Longtime sport sponsor, Suncorp’s Mim Haysom, tells WARC Asia Editor Rica Facundo how the financial giant goes beyond the badge to incorporate innovation, creativity and mutual respect to deliver value to fans, while delivering results.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on sports and sponsorships in Australia. Read more

WARC: Values-based partnerships are on the rise and outperforming traditional partnerships in delivering ROI. Given that Suncorp has invested in sport from grassroots through to elite for years, what kind of short and long-term ROI have you seen for the brand?

Mim Haysom: Suncorp has invested in major sponsorships and sporting partnerships for a long time. It delivers traditional benefits in terms of brand association and high visibility assets in reach. But more importantly, it gives us the opportunity to create deeper engagement with our audiences and deliver really meaningful connections to audiences through shared values, interests and causes that matter to our customers and the wider community.

We've got a really robust measurement system in place that evaluates and optimises our ongoing performance. Our longer-term metrics include things such as shifts in sponsor recall levels, brand consideration, NPS and trust levels - all of which are about measuring brand equity and engagement amongst our sponsored target audience.

Our shorter-term metrics revolve around our campaign KPIs, such as traffic to our channels, response rates, social media engagement and also new business opportunities. We see quite quickly that when we get a really good impact in consideration, it translates to customers engaging with the brand to explore our products and services.

By looking at both short and long-term metrics, we can see a strong ROI from these sporting partnerships. Our strategy of engaging from grassroots all the way through to the elite level has really worked well for us.

Why is this approach more important now than ever before?

Our commitment and participation really goes beyond paying for branding and logo association. I truly believe that when brands do that, audiences see through it and see it as tokenistic. We’re seeing that audiences are expecting brands to be genuine in how they are showing up to support sports.

It's really important for a brand that chooses to become a sponsor or a rights holder to work with their partners to identify shared values and opportunities that will allow them to drive collaboration and invest in the sport at a community through to the professional level, to make it a meaningful and effective partnership.

What are some common challenges that might prevent brands from being able to innovate their approach to traditional sponsorships?

We approach our sponsorship strategies with great planning, innovation and creativity, as well as having mutual respect, shared goals and values with our partnerships.

Our approach is to come up with great ideas to create more fan content and engagement outside of the box of a traditional sponsor arrangement.

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For example, we partner with Netball Australia and created Suncorp’s Team Girls engagement program to raise awareness and build confidence in young girls through encouragement of sport participation and peer-to-peer support. We started this because our research told us that close to 50% of girls drop out of sport by the time they're 17. We know that sport builds confidence, independence and leadership skills for life. So we wanted to do something to try and engage teenage girls to start and keep playing team sports like netball. We created this community based social program called Team Girls, which is all about education and fan engagement for parents and kids.

Now, something like that isn't in a traditional contract. But if you think about how you can benefit the audience's sport and your brand collectively, you can come up with really innovative ways to further leverage those partnerships.

Similarly, with AFL we support local football through a program called AAMI Clangers For Good, where we connect what's happening in the elite game across the season and donate funds to select grassroots clubs to support various community needs. 

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Given Suncorp’s strong commitments across various types of sponsorships, do brands need to take a different approach when working with more under-represented areas such as all-abilities?

You would use the same strategies and frameworks. But it depends on what your organisation’s or brand's values are. At Suncorp, we actively support and champion diversity and inclusion both internally and externally, not just through sponsorships. For us, we actively make a decision to invest in under-represented consumer groups in both sponsorship and traditional brand marketing.

With our AAMI brand, we were one of the first brands to partner with Dylan Alcott as part of the Shift 20 initiative. We engaged Lara Nakhle, a blind singer whom we had already engaged with and had a partnership with through our support of Vision Australia. We brought her into our mainstream advertising and made her our AAMI girl. So you can see it's the same strategy and the same tactics. What are our brand values? What do we want to stand for in diversity and inclusion? We're already doing work with Vision Australia and the opportunity came up to support Dylan. So we link it all together.

If you weren’t part of an organisation that supported diversity and inclusion, you wouldn’t have gone down this path. But Suncorp feels very passionately about it and we are very proud to support diversity and inclusion. I personally believe that as the CMO of a large organisation, it’s inherent and it’s part of my responsibility to ensure that we champion diversity and inclusion and that it comes through at every level of our brand and marketing activity.

How can brands create a level of “staying power” to maximise the effectiveness of investments during and beyond the competition window by leveraging new touchpoints, channels, formats or fan participation across the customer journey?

The rights holders understand their fan base more and see the opportunity to engage with them beyond the competition window or traditional seasonal peaks.

Fans are choosing to watch via apps and when they want to engage. They're watching game highlights, social media reels, following athletes who are influencers. It’s changing at pace, which is where the opportunity is to connect.

With so many channels or touchpoints to choose from, what advice can you give to marketers on how to prioritise?

Knowing how you want to engage with the audience, who is your primary audience, is a good starting point. But I would also say if you're adhering to a repetitive playbook, you're probably not reaching your full potential. Because it's changing so fast, we have to constantly test and learn.

For example, we'll try out a couple of influencers and see how much engagement we get and what the ROI looks like. If it's fantastic, then we'll expand that program of work. If it doesn't work, then we move on. Yes, there are tried and tested, strategic approaches. But when the world is innovating this quickly and there are so many opportunities to play in new spaces, you need more agility. Otherwise, we’d all just still be putting logos on the likes of apparel and OOH sites.

Can you give an example of an activity that the brand expanded on, be based on this test and learn approach?

Our Suncorp Team Girls program is probably the best example. It’s the longest-standing program. In the beginning, we were very netball-first in our content approach, such as providing tools, tips and training drills. But we have evolved that to support broader women's sports. So we’ve created content around aspiring female Olympians and Paralympians that we're working on through our AIS partnership. The aim is to raise profile of female athletes across sports and bring to life their own stories and Team Girls insights t that expands beyond sport. We're seeing good results with that in terms of sport content and engagement that is resonating with that target demographic.

People tend to be interested in sports and athletes more broadly. By starting with one sport in netball, and then expanding our support into other women’s sports, has really helped Suncorp’s association and brand perception. We've consistently ranked number one in terms of brand commitment to women's sport amongst netball fans. And fans continue to view Suncorp highly as authentic and caring about local communities, which is something we’re really proud of.