Opinion | How to navigate the complicated world of motorsport marketing

Austin Schneider, director of business development at sports marketing and creative agency Sport Dimensions, analyses the motorsport marketing landscape and outlines how brands can maximise their sponsorship investments.

The multibillion-dollar world of motorsport marketing is a challenging, rich and exciting world to operate in.

Some of the largest brands in the world have built their presence from simple grassroots programmes to dynamic, multi-series dynasties. From the outside looking in, they make it look easy.

But, for marketing managers, executives, and those interested in pursuing motorsport sponsorship programmes to market their business, it can quickly become overwhelming without the right knowledge and support.

To implement a successful strategy, it’s important to:

  • Learn the keys to success in motorsport marketing, including strategic sponsorship programmes and prioritising your activation budget
  • Start small and grow into results while diversifying your assets to find the right mix for your objectives
  • Work with a strategic partner as it can produce benefits such as introductions to diversified platforms, shortened learning curve, and executive-level introductions to key business relationships

Keys to success

Throughout the sponsorship process, there are some major points that need revisiting. If ever you feel lost along the way, think back to these three key principles, which can be used as a foundation moving forward.

  1. Sponsorship programmes must stay strategic, constantly examining what you are trying to accomplish or solve through the platform
  2. Sponsorship programmes must generate a business result, a metric increase, or a quantifiable growth in your core operation. In today’s marketplace, sponsorships have become more of a B2B and technical partnership than anything else
  3. Prioritise the activation budget over the property budget. Even if you have the greatest property in the world, you will not see the return you are looking for if you do not invest in activation. Spend US$2 on activation for every US$1 spent on a property to extract maximum value

With those principles firmly in your mind, another step is breaking the myth that all motorsport marketing or sponsorship programmes require a multi-million dollar budget. That is far from the reality of the opportunities available.

Some of the most effective and successful programmes are centred around targeted, highly efficient grassroots programmes. So, no matter your budget, this platform is worth exploring to invigorate your marketing and bolster your strategy.

Haas carried out a successful activation with Chipotle this season, resulting in the highest engaged post on Chipotle’s Instagram

Sponsorship rights vs. sponsorship activation

Sponsorship rights are what you bought, whereas sponsorship activation is what you do with that purchase.

What sounds like a simple difference in wording turns out to be the most important distinction in this discussion. As digital media continues to command more attention and marketing dollars, there have been some important changes to the traditional approaches to sports and entertainment.

To maximise the value of your brand, the key is finding the balance of investment between sponsorship rights and brand activation programmes.

Sometimes, this part can feel like ‘the chicken or the egg’, without knowing what needs to come first. To determine what rights make the most sense for your brand to acquire, it is best to understand your objectives from the beginnings.

Once you have this combination of objectives and sponsorship rights, you can begin to build activation programmes around this.

Top-level activations can go as far as a full livery takeover, like Chrome with McLaren at this year’s British Grand Prix

Where do you start?

How you start is as equally important as where you start. Due to the flexibility offered in the performance world, you can start small and grow towards results.

This allows you to adapt to ever-changing consumer behaviour; this approach will also limit your risk and ensure you are constantly extracting value from your activities.

However, this can present a situation where there are so many different options and channels to consider that you may feel stuck in the decision-making process. This is very common, so you don’t need to feel bad if you don’t know what is best for your objectives.

A solid knowledge base is crucial as you begin your journey or if you’re looking for fresh opportunities. Starting can be as simple as identifying the business objectives you want to solve, grow, or promote.

From there, you can identify available properties that match those goals. Sometimes this might mean sponsoring an individual driver, sometimes it means sponsoring an entire series.

It’s imperative, though, that you find the right mix that suits your needs. By diversifying, you open yourself to broader exposure and brand activation opportunities.

Have you considered all possibilities?

The question ‘where do I start?’ is in direct competition with the question ‘what can I do?’; your goal is to find a balance between the two for the most effective programme. There are many different things you can do, but activations can range from simplistic to dynamic.

A large budget certainly gives you option, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Sponsorship shines when you constantly aim for sustainable value, which means pursuing strategic investments rather than flashy stunts.

When you create flexible programmes from the start, you can tailor them to the marketplace as it changes. To do this well, start small and grow into the results by constantly attending to your asset mix between renewals and negotiation.

Common challenges

The world of motorsport marketing can be a tricky one to navigate. There are many different dynamics to be wary of, and this presents many opportunities to be successful. That is why brands invest billions of dollars annually to engage their customers through the platform.

Of course, benefits don’t come for free; there are some foundational challenges that you must be aware of and prepare for.

Sponsorship activation has its own language and, as a brand, properties might try and ‘woo’ you with fancy terms that can distract you. The first step to prepare yourself is to know the fundamentals of generating sustainable ROI through your sponsorship programmes.

As one of the most dynamic platforms that marketers can work with, there is a place for any brand to shine. The right activation behind any sponsorship will demonstrate value far beyond a log on the hood of a car.

It’s about partnership, process and passion in order to generate value for your brand.


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