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It’s Not a Funnel! Sports Partnerships Score Everywhere Along the Marketing Chain

Despite its ubiquity in marketing education and training, a funnel is a terrible symbol to illustrate the progression from awareness and consideration through to sales and loyalty.


When you pour something into a funnel, it passes quickly through the top parts on its way to its ultimate destination. The implication is that once you’ve done the work at the top, you can move on to the lower portion and leave the top empty. If we must use the imagery of a funnel, we should at least identify it as a continuously operating one that is always full of activity at every level.


A 2021 Nielsen report emphasized this very point. And the research company’s 2022 Global Sports Marketing Report reinforced its importance to corporate sponsors and their property partners.


As someone who has been guilty of often chiding sports marketers (both brands and rights holders) to pay more attention to directly impacting sales and other purchase-related behavior—and stop focusing on generating visibility and awareness through signage and similar sponsorship inventory—I found this to be a very necessary reminder that there must be equilibrium between upper- and lower-funnel activity.


As Nielsen’s summary of its findings from the first report states, the demand for growth “must be addressed with balanced marketing strategies that re-elevate upper-funnel, brand-building efforts to work in tandem with the mid- and lower-funnel efforts…Building and maintaining a brand takes more than simply maintaining sales. That’s because any brand’s existing customer base won’t generate enough incremental sales to meet most long-term growth goals.”


Studying brands including Gap and Adidas, the report concludes that “on average, a 1-point gain in brand metrics such as awareness and consideration drives a 1% increase in sales. Upper-funnel efforts also generate an array of ancillary benefits that can drive the efficiency of sales activations.”


When it comes to partnerships in sports, Nielsen’s latest sports report cites multiple data points as evidence of the strength of sponsorships and activations in achieving numerous objectives for brands. For example:


· In a recent analysis of 100 sponsorships between 2020 and 2021 in seven markets across 20 industries, Nielsen found that the sponsorships drove an average 10 percent lift in purchase intent among the exposed fanbase.


· In a global study, 81 percent of consumers either completely or somewhat trusted brand sponsorships at sporting events, placing sponsorship third behind recommendations from people they knew (89 percent) and branded websites (84 percent) as the most trusted advertising channels.


· Across 13 industries Nielsen measured during the pandemic, the increase in purchase intent was greater than brand familiarity among fans exposed to the sponsorship.


Whatever your preferred visual--funnel, chain, path—there is no disputing sports marketing’s ability to influence consumers, build brands and drive sales.

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