Aidan Connolly Vice President Corporate Accounts Alltech
Catherine Keogh Chief Marketing Officer Alltech
Simon Bradley, Weekandoo Consulting
This paper examines Alltech’s sponsorship of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy, France (the Games). As a multi-billion dollar global agribusiness, Alltech is the world’s leading nutrition company using all-natural technological solutions to generate better returns for its customers according to its ACE principle (Animal, Consumer and Environment). The authors’ description of the company’s history in experiential marketing, starting with sponsorship of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games which had 500 million viewers worldwide, exemplifies how a business can learn from and leverage a sponsorship strategy to achieve and develop new sources of sales revenue among target markets.
This paper examines Alltech’s sponsorship of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy, France (the Games) and the company’s history in experiential marketing starting with the same event in Kentucky in 2010, as an example of how an agribusiness can learn from and use a sponsorship strategy to develop new sources of sales revenue and reach new customers. Alltech’s global sales strategy is to engage with the end users of their products directly, or go to the farm. This means reach out to those that are directly implicated in the production of food, engaging face-to-face with the farmer, the primary end-users of its nutritional solutions. Consequently, the company is building a brand presence in this core market of farmers worldwide through a number of initiatives all tied to its sponsorship of the Games in 2014. Normandy – the heart of both French equestrian and dairy industries – will be the backdrop for a celebration of the often unsung, but fundamental role of farmers in global agribusiness.
This insights for this paper was generated from in-depth interviews conducted between 2010 and 2013 with senior Alltech management who have been intimately involved in designing and implementing the company’s corporate growth strategy. These data were combined with the metrics from the 2010 Games and then evaluated against the AIDA framework. Combined with an overview of current sponsorship theory this provides a unique look at how sponsorship and branding can be brought together to increase customer involvement in a B2B company.
Our conclusions are that:
1. Event sponsorship is a credible and effective marketing tool for leading agribusinesses to raise brand awareness in new and existing markets.
2. Agribusinesses that understand the life-cycle approach to marketing can leverage event sponsorship toward delivering improved sales vis-a-vis a broader commercial strategy.
3. Crucial to a successful sponsorship are concepts of good-fit and shared values but also the emotional connection generated by a sense of participation and involvement in the event by the target audience.
This paper discusses the experiences of Alltech as a leading global agribusiness brand that has successfully developed its use of sports sponsorship since 2010 to achieve a succession of commercial goals from brand awareness to increased product sales. This process can be described using the AIDA communications model as a simple yet effective framework allowing the reader to assess the value of sponsorship as a tool to help achieve marketing goals.
According to the AIDA model (Russell, 1921) marketing communications tools can be used to create Awareness of a brand, Interest in the brand, Desire or Demand for the brand and ultimately Action as in purchasing units of the brand. Few if any marketing communications tools bring the target customer through a complete cycle of all four stages in AIDA, however. That is why businesses usually employ an integrated portfolio of tools such as advertising, sales promotions, public relations and sales personnel to do the job. Through its ongoing title sponsorship of the FEI World Equestrian Games, Alltech nevertheless, has successfully leveraged the association over time to drive brand awareness and latterly sales growth in key customer segments. Key to this has been its ability to apply its core competence of creating deep meaningful connections with its audiences through a variety of experiential marketing activities within the activation activity around the sponsorship of the games.
Globally, corporate sponsorship is a $51 billion dollar industry with a primary focus on sports properties and consumer brands, (IEG 2012). Research to date indicates a heightened level of sponsor awareness predicting a higher level of purchase intention (Ko, et al 2008), meaning that popular sporting events, which transcend cultural barriers, represent ideal platforms for consumer brands aiming to reach multinational customer bases.
The power of sponsorship to reposition a brand cannot be underestimated. For example, Gorse et al. (2010) described how Red Bull have demonstrated the long-term impact of sponsorship in transforming a company’s position and market place performance. Red Bull has shifted from being an energy drinks manufacturer to an extreme sports sponsor, creating the exciting events that align the values of the brand closely with the aspirations of its target audience: energy, adventure, a life less ordinary.
In general, there is a gap in the literature examining how agribusiness companies can leverage similar partnerships to achieve sales growth. Similarly, while the primary form of brand communication in business-to-business (B2B) markets is via the sales force, (Lynch and de Chernatony, 2007) successful B2B companies incorporate brand values that appeal to the emotional and rational concerns of buyers (Lynch and de Chernatony, 2007). Even less is known about the role of customer experience and sense of participation in helping to consolidate the emotional connection that is important to brand-based purchasing decisions in agribusiness markets.
But as Meenaghan et al (1999) point out, in the case of sponsorship the media and the message are inextricably linked and the sponsor’s association with the particular events generates the brand image impact. In that vein, Alltech’s use of its title sponsorship of the Games to reposition its brand with famers, getting closer to the customer than ever before is an opportunity to examine this under-researched area.
Agribusinesses are facing a daunting set of challenges such as food safety, traceability in the food chain, water shortages, changing consumer expectations and the need to feed an additional 3 billion people within the next 30 years. In addition is the ‘disconnect’ from nature as the majority of the world’s population becomes urbanized. Experiential marketing tied into sponsorship activities afford agribusinesses an opportunity to engage with direct and indirect customers. It affords them the opportunity to demonstrate what their business is doing to address these challenges, and encourage customers to become involved in the process themselves.
The benefits of sponsorship for brand-building are relatively clear: typically the exposure has a positive impact on brand effect, brand trust and brand loyalty (Mazodier and Merunka 2011). Leveraging positive associations with sponsored properties (generally sporting, cultural or entertainment events) presents companies with a marketing tool for connecting with customers on an emotional level. This emotional connection depends however, on notions such as consumer goodwill, the process of image transfer and the concept of fan involvement (Meenaghan 2001).
How to reach $4 billion sales
Throughout its history, Alltech had invested heavily in branding and experiential marketing. Efforts such as seminars, symposia and workshops in a strategy called Marketing Through Education were used to support a solutions-based sales strategy. Headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky the company grew rapidly and internationalised early establishing its first international sales office in Ireland. Sales teams organized by product and species consulted with customers beginning in the US and Europe later expanded regionally as Alltech expanded through export and later direct investment in various market around the world. Then in 2010, following sponsorship of the Games in Kentucky the company founder and president Dr. Pearse Lyons, with an eye to the opportunities in the global marketplace, set a goal of reaching $4 billion in sales within 5 years. Senior managers began working on strategies to grow the company but recognised that although the existing system was highly effective, the company needed a catalyst to achieve sales growth of such an order of magnitude.
Sponsoring a world-class sporting event offered an ideal platform to demonstrate Alltech’s ability to compete on the global stage. The commitment to technological and marketing innovation and thought leadership refined over the first 30 years of Alltech’s history laid the foundations of credibility that were essential for a move into high profile brand communications.
In the global sponsorship market the ‘properties’ of global consequence such as the World Cup and Olympic Games with their massive audiences attract the biggest fees from potential partners. For potential global agribusiness sponsors the premier sporting event and media vehicle is undoubtedly the FEI World Equestrian Games. Held every four years, the Games are unique for their often-spectacular demonstration of the intimate human-animal relationship. Athletes from dozens of countries worldwide compete across one or more of eight equestrian disciplines. Attracting a television audience of over 500 million and in excess of 500,000 visitors over the two-week event, the Games are a good fit for a globally oriented, progressive agribusiness.
Sponsorship is not a new idea, but managers in B2B organizations do not maximize the sales and relationship opportunities present at each stage of the relationship life cycle (Clark et al 2003). If sponsorship could be conceived of as a form of co-marketing alliance (Farrelly and Quester 2005), strategic management of long-standing sponsorship relationships can be examined in terms of a life-cycle model approach (Urriolagoitia and Planellas 2007) with sponsorship being used first to raise awareness and interest followed by sales oriented objectives to fuel corporate growth before the association grows stale and must be refreshed or retired.
From Awareness to Action
Alltech became the event’s first ever title sponsor in 2010. Coming to the US for the first time in its history, the Games were held in Lexington, Kentucky. This combination enhanced Alltech’s ability to leverage the event even further, by using its hometown advantage. Examples of these sponsorship activations included:
1. “Alltech Festival Fortnight” which was a series of concerts, shows and performances hosted in Lexington at the same time as the Games;
2. Alltech novel food brands were developed, marketed and sold at stalls throughout the event;
3. The Alltech pavilion at the Games invited visitors to learn about Alltech’s products and technologies, including a Farm of the Future, where visitors could learn about the challenges and opportunities facing society in terms of food production and nutrition.
4. A children’s room, with educational activities designed for school groups.
As Alltech moves forward to sponsorship of the 2014 Games, its objectives have evolved. As one prominent sponsorship expert familiar with Alltech observed, the Games in 2010 were about organizing a massive showcase event and consolidating Alltech’s reputation as a global agribusiness leader; whereas the 2014 Games is more focused on supporting the drive to partner with individual farmers at the local level. Some activities to support these goals include:
1. Alltech equine heroes: taking place mainly online by inviting horse lovers to celebrate the unsung heroes of equestrian sports, selecting and voting for their hero.
2. Alltech dairy heroes: a similar style of competition to celebrate unsung heroes of dairy farming also leveraging social media to build awareness and participation.
3. Celebrating Normandy: by leveraging the region’s food and equine traditions through experiential marketing before and during the Games around Caen.
4. Alltech Partnership Program: awarding official partner status to Alltech customers depending on the levels of business conducted. The relationship is communicated on-pack supported by merchandising materials and marketing advice from Alltech.
Together, the Games and these ancillary activities allowed Alltech to showcase its activities and vision while introducing Alltech to a wider general public. Alltech’s investment in the 2010 games exceeded $30 million dollars but as Exhibit 1 shows it returned $131 million in value for the title sponsor (Connolly, Phillips-Connolly, 2011). The impact on the Commonwealth of Kentucky was estimated at close to $400 million by a Deloitte study sponsored by the FEI after the Games.
In that respect, Alltech’s title sponsorship of the Games has evolved naturally from broad awareness raising activities to targeted sales development that in both stages has simultaneously built Alltech’s global profile. Exhibits 1 and 2 (Appendices 1 and 2) illustrate the evolution in the metrics used to measure the impact of each event.
Although farmers constitute Alltech’s core end-user, the company’s brand is better known to its direct customers (primarily feedmills, large-scale farms, pre-mix companies and food processors), whose purchasing systems and motivations and processes often diverge from those of individual farmers. Hence going on-farm requires both a new sales structure and a new marketing strategy to build the trust upon which any commercial relationship depends.
Good-Fit and a Critical Emotional Connection
Due to its longer-term strategy and the nature of the event, Alltech is well placed to use its sponsorship of the 2014 Games to create lasting and meaningful links with its direct and indirect customers. It has an established and credible relationship not only with the equine sector but also with the values that characterize equestrianism, which Alltech portrays in terms of its own values of Passion, Performance and Excellence. Alltech has developed its expertise in experiential forms of marketing, promoting the ‘Orange Injection’ so named because it represents Alltech’s desire for all employees to become immersed in the Alltech way of doing things (a specific set of values including entrepreneurialism, innovation, teamwork and energy) while adding value through branding in an industry that is typically focused on cost and economies of scale.
It is also important to note that there is not a direct correlation between the sponsorship fee and increased brand equity: the fit between the sponsor and the event plays a moderating role (Henseler et al 2007). It is the company’s ability to communicate and exploit the fit that translates sponsorship into a catalyst for corporate and sales growth.
Generating a return on the investment requires selecting the right activity to sponsor, and then effectively leveraging the connection in the implementation of the sponsorship (O’Keefe et al 2009). Indeed research indicates that the process of increasing brand equity can be broken down into its three dependent critical success factors: the active participation of the sponsor in the relationship, ensuring consumers make sense of the sponsorship and striving to create positive attitudes toward the brand (Sözer and Vardar 2009). Successful companies claim that the ability to breathe life into a sponsorship in a way that resonates with the audience and the corporate objectives is both an art and a science.
Alltech’s experience with the 2010 Games, and its vision for the 2014 Games, gives it the platform to develop these dimensions, and to deepen the connection with horse enthusiasts, farmers and a range of businesses.
The 2010 Games generated a 409% return on investment for the company (Connolly, Phillips-Connolly, 2011) and the target is to double on-farm sales in the period following the 2014 Games. Creating that return on investment from the 2010 games depended on understanding the visitors and the audience and inviting them to participate in the excitement of the build-up, the highs and lows of the event itself and to share in the glories of being part of something bigger than just a pure sporting event. It also depended on what the company describes as “branding inside”: engaging the full Alltech team of 3,000 personnel to champion the Games and help spread the excitement about the sponsorship.
Alltech’s Core Competence in Experiential Marketing
Alltech’s history of using experiential marketing such as targeted industry events, product trials, participative symposia and more recently global event sponsorship has enabled it to build a leadership position among customers and stakeholder groups including forays into consumer segments (for example, Lyons Farm Branded Beef, Citadel Coffee, Town Branch Bourbon and Kentucky Ale beer).
In fact the development of these consumer foods represents the ultimate manifestation of experiencing the Alltech brand– tasty nourishing food created using Alltech’s expertise in yeast based technologies for animal health and nutrition produced according to the company’s commitment to its ACE principle . It is also from this principle that Citadel Coffee is inspired. In this case Alltech works with members of the Haitian community to develop sustainable sources of income through an export-oriented premium coffee brand. Marketing its nascent portfolio of food products means Alltech is beginning to engage directly with consumers at food fairs, trade shows and through retailers and restaurants. Commenting on these developments, one senior marketing executive observed, “Trying our food and drinks products is the ultimate moment of truth for the Alltech brand. It is the gateway moment to engaging with the individual about what’s inside the product that makes it so special- whether that is a beer, a steak or a cup of coffee.”
Every year, several hundred marketing events are held by Alltech across the 128 countries in which it has a market presence. These extend from locally focused workshop and informational seminars delivered to local producers by local Alltech representatives all the way through to its European Lecture Tour and its Annual Symposium, held in Kentucky – a high profile event drawing thousands of the world’s agricultural experts and practitioners together to discuss and develop solutions to the current challenges of feeding the world.
Irrespective of whether one attends a local workshop or the Symposium, an Alltech event has a developed signature: the room is packaged in Alltech branding, participants wait outside before the start time, enjoying refreshments to build anticipation before entering the world of Alltech, and once inside, active participation is encouraged. One prominent agricultural journalist noted that while Alltech has injected a certain excitement into agribusiness marketing, there is plenty of substance and innovative thinking to warrant making conferences such as the Symposium a must-see event on the global agribusiness calendar.
What is more this portfolio of events is all organized and executed in-house which gives the company a substantial competitive advantage in terms of marketing expertise. Alltech creates and designs the marketing story and stakeholders are invited to take part in the story. Feedback from attendees is gathered and carefully evaluated, whether from a dairy workshop, a seminar on the future of biofuels or a sporting event such as the Games. This continual processing and refining of information, experience and feedback permits continual incremental improvement that is then applied across the gamut of events.
Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2014 in Normandy
In Normandy, the heartland of France’s dairy and equestrian sectors, Alltech will use the Games to celebrate the farmer at an unprecedented level. With approximately 93,000 horses in the region, equestrian business is worth about $1.1 billion annually to Normandy through racing, stud farms, training and ancillary activities. From the equestrian point of view, placing the event in Caen, the regional capital is an ideal fit. Indeed many of the competition events will take place within the city’s boundaries at a number of stadia. For Alltech, title sponsorship continues to be a good fit as it develops and expands its dedicated range of equine health and nutrition products and strengthening its presence in the companion animals sector. Additionally, championing the values of passion, performance and excellence in event communications helps consolidate this sense of connection and goodwill.
But the added value opportunity for Alltech is that the region is also home to almost 600,000 cows producing about half the dairy products consumed in the French market and generating employment for approximately 6,000 farmers across Normandy. Alltech is leveraging its presence at the Games in Caen by hosting its annual Global Dairy 500 conference in parallel with the Games. This creates an excellent opportunity for Alltech to fortify relationships at the corporate level in the dairy sector and communicate its on-farm strategy effectively to large operators in this sector, while also developing rapport with individual farmers.
Experiencing the Games
As with the 2010 Games, Alltech has coordinated a number of themes into a unified experience focused this time on celebrating the pivotal role of the farmer in supplying our food while reinforcing the connection between people and nature.
Alltech aims to bring the role of the individual farmer into the limelight by telling the story of those people; reaching out to the general public to establish the link between farm and fork by showcasing regional foods; illustrating the link between farmers and the foods enjoyed at the table. In addition, Alltech is using the power of digital media to optimize the reach of and excitement of such activities. By creating online communities such as www.equineheroes.com as well as maintaining an active presence on social networking and media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Alltech will build a buzz and interest among local and non-local communities tied directly to the event including sending competition winners to the Games. For example, Alltech is organizing initiatives to promote the ‘unsung heroes’ of food production, to identify the most Efficient, Profitable and Sustainable (EPS) farmer in the region and to champion Dairy Heroes at www.alltech.com/dairy/heroes – dairy farmers elected by popular vote as best in class.
It is also applying experiential and online marketing techniques to build engagement with equine customers. Specifically, the launch of an equine heroes project allows Alltech to create a deeper relationship among horse lovers by inviting them to select and elect their equine hero. Meanwhile, communications supporting equine heroes will focus on how Alltech’s nutritional technologies have been making the difference to many established horse feed brands for a long time before the company began sponsoring equestrian events.
Alltech’s use of digital media underscores Santomier’s (2008) observation that new media has emerged as a significant and integral dimension to enhancing the value of global sports sponsorship by communicating with consumers worldwide.
Food is a major communications point and will also tie into the promotion of Normandy as a food hub and tourism destination. While the familiar marketing tools of advertising, word of mouth, public relations and partnerships are used in promoting this innovative and integrative sponsorship, sensory experience will also play a pivotal role. For example, visitors will be able to learn about and taste foods and local produce and speak directly with producers in different pavilions throughout the Games.
The Normandy setting, its history and culture will be integrated into the fabric of the Games, echoed in the green used as the official colour of the Games’ branding. Thus Normandy’s equestrian heritage, diverse culinary culture and its dairy prowess will be evident throughout the competition arenas. Three competition zones will be set in the heart of the city of Caen including the 21,000 seat stadium hosting the dressage and jumping events, a 7,000 seat Exhibition centre hosting the reining and vaulting competitions, and the 35,000 seat Racecourse where driving and para-equestrian events will take place. Within this infrastructure are several pavilions and concourses, which will be home to food tasting, side-events, exhibits and cultural activities including entertainments.
On the farming business side, these efforts will be reinforced by workshops and informational events relevant to farming issues in the lead-up to the Games as well as the Global Dairy 500 event which will bridge the gap between individual and business interests of the dairy industry.
These celebrations rely on measures that are meaningful to Alltech’s customers: championing methods and technologies in modern agriculture that address current and relevant challenges facing food producers large and small: cost efficiencies, sustainability and achieving a fair price for one’s produce.
Leveraging Alltech’s expertise in experiential marketing
Leveraging experiential marketing to build brands is not a new concept among consumer goods, and there are a number of pioneering brands that have done so to excellent effect (for example, Häagen Dazs Ice Cream, Swatch and the Body Shop) (Joachimsthaler and Aaker 1997). But doing so to a comparable level in a B2B or an agribusiness context, is new.
Agribusiness has historically been a very local industry and over the years Alltech has learned to integrate local markets into their global market. This experience has been helpful in dealing with the challenge of sponsoring a global event while making it relevant at the local level. The 2014 Games are an international sporting event taking place in a French speaking country. Alltech has connected its central sponsorship department with an event office in Caen, nested within its globalized marketing structure. A clear set of event brand guidelines ensures that Alltech can communicate the same message in local markets worldwide. Local marketing staff can organize and implement communications for their customers in a way consistent across the regions.
An innovation from the 2010 Games, that will be used again for the 2014 Games, is the Partnership Program, which forges partnerships with local animal health and nutrition brands in Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas to embed the Games at a local level around the world. As a games partner the feed company partakes in Alltech’s activation plans and promotes the Games to their customers locally – many of them through contests and hospitality. Being selected as a feed partner, and aligned so closely to the World Championships of equestrianism, is seen as a great honour and a seal of approval of the level of quality of the partners’ products. Partners use this opportunity in many ways to reach their own business goals – be that launching new products, line extension, entry into new markets or simply to engage closely with their equine customers through the excitement of this great event.
Quantifying the impact of sponsorship is difficult. In general it seems that brands that invest in sponsorship tend to outperform their industry colleagues (Jensen and Hsu, 2011). But with so many differing objectives, sponsorship properties and sponsors, not to mention audience metrics, it seems the most definitive way to measure the effectiveness of the sponsorship of a global event is on a case-by-case basis (Nufer and Bühler 2010).
However, a range of criteria against which can be measured whether a company is in the right space to influence behaviour toward a brand through experiential marketing and sponsorship have been proposed, (Jackson 2009). These include maintaining open honest relationships, creating integrated experiences, being content and media intelligent and focusing on entertainment as a brand experience.
Examples of these criteria can be found in Alltech’s sponsorship of the Games. In particular, the Partnership Program (in which customers are invited to participate as official partners through commercially oriented agreements) develops the relationship, creates an interactive experience and spreads a sense of pride in being associated with the Games. The customer in effect helps to build the Games into a truly global sporting event of consequence.
Alltech’s dual focus on celebrating the farmer as well as the core equestrian event creates an interweaving of narrative and experience that can resonate with broad segments of the visiting audience and those farther afield. The integration of experiences reaches across media and time as well: Alltech involves partners and public alike before during and after the event and has invested in activating the Games online and through mainstream media channels such as publications, PR events, newspapers and television coverage as well as at the event itself.
Intelligent use of the media includes the familiar use of strategic logo placement and the Games provide an unusually wide array of opportunities, such as jumps, obstacles and equipment in a range of settings. Coordinating public relations opportunities so that a consistent, core message is delivered in one of the significant benefits of being the title sponsor. This was particularly true for Alltech in the 2010 Games, which were held in their hometown. One of the challenges for the 2014 Games will be to try and equal or better that effort in another location. Another challenge is being prepared for marketing initiatives from competitors: the 2010 Games in Kentucky generated 800 hours of national and regional television coverage, a tempting target. Alltech has developed an anti-ambushing strategy that involves recruiting experienced personnel from consumer marketing to manage the heightened exposure and risk of disruption. The experience of organizing the 2010 Games in Kentucky will be used to capitalize on the opportunities surrounding the 2014 Games.
The vision for the 2014 Games build on this experience integrating the sense of entertainment into sponsorship communications such as the ESP competition, all driven toward the ultimate corporate goal: deeper relationships and increased sales in the dairy and equine sectors.
Global sports and event sponsorship for agribusiness companies is essentially a new field. The existing literature goes some way to explaining the theory and the motivations for sponsorship in a B2C context. Though some consider the status quo of sponsorship by firms operating in B2B markets the body of knowledge falls short of addressing the situation of a B2B company using sponsorship and experiential marketing to ply a new marketing route as it straddles both B2B and B2C sectors. And none of it addresses the agribusiness sector.
Alltech’s experience in sponsoring the 2010 Games demonstrates the relevance of sponsorship in both a B2B and agribusiness context. It shows the power of investing in the brand and in quality while drawing in stakeholders to participate in the building of that brand, before, during and after an event. Through strategic sponsorship planning and activation the company has synchronized its corporate interests and goals with those of key constituents in the global food network (such as farmers, the dairy sector and consumers) while retaining the focus on the core values and activities of the Games: equestrianism, passion, performance and excellence.
Alltech’s title sponsorship of the FEI World Equestrian Games 2010 and 2014 is a unique example of how a B2B company can integrate sponsorship into its corporate sales strategy by focusing on a target audience and developing a sponsorship strategy and activation that links up each stage of the objectives with the implementation and the corporate vision.
Appendix 1: Table 1 shows Alltech 2010 Games Impact per audience segment**
**Source: Adapted from Admap – “Jump From B2B to B2C with event sponsorship” - March 2011
Appendix 2: Table 2 shows Alltech 2014 Games Metrics and Expected Performance
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