Sponsoring Researcher Ward Franssen: "Of course, it would be great if, in five years' time, it were self-explanatory that sponsors utilised market research."
Before Ward Franssen began working as a research manager with Blauw Sponsoring Insights, it was as if almost his whole life was dominated by sport. The operative word being 'almost'; having completed a masters' programme in Communications Sciences, Ward initially worked in the marketing team of cosmetics brand L'Oréal. But now he's a valued member of the Sponsoring Insights team. A talk about being a sore loser, innovation and opportunities in the American sports market.
Isn't there a gulf in difference between L'Oréal and Blauw Sponsoring Insights? Why did you choose to start at that brand, back then?
"Yes, it's a completely different ball game. Once I'd graduated, I knew that I wanted to do something related to marketing but I hadn't quite worked out what, precisely. I thought: Why don't I just aim high and see how far I get? I made a conscious choice to approach larger companies first, because you can learn a lot there and it looks good on your CV. The time I spent at L'Oréal was very instructive, but I noticed that I didn't really feel at home with that corporate life. In my current job, the atmosphere is a bit more informal and I'm often occupied with sport. That last point ensures that my work is often fun."
That passion for sport: is that something you've had since you were young?
"That was something I got spoon-fed by my parents. Particularly from my father, who had done the Sport Academy programme and played hockey at the higher levels. He encouraged us to play a lot of sport. I started playing hockey when I was six. Apart from that, we often played ice hockey on Saturdays, so I got to skate a lot. And, of course, I played football in the street with my two younger brothers. We were always thinking up challenges: sometimes we'd make a sort of circuit-training course in the back garden. None of us are gracious in defeat so, as you can imagine, things sometimes got a bit out of hand. We can laugh about it now, but back then it was really serious."
Do you still play hockey?
"I played hockey non-stop from the age of six to twenty-five. Then I stopped and switched to running. That gives me the chance to get things off my chest. I can challenge myself physically, but it's also good for the mental side of things; I can relax. If you're busy with serious things all day, then there's nothing better than letting off steam at the end of the day. I don't shy away from challenges, either. A few years ago I ran the marathon. A few weeks ago I started doing CrossFit, and when the weather's good you can find me on the tennis court."
You've been at Blauw Sponsoring Insights for around eighteen months now. How come you ended up there?
"I remember reading an article about Heineken in the Marketing Tribune magazine. The article was all about how Heineken managed to sell more beer during the Champions League. That was a study which was conducted in collaboration with Blauw Sponsoring Insights. I thought the analyses were very interesting, and wanted to know more. Aiko (de Bruijn, ed.) was the author of that article, so I sent him an invite on LinkedIn. In return, he shared a vacancy for a research manager; I applied, and a few weeks later the job was mine."
Marketing and Sponsoring are closely intertwined, so it sounds like a logical step. But were you interested in sponsoring at that point?
"Not as such. As I've explained, I had a passion for sport and an interest in marketing; that more or less naturally leads you to the world of sponsoring. What I can say is that I was always fascinated by sponsoring; I wondered how it worked, and whether it actually achieved anything. Brands like Heineken invest millions of euros per year in the Champions League, but what return do they get on that investment? That question was a trigger, as far as I was concerned, but other than that I wasn't really interested in sponsoring."
Do you think that you've been influenced by Heineken's campaigns during the Champions League?
"That could well be; but if so, I don't think it's at a conscious level. And that's definitely a recurring element in sponsoring; it gets under your skin. Before you know it, you've got a glass or bottle of Heineken in your hand, or you're buying a car from a Nissan dealer. I've never really been actively aware of it, but I've learnt that it can work like that. An interesting point, for instance, is that Heineken often displays its brand on the digital advertising hoardings just before half time, the idea being that the viewer will go and get a Heineken when the referee blows the whistle."
You work for big companies like Nissan. How do you stand out from other market research agencies, so that clients of that calibre come to you for market research?
"We have a sponsoring research track record that stretches back more than 20 years. That experience means we know what we're talking about. In addition we have interesting products such as the Sports Media Profiler, which we can use to track fans' media behaviour. But also the Fanship Level model, with which we can segment target groups in order to demonstrate sponsorship impact. And we'll continue to develop products like these. I think that that sort of innovation is one of the strong points of Blauw Sponsoring Insights. Last but not least, our dashboards. We used to create reports in a classic PowerPoint presentation. Now, though, we develop dashboards. They work much more efficiently, are visually enticing and are user friendly for clients. A few pushes of the button give them access to all the data."
This sounds like it's valuable to a brand, but does every sponsor also do research into its sponsorship?
"Most large-scale sponsors do so, but I think that there is also another market where that's not the norm. In American sports, such as basketball and baseball, clubs and sponsors invest a lot of money. But many of them aren't necessarily concerned with sponsoring research. There's a significant challenge for us right there, in respect of how we can convince them that sponsoring research is a worthwhile exercise."
You're forever innovating and rejuvenating: where do you see the organisation in five years' time?
"The world of sport is so massive that there are still plenty possibilities. I think we're on the right track in the Netherlands and in Europe as a whole. But there's still a lot of ground to cover in America and in the field of E-sports. And it's important to keep an eye on developments in the sponsorship world, so that we can immediately respond to any changes. Platforms such as crypto.com are sprouting up all over the place and investing big amounts in sponsoring. Of course, it would be great if, in five years' time, it were self-explanatory that sponsors utilised market research."
A nice question to end on: name a sponsor that excites you.
Philips. I grew up in Eindhoven and I support PSV. PSV was originally established for all those who worked at Philips. The first shirts that I had when I was growing up were the PSV shirts, with the Philips name emblazoned on them. I'm still fond of that brand name. If I were in a shop selling electronic appliances right now, and I had to choose between two makes of television, say one was Samsung and the other Philips, I'd more than likely go for the Philips one. That's an illustration of the power of sponsoring."