ITW Co-Founder Bhairav Shanth predicts a “third way” for sports branding consumption

Bhairav Shanth, Co Founder ITW Universe Thumbnail
Bhairav Shanth, Co Founder, ITW Consulting Pvt. Ltd.

ITW Consulting has been at the forefront of sports marketing in India, connecting brands with live events.

The Bengaluru-headquartered company, with offices in four other Indian cities, as well as in Dubai, the UK, and the US, is active in both the brand and celebrity management spheres.

In this exclusive conversation with Business of Sports, ITW Co-Founder Bhairav Shanth spoke at length on how to craft effective marketing strategies, OTT’s disruptive impact, and the importance of analytics.

Tellingly, Shanth also predicted a “third-way” that sports branding will be consumed in the future.

Note: The copy has been lightly edited for clarity.

ITW Co-Founder Bhairav Shanth on sports marketing, importance of analytics, and the industry's future

1. As a co-founder what was the initial thought behind ITW and how has that evolved over the years?

When we founded ITW [in 2011], we saw a gap in the sports industry, in that a lot of its elements were fragmented. There was no way for brands and rights-holders to have all their needs, from strategic alignment to execution to activation of sponsorships, serviced by a single window.

ITW's vision was to add value to any space where sports and business cross paths. We looked at bringing the two together better than the unorganized and fragmented industry - by providing a "single window" service for clients by having in-house teams who could take care of end-to-end execution, from signing up a client, to servicing their creative needs and monitoring their brand exposure.

2. We live in an age where cricketers are not just athletes but stars and have constant attention on them. In such a scenario what is the value of a good marketing campaign, not just in terms of money but overall?

A great marketing campaign can make or break a brand. Today, the focus has gone beyond just trying to create a “viral” campaign. Nowadays, brands need to carefully weigh the value that associating with a cricketer or sport adds to their marketing goals.

This is where consultants like ITW come in. We use our decades of experience to design a high-impact campaign that meets the brands' visibility and marketing goals. ITW's focus is on longevity and creating associations that go beyond just ROI to make a more lasting impression.

3. How can a brand campaign make or break the brand value of a player or a team?

In today’s market, a player’s value is tied to more than just one metric. It is dependent on their on-ground performance, off-ground persona, their social media presence, and a lot more.

A brand campaign done right can help popularize a player or a team, but one that is poorly executed can have an impact on the public perception of a brand.

The onus is on creating campaigns that are well thought out and properly executed to ensure that the player or team and the brand have a natural synergy.

4. What is your opinion on the growing presence of OTT in the sports media market? How has it impacted the overall industry?

The malleability of the digital medium allows broadcasters to mold it in the way they would ideally like to. They can continue to add and experiment with features that ultimately enhance the viewing experience of consumers - engaging them and allowing them to experience the content as they would like to. It also helps them cultivate various niches within the audience.

Crucially, the digital medium gives the broadcaster a chance to track viewership in real-time. This enables advertisers to set forth a targeted number of impressions and meet it, giving them more targeted reach as compared to TV.

This, in turn, can help a brand set (and achieve) more specific goals for a campaign that aligns with its objectives. Moreover, advertisers can also choose who they target for those impressions/views, an option not available on linear TV.

5. What role does analytics play in the marketing and media side of sports? What are some key analytics that are viewed to measure the success of a campaign?

It depends on two key aspects - what medium the campaign is on (is it an on-ground property, a TV/OTT ad buy, an on-air placement, or a sponsorship) and what the objective of the brand is.

Fundamentally, if it is about brand metrics such as awareness and top-of-mind recall, the measures that are used are those that quantify the monetary value of the exposure the brand gets by being on the shirt of a team, or advertising during a high-profile tournament. For that, generally the time of exposure is converted into a monetary value as the equivalent of on-air ads, known as the "media value."

Brands also track recall and awareness through customized surveys, and that is where analytics are beginning to play a key part. Analytics can also help track sentiments around the brand and/or the team on social media (using social listening tools) as well as track at a micro level the kind of actions the target audience for the brand may be taking after spotting the brand or seeing their ad.

With more specific targeting possible through CTVs [Connected TVs] and streaming platforms, analytics are becoming even more important.

On the future of sports branding

6. How has the sports marketing and media industry evolved? Where do you see it going next?

In short, it has gone from being a one-way engagement in terms of fans watching their favorite stars and sport to a two-way street, where fans have become creators as well, and add and build the ecosystem of sports and leagues.

Sports branding is consumed two ways – on-ground branding that appears on TV during the telecast of the event and on-air branding that appears as a part of the event telecast. But the future is a third way - where sports consumption is a hyper extension of consumer habits in the media.

We reckon that the future will see those brands get a much better return on their investment who combine the two elements together to create a more integrated association with events and teams. That means integrating new technology (like AR/VR) and new commerce opportunities (by capitalizing on integrating avenues like gaming into the sports-watching experience for fans).

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Edited by Abu Amjad Khan
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