Thursday, June 16th, 2016 | 7 min read
When brands whisk a sponsorship out onto the dance floor, most are content to be a logo on a banner. It’s a safe samba. It requires no effort or fancy footwork. And it’s logolicious to the max. These types of sponsorships are a passive visibility driver. People see your logo and subconsciously tuck that knowledge away with their memories of the event. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t.
However, I prefer when brand marketers go beyond serving as a glorified bumper sticker. Let’s call it a collaborative sponsorship.
That is how HTC has approached its sponsorship of three major eSports teams, entering a world of competition that has grown explosively with each passing year. We selected three of the most popular teams in North America—each of which includes groups of players focused on games like League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Heroes of the Storm—and we built a sponsorship program suitable for that world with the purpose of being part of its growth and culture.
We are not content to be a logo in the corner of the screen. We want to contribute to the eSports community by celebrating its triumphs and tropes. And, yes, by putting our wonderful products in front of people who appreciate technology.
To that end, we produce social content exclusively for the eSports audience across separate social channels (Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook). Our tone of voice varies by channel so that we can appeal to the different audiences as best as possible.
Our social offerings allow us to collaborate with the players and personalities themselves to ensure that what we create is something this audience wants to see. Outside the realm of social, we have even created phones engraved with eSports team logos.
It’s not easy, and nor should it be.
When evolving your sponsorship into something more collaborative, you want to be a pitcher of refreshing iced tea at a party—providing value, not being obtrusive. Never forget that you weren’t invited to this party. If a cool kid was kind enough to sneak you in, don’t make a fool of yourself. Here are a few ways to accomplish that feat:
The worst thing you can do is assume you know a community of people based on a superficial sketch of their interests. The community will spot that immediately, and it will damage the nascent relationship between the brand and its potential customers.“The worst thing you can do is assume you know a community of people based on a superficial sketch of their interests.”
To ensure that we could walk the walk and talk the talk, HTC staffed its eSports program with people who come from a legitimate gaming background. Gamers are a knowledgeable, passionate bunch, and we established a team as obsessed as the competitors and pundits themselves. The video below, which focuses on the retirement of one of the pro gamers, is stuffed to the gills with eSports in-jokes and references. We could have made it simple, but we decided instead to make it for the community.
This reflects the fact that your know-it-all social marketing czar may be the wrong person for the job. You either speak the language or you don’t. And language is key—from tweets to taglines to hashtags. If you don’t understand the world you’re trying to market to, it’s not going to work.
And people will make fun of you.
And you’ll cry. Like, that ugly sort of crying. Where your face gets all squishy. Ugh.
The “launch it and leave it” mentality is very popular among marketers with agency backgrounds. You kickstart a campaign and then move on to something else once it’s up and running. That “something else” could be a lengthy beard project where you grow a lengthy beard. Regardless, that doesn’t work when it comes to collaborative sponsorships. In order for them to work in a meaningful way, you have to stay committed to the effort and drive it over a substantial period of time.
Just like popular YouTubers aim for consistency and a prolific approach to content delivery, so should you aspire to stay relevant as a devoted sponsor.
For HTC’s eSports program, we have developed an episodic content series named “Rebirth” that tells the story of a team over multiple seasons of play. There have been more than 20 episodes thus far. We supplement that with player vlogs, interviews, tournament highlights, and cheeky videos that winkingly pay homage to the world of eSports—all of which is produced in partnership with the teams.
As a result, our involvement in eSports has evolved from simple logo placement into something much more valuable to the community and the players.
As terrifying as it sounds, you may need to drop your familiar toolbox into a trashcan and sally forth with new sources of inspiration. This will be easier if the people stewarding your sponsorship activities understand the audience they’re targeting.
What works for these rascals? What types of content and topics perform well on the subreddits that cater to them? How do the gamers themselves share information with their fans? Are there young startups bursting from the ground with new services that may appeal?
All of these indicators are easy to access and absorb, but it’s only valuable if it leads to adjustments in your content that match the audience’s expectations.
And let us not forget about your competitors. What are those jerks doing in this space? I’m sure you can do it way better, right? Of course you can. So let’s make those dummies look like, um, double-dummies and develop content that blends your products with the audience’s passions to create a sales smoothie.
I know I’ve been glib, but none of this is easy. That’s why most brands shy away from it. And that’s why a logo on a banner is the prevailing sponsorship route. But fortune favors the bold. And HTC is staffed by a big bunch of bold bulls. ¡Olé!