, but we’re not delivering metrics (or actual names) to the sponsor. That’s going to be a tougher and tougher sell in this environment. Brands know better, and unless they are willing to spend their money with no reporting, we in the arts are in a losing battle.

The good news is that this brand activation stuff is all digital — and there’s nothing stopping us in the arts from taking a page out of the commercial playbook. It takes knowledge of how to pitch this, and the technology to do so. (As an aside, we at Patron Technology offer these tools to advertising agencies and brand sponsors for commercial events all the time.) So, it seems that it’s time for the arts to embrace this new sponsorship approach. 

Paul, how do you see this playing out for an organization that wants to dip its toes in? 

Paul: We like to think that corporate sponsorships happen for altruistic reasons, but the truth is, the appeal is that they offer brand exposure to the arts audience demographic, which is usually wealthy, educated, older people with disposable income. I believe there are three distinct shifts that have created the perfect storm, where arts organizations are uniquely positioned to leverage the benefits of brand activations to their corporate sponsors. 

First, sponsors are pickier and will soon demand greater ROI from organizations that they perceive to already be “sufficiently funded.” Most corporate sponsorships are initiated by a local branch of a larger corporation, but funded by the larger corporation itself, which is no stranger to getting value for its advertising. Locally, the number of non-profits looking for support has grown, and with that, there is stiff competition for that funding dollar. 

As you mentioned earlier, sponsors that are smart enough to recognize this are now wanting not only exposure but also the ability to generate leads and sales from that target demographic. One way to do that is to provide proof of interest that includes at least one opportunity for a direct connection, such as an email address. 

Second is the sheer ubiquity of mobile devices, and arts patrons’ embrace of them. Since nearly everyone has a mobile device with them at all times, it’s easy to get someone to engage. 

Third is that the need to share and be social has grown exponentially in our sector. Facebook might be passé for some millennials, but wow are their parents and even grandparents on it all the time! Sponsors know this, and that puts the arts in a very interesting position.

Gene: OK, that’s a lot to digest. Let’s pick up this conversation next month and dive a bit deeper into this topic, along with some examples.

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