2008 is barely a month old and it’s already shaping up to be a doozy. Campaign 2008 Wall Street woes and frequent use of the R-word in financial circles has everybody wondering what we’ll be facing in the months ahead. We asked six industry experts to weigh in on what we’ll all be talking about in the event space this year. Here’s what they had to say.
• Steve Baskin vp-sponsorships ING
• Mary Fehrnstrom sr. mgr.-event strategy Cisco
• Judah Zeigler assoc. vp Sharp Electronics
• Peter Laatz mgr.-entertainment marketing Miller
• Bobby Wilkinson mgr.-sponsorship State Farm
• Terry Shorrock director-shows/events Panasonic
What will be your biggest challenges in the event space this year?
Steve Baskin: As with most marketers we’ll be spending our time determining how to get better at directly connecting our sponsorships and events to the business and vice versa.
Peter Laatz: Differentiation—the need to break out from the sameness and be able to articulate what the product/brand message is in a way that consumers don’t miss (or hate). The way I see it if I can insert another brand name into a program without affecting the integrity of the message I have failed.
Bobby Wilkinson: Our biggest challenge is the same each year. That is executing with excellence and giving consumers a great brand interaction where they walk away with a good feeling about the experience with our brand. The insurance space is one of the fastest growing… faster than the beer and soft drink space in spending increases and we want to stay ahead of our competitors (known and unknown) in connecting with consumers.
Mary Fehrnstrom: We’re seeing growing interest from internal clients in integrating new technologies—from 3-D holographic video projection to social networking and everything in between—into the event experience. So we’ll be looking at how that impacts all aspects of our events.
Judah Zeigler: Our biggest challenge is keeping the experience fresh. All of our sponsorships are now in at least the second year of life; this means that we need to ensure that the consumer experiences we’re delivering continue to keep those consumers engaged with our products and our brand.
Where are you focusing? What are you doing more of? What are you doing less of?
SB: ING has built significant momentum among avid runners in the markets where we sponsor running events. This appears to be translating now to our broader target audience. After several years of being a part of the runner experience our research leads us to believe that it’s now time to begin reaching out to that group more overtly on the topic of their retirement planning. To that end my team is refining its approach and focus. We have a person on our team now whose job is to connect with our seven U.S. businesses and 12 campuses to understand their needs and to help us translate those needs into ideas that are usable and valuable to our producers and end-customers. We’ve used a lot of the same thinking in our music and entertainment sponsorships as well as our approach to activating Formula 1.
PL: We are favoring activation over acquisition. We’re acquiring fewer overall properties and fully activating the ones we have. It’s the single best investment we can make.
Terry Shorrock: We’re focusing on direct-to-consumer marketing through our mobile vehicles and the Living in High Definition tour. We will also concentrate on the Olympics this year. Plus we’ll be looking less at traditional media and more at non-traditional forms such as the Internet ambassadors and blogging.
BW: You will see us focus more attention on several segments: Latino consumers women young adults African-Americans Asian-Americans I might as well say everyone. You’ll see us ramp up our efforts in reaching young adults through our nowwhat.com campaign (online and at concert venues) and connecting with our Latino consumers with a tie-in to one of our national partnerships.
JZ: We are focusing a great deal of our efforts on ensuring that our sponsorship activation activities are conducive to participation from our retail channel partners. As a manufacturer we want to make sure that we hit all of the major consumer touchpoints we can with our sponsorships and the efforts of our retail partners are key to achieving this goal. In 2008 we’ll do more to support initiatives with quantifiable ROI and less with those with ROI that is either negligible or can’t be quantified.
MF: We are doing more strategy and trying to do less volume. We’re also working harder to build a global event marketing community in our company.
What will be the big buzzwords of 2008 and why?
SB: Whether or not it becomes an industry buzz word our mantra for the year will be “technology central.” We’re centralizing all of our activation information—regardless of platform. Compliance and legal guidelines are the norm in the financial services industry. In order to engage our businesses to the degree we need to we’re building our capability around technology that will enable our team to organize event hospitality and activation information based on individual business needs and guidelines. We’re hard at work on this.
TS: Blogging YouTube Picassa mobile all-purpose products collaboration partnerships. Why? Interactivity is important to consumers—ease of use simplicity and cool products. Collaboration and partnerships are important because consumers want products that work together between manufacturers and they want the best in hardware and software.
JZ: ROI will continue to grow in importance and will be a major buzzword especially among corporate sponsors. In addition I believe “co-marketing” will begin to come into its own as more and more sponsors realize the value in aligning themselves with their fellow sponsors in order to maximize their financial resources.
What tactics and strategies are so 2007 and which are totally 2008?
MF: I’d say Second Life is waning—the fervor seems to have died down a bit. What’s 2008? Account-based marketing—building an overall marketing strategy (including events) for a select group of key accounts which drive a high percentage of revenue. This means matching key opportunities and key people to dialogues and engagements at key events.
PL: Static signage and sweepstakes are so 2007. Wireless promotions and Kurt Busch are so 2008. Kurt is the pilot of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge—the Blue Deuce. Kurt and the Miller Lite Racing team had a very solid year in 2007 the only beer car to make the Chase for the Cup. And we are poised for that and more in 2008. There’s certainly more to it for us in 2008; we intend to further leverage our 20-plus year relationship with Penske Racing and capitalize on the inconsistencies of our competitors’ programs. Budweiser parted ways with the sport’s most popular driver and car number. And Coors has exited the on-track competition completely.
TS: Traditional advertising is so 2007. Sponsorships without reciprocity in b-to-b opportunities is so 2007. Hospitality is so 2007. Letting consumers talk about your products as “ambassadors” is 2008.
The economy is pretty uncertain right now. How do you plan in these circumstances? How do you protect your budgets?
SB: We’re a financial services company so our business is obviously affected by the markets. But our business strategies are long-term. While it’s important to pay attention and respond as necessary when the market moves up and down the strategies that the company has in place are a part of a longer-term blueprint and shouldn’t be overturned due to daily or quarterly market fluctuations. We understand and believe in focus and commitment and try hard to act accordingly.
PL: We plan our work then work our plan. And that includes what to do if there are more dollars available or if dollars must be taken away. We do that as a matter of course each year.
BW: When we set our budgets we do research ahead of time to try to best determine what type of voice we want in the market in a given year and how loud a voice we think our competitors will have. You’re right… it’s hard to know what the market will do but there is enough trend analysis available to help with the best decision possible.
MF: It goes back to share of wallet—if we can demonstrate we provide the highest impact to marketing then we should have our budget protected even if other aspects of marketing get cut. At Cisco marketing gets a percentage of overall revenue so it’s possible that we could be affected but as a global company our sales leaders have done a great job at overcompensating in certain growth regions to help the regions hit by a slowdown and so far—knock on wood—we have been pretty linear in terms of growth.
JZ: Rule No. 1—quantify value. The best way to show that sponsorship dollars—whether for fees or activation—should continue is to ensure that there are ways to very clearly show an impact on the company’s business. This can be financial—i.e. increased sales—or positive momentum in the brand equity arena. In times of economic or social uncertainty consumers tend to gravitate to those things they know and trust. This makes brand equity even more important and properly executed sponsorships deliver significant value in achieving this.
Besides the EM Experiential Marketing Summit of course (it’s April 21-23 by the way) what are you looking forward to more than anything else in 2008?
PL: I am looking forward to Summerfest the best 11 days in music on Milwaukee’s lakefront—June 26 through July 6. See you at the Miller Lite Oasis!
TS: My vacation to the Florida Keys to sail on a boat for a week. My family reunion in Lake Tahoe in August. The Olympic Games in Beijing. My birthday. My 25th anniversary with Panasonic… and the EM Summit. I am also looking forward to the new and innovative ways we will promote the Panasonic brand.
JZ: The EM Summit is the highlight of my year! Seriously. I love a challenge so considering the economic uncertainty that 2008 will bring I look forward to the challenge of delivering innovative fresh experiences for Sharp consumers while maximizing financial resources.
MF: Any opportunity to see Dan and Kerry in tuxes [at the Ex Awards April 22] and I’m in. I’m also interested in seeing how the U.S. Presidential election turns out.
BW: You mean there is something else to look forward to in 2008 other than the Experiential Marketing Summit in April?