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How to Boost Your Small Business Through a Sponsorship

Sponsorship marketing is one of the easiest, most affordable ways for a small business to gain a lot of exposure.
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Supporting a good cause not only provides businesses with convenient advertising, it also creates positive publicity that encourages potential customers to choose your business over not-so-generous competitors.

The coolest part is that you don't need a big budget to make a big sponsorship splash. Whether you have thousands of dollars to give, or just your time, sponsorship marketing can boost your small business.

Why Sponsorships are Good Marketing Investments

There are various types of sponsorships that your business can take advantage of. We'll review those further down the page, but first let's make sure we're on the same page regarding what a sponsorship actually is. Here's the definition of "sponsor" from Wikipedia:

"To sponsor something is to support an event, activity, person, or organization financially or through the provision of products or services. A sponsor is the individual or group that provides the support, similar to a benefactor."

Businesses often sponsor non-profit organizations, community events, or individuals for three key benefits:

  • Target a niche market: Choosing a recipient for your sponsorship is like choosing a publication to advertise with. The recipient's supporters and beneficiaries become your marketing audience. Because there are so many different willing recipients to choose from, you can select the perfect audience and put your business name in front of them.
  • Drive sales: Depending on the type of sponsorship you choose, your business can boost sales with a strategic marketing strategy. By selecting the right recipient, agreeing to fair publicity terms, and delivering effective promotional messages, your business can convert your recipient's supporters into your own customers.
  • Distinguish your business above competitors: Your competitors' products and/or services may be just as great as yours, but if your business shows an ethical commitment to the community as a whole, you can bet potential customers will take that into consideration. Whether or not customers consciously make purchasing decisions based on ethics, people generally gravitate towards companies that care.

Types of Sponsorships

Small businesses often overlook sponsorship marketing due to preconceived notions about corporate giving. These notions only limit marketing potential. Philanthropy takes so many forms that any small business can take advantage of its benefits. These are just some of the ways you can give back AND boost your small business.

Pro Bono Service

Find another company or non-profit organization that requires your services, and do the job free of charge. At the project's onset, let your pro bono client know that you would like to trade your services for their publicity. Then, voila, you're generating positive brand awareness for only the price of time.

Cash Donations

The potential impact of a cash donation depends on how much cash you can give and how much cash the recipient needs to accomplish their goals. Established non-profit organizations typically attach the level of publicity they give sponsors to the amount of money each sponsor donates, so reaching the truly promotional tiers often comes at a hefty price. If you have a lot of extra funds to give away, go for it! If you have only a bit, consider donating to a small, yet cause-oriented group, such as a sorority or a local sports' team. Just make sure the advertising you've offered in return is worth your investment.

Prize Donations

Prize donations are a top sponsorship opportunity for small businesses. They only cost as much as you want them to, they get your business name out to a lot of potential winners, and they give winners (qualified leads) the chance to try your product/service for free. If you have a service-oriented business, you can donate gift certificates and show off your valuable skills to winners. If you have a product-based company, consider donating your goods to a related non-profit (i.e. wetsuits to an environmental organization).

Other Sponsorship Options:

  • Hold Fundraisers
  • Provide Local Meeting Space
  • Company Day of Service Events
  • Matching Gift Program
  • Corporate Grant Program

Examples of Successful Marketing Sponsorships

Measuring a sponsorship's return on investment (ROI) is a challenge. However, because your key goals are to increase brand awareness and generate positive publicity, it's easy to see when giving becomes a marketing success. Check out these examples.

Blackwell Angus Sponsorship

In 2010, the premium beef distributor Blackwell Angus (BWA) became a sponsor of NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s No. 6 Ford racecar. This strategic sports sponsorship was BWA's main marketing channel, and it worked. According to a white paper released by MSA Digital Analytics, BWA has achieved the following benefits since becoming a NASCAR sponsor:

  • Increased number of visitors to website
  • Increased social media buzz
  • Association with a "winning racing team"

Red Bull Sponsorship

Red Bull, the popular energy drink, wasn't always so popular. When energy drinks were first introduced to the public, they weren't immediately successful. Red Bull did take off, however, when the company started giving away drinks at VIP and sporting events. Now, Red Bull is one of the most in-demand energy drinks in the world.

Start Sponsoring

Ready to begin planning your sponsorship marketing campaign? Then you'll need to choose your recipient. Here's a great starting point: "HOW TO: Decide Which Charities Your Business Should Support".

Happy giving!

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Jul 3, 2014

DREW HENDRICKS | Columnist

Drew Hendricks is a tech, social-media, and environmental addict. He's written for many major publications, such as Forbes and Entrepreneur.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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