A Manifesto for Microsponsorships

NOTE: THIS POST IS AN ENTRY INTO THE SVAMA MARKETING THOUGHT PUBLISHING CONTEST

I2m_svama_contest There is a gap in online marketing today. Despite the rising budgets being allocated to online advertising, the distribution of this money is not equal. Even as thousands of new blogs and social networks are created, the vast majority of online ad spending is still going to only the largest portal sites or search engines. Of course, there is a vast traffic difference between Yahoo and a small blog – however the theory of the Long Tail shows us that there are plenty of reasons to think outside the portal (or search engine) when buying advertising online. For example, it is generally accepted that word of mouth marketing can be successful even if a person tells just 3 people about a product or service because the interaction is personal, direct and comes from a trusted source. That interaction is worth far more to an advertiser than millions of empty impressions. Yet buying word of mouth rather than impressions on the Internet is an impossible task. Microsponsorship is about making this possible.

Before I get to explaining how microsponsorship would work, consider the following trends and facts about the state of marketing and the Internet today:

  1. Everyone is becoming a content publisher as technology makes publishing content online easier and easier
  2. The vast majority of the online advertising dollars today go to only the largest sites or networks
  3. Most online advertisers have little incentive or no process for advertising directly on small sites
  4. Brands struggle to find influential brand ambassadors and the right ways to "activate" them online
  5. People have products and services they love and are usually eager to tell others about it

I2m_vornadodeskfan Social media amplifies individual voices and helps them be heard far beyond the close circles of friends and family. This is the truth that has led to the current popularity of consumer generated advertising. The problem is, you can’t always identify brand affinity easily. For example, I write a marketing blog, but have never had cause to write about my Vornado desk fan (which I love). As a result, Vornado has no idea I am a brand enthusiast, yet how many of my readers are people who sit at desks and might take action on purchasing a desk fan of their own if given a strong, personal, authentic recommendation? More than a few, I imagine. This is the type of missed opportunity common in online marketing today. Instead, ads are placed based on industry category (ie – consumer tech ads on a gadget blog) or inconsistent keyword algorithms (ie – text ads for "Spicy Spam Kabobs" when you visit your spam mailbox folder on Gmail). What most marketers need is a way to get authentic word of mouth endorsements for products and services from influential sites and individuals. This brings me to microsponsorships.

Imagine if any blog or any social network, no matter how small, could sell a sponsorship of their site to the right brand – one they believe in? Site sponsorships are like sponsorships of an event, they signify support and are based on relevance. They are usually limited in number. Most importantly, they are persistent. You could argue that any site can sell a sponsorship – but the problem, as highlighted earlier, is that for most advertisers the challenge is finding the right sites to select to sponsor. Added to that is the mistaken idea that online "sponsorship" simply means putting your logo in the corner or sidebar of a site. Microsponsorships are based on endorsements and choice, and therefore would include an inherent recommendation and far more value for advertisers. You might have noticed that this idea is influenced by Muhammad Yunus’ Nobel Prize winning theory of microcredit. His idea that there was a market need for small loans that was underserved by the existing financial institutions of the world led to the creation of microfinance. Similarly, online marketers need a way to more authentically engage influential brand ambassadors on a micro level. Microsponsorships can do that.

The real question is, how can the industry meet this need and allow brands to buy these microsponsorships, as well as make it easy for individual content creators to sell microsponsorships to the brands they believe in? One potential answer lies in the creation of www.microsponsorships.com. Microsponsorships.com could be a directory where:

  1. Every blog or social network can register their site to sell microsponsorships
  2. Sites select brands or products they believe in, and define the type of sponsorship
  3. Automated algorithms would be used to generate "influence ratings" (using a similar model to Todd And’s Power 150 List)
  4. Online advertisers and media planners register on the site to get access to see brand affinities and select sites to sponsor.
  5. Site owners would get a proposal from brands and decide to accept or decline.
  6. Microsponsorships would be brokered across hundreds or even thousands of smaller sites, effectively augmenting any online advertising buy
  7. Once accepted, sites would fulfill on the agreed components of the microsponsorship and provide reporting
  8. Online advertisers could use metrics reported, or real metrics from the landing page URL provided in order to measure performance

This is only one model for bringing microsponsorships to life, and there are bound to be others. This is an idea that represents a shift in how we think about advertising online and how the importance of having smarter techniques to find and collaborate with brand evangelists online will be the key to getting a value out of online ad spending far beyond just impressions or clicks.

Note: This article was first published as an entry into the SVAMA Marketing Thought Publishing Contest.

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