Why Lionel Messi, Maria Sharapova and Tom Brady are Shaping the Future of Brand Partnerships

Chris Wilson, Head of Brand Partnerships, Ingenuity

The Lionel Messi scandal – which resulted in a €2m fine and a 21-month prison sentence – reveals the volatility and risk of athlete sponsorship. While he won’t serve jail time, this most recent debacle will force brands and sponsors to re-assess how they invest their fortunes.

In the last year alone, high-profile athletes like Messi, Tom Brady and Maria Sharapova have been thrown into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. As investment into rights holders’ property increases, the viability of creating great, consistent customer experience through sponsorship must be questioned.

Enter brand partnerships – an arena that is becoming more and more attractive to senior marketing professionals in the current financial climate.

A Challenge or New Opportunity?

Disruption runs amok in the modern landscape of brand marketing. With the advent of social media, any transgressions on the part of sponsored athletes or celebrities are now broadcast for the world to see. In an age when shared information drives buyer decisions, brands are feeling this unwelcome bite with a particular sting.

That’s not to say that all sport sponsorship is unsuccessful. Far from it. However, changes in consumer demands are impacting how brands collaborate and work together.

Sport sponsorship is a simple transaction in which brands offer athletes money in exchange for exposure. This “old school” marketing ploy is being challenged by its new and improved 2.0 version – the brand partnership.

Brand partnerships blend elements of sponsorship and collaboration. They aim to solve a perennial marketing challenge: “How can we be where our customers are?” Entering the fray in the late 2000’s, these brand affiliations now exist across a number of industries and sectors. Underlying all brand partnerships, there sits a unique ability to improve and enhance customer experience. This has become particularly appealing to businesses in our modern, customer-centric environment. 

How to Survive a Competitive Landscape

Brave brands win. The message is eternal, but the method of activation has changed. Picture the world we live in: content is ubiquitous, data omnipresent and social sharing universal. To achieve cut-through in an age of saturation, brand partnerships are becoming a major factor in brand-side marketing decisions.

Businesses can’t survive on their own anymore. Shared marketing assets help companies target millions of potential new customers and allow brands to reach key demographics at a much more advantageous and cost effective level. As a by-product, this improves loyalty and opens up access to new consumer channels and demographics.

But what about the customer? Well, there’s good news for them, too. When two global brands work together to achieve a goal, the customer receives a much better brand experience. With brand partnership comes improved personalization, a powerful asset to help create moments of magic that leave consumers coming back for more. Let’s see how this works.

Partnerships in the Field

Brand partnerships are relatively new, but some early adopters activated them to particular success. 02’s association with retailers like Boots and Caffè Nero is a case in point. With a massive audience, 02 is extremely appealing to retailers looking to drive footfall. Free coffees, cheap meal-deals and exclusive offers gives 02 customers a feeling of exclusivity and worth. A win-win for all parties involved.

The recent Spotify and Uber deal will see the world renowned music provider increase awareness and boost subscribers, whereas Uber benefits by offering riders an improved and unique customer experience. This facet is crucial. Brand partnerships are so relevant because they can physically enhance the customer experience journey. Listening to Spotify in your next Uber isn’t just a way for the brand to expand its reach, it actually makes the ride more enjoyable for the customer. When brand partnerships enhance customer experience, then you’re onto a winner. 

Deliver and Pizza Express is another “commercial deal” that, at its heart, improves the customer experience. Deliver can utilize their unique business model to further profit and increase brand awareness, while Pizza Express now have the opportunity to reach a broader segment of the market by widening their delivery service. As a customer, the delivery process is simplified and your pizza arrives faster. Simplification and streamlining of activities are obvious benefits to tactical brand partnerships.

An Exciting Future

Despite these agreements, it’s safe to say we’re still in the relative infancy of brand partnerships.

Consumers and brands alike have much to look forward to. Increased brand collaboration will lead to better customer experience and engagement, more timely and relevant content, and generally happier and more enthused shoppers.

This new marketing tactic is the answer to prehistoric loyalty schemes struggling to eke out an existence. Brand partnerships are not only here to stay; they’re going to flourish.