Speakers at IEG’s annual sponsorship conference exemplified the event’s theme–The Next Big Thing Will Be a Million Little Things–in a variety of ways that combined to bolster the concept that opportunities to connect with consumers have never been greater, yet building relationships with them has never been tougher.

What once could be accomplished with a single great idea and communicated through one screen now requires vast numbers of touchpoints and multiple executions.

“Ubiquity is a very difficult proposition,” said Peter Laatz, manager of sports and entertainment marketing for Miller Brewing Co. “Having one big brand that wants to be everything to everyone isn’t going to work anymore.

“Our biggest brand is clearly Miller Lite, and it will continue to do things that you would expect a big beer brand to do, such as NASCAR,” he said. “Those things are good for that brand.

“But we also have to do things differently now. We have developed a portfolio of brands that includes specialty and international products.

“There we have the opportunity to deliver better brand impact versus Miller Lite, which because of its size is burdened by many of the issues facing traditional marketing.

“We are by no means trying to replace Lite, or the things that it does; it is the brand that keeps the lights on at Miller. But with the rest of our portfolio we can break out and work in more controlled environments. Having small budgets is a good thing in this case.”

Laatz cited Mickey’s malt liquor’s sponsorship of Ultimate Fighting Championship and Italian import Peroni’s official status with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Weeks as examples of Miller’s approach: Develop a powerful idea that helps tell the brand story and identify partners that have a shared mission and can help articulate the story for consumers.

Mickey’s UFC tie forms the basis of all of the brand’s marketing efforts, Laatz said.

“It has a limited budget, so this program is the Mickey’s brand plan,” he said. “They do this the whole year, everything from packaging to sweepstakes.”

Laatz noted that the program is a turnaround from what the company would have done in the past. “Three years ago, we would have used Mickey’s in the retail environment on price only; we wouldn’t have done anything from a marketing standpoint.

“Doing that, the brand would probably grow one to two percent at best, but now it is growing four to six percent a year, and we are actually talking about how we can make it an on-premise brand as well as a retail one.”

New Paradigm: Sponsorship, Then Advertising
Also in keeping with the “little is the new big” idea, conference speakers demonstrated how sponsorship is becoming the lead medium in many cases, with support following from traditional media buys.

In discussing the launch of the Tundra full-size pick-up, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc. national truck advertising and engagement marketing manager Steve Jett noted that the company’s previous strategy for introducing a new vehicle began with national TV advertising.

“Then we would cascade down to regional spots, local dealer association ads, and then, almost as an afterthought, we would do some grassroots marketing and events at the end,” he said.

For Tundra, which officially launched in February, “we decided to turn that upside down,” Jett said. “To be successful, we needed to build relationships with truck buyers first, and you don’t do that through advertising.

“We began a few years ago to put the partnerships in place that would allow us to connect with truck buyers through their passions for the outdoors and country music. We involved the regions and we built momentum until we were ready to flip the switch on TV advertising when the Tundra made it to showrooms earlier this year.”

To go after upper income consumers, HSBC Bank Canada has made sponsorship its go-to medium, said Brita Cloghesy, assistant vice president, marketing–brand & sponsorship.

“Sponsorship leads our marketing mix and a disproportionate amount of our budget goes to it,” she said. “It is the main way that we have built our brand.”

Properties are seeing the shift as well.

“It used to be advertising first, and then you came in with ground support later. It’s reversed now,” said Mark Shapiro, president and CEO of Six Flags, Inc.

Fewer, Bigger Is Actually Smaller
Many sponsors spoke of adopting a strategy to sponsor fewer properties and to allocate more resources to fully integrating and leveraging those relationships.

Although that approach may seem to fly in the face of the “million little things” concept, it is not contradictory. The handful of properties that is no longer sponsored by a company is replaced with a myriad of activation programs around the remaining deals.

“We had been sponsoring as many as 3,000 events and properties,” said Carlos Uranga, chief marketing officer for Corona brewer Grupo Modelo, S.A. de C.V.

“We have reduced that amount by about 50 percent and we are putting the money from the 1,500 that were eliminated into the remaining 1,500.”

UPS has also adopted a less-is-more strategy. “You have to make sure you are using what you have to its fullest,” said Laura Kouns, motorsports marketing manager.

“You can’t continue to buy sponsorships that you don’t have the budget to leverage; it is much more effective to use the money you have on what you already own.”