Connexi is the latest data-driven platform promising to revolutionise the sponsorship industry. Its concept is based on “matching” brands with commercially-relevant rightsholders and talent via an online marketplace that draws on advanced search functionality, fan behaviour insight and real-time data powered by YouGov/SMG Insight.
Sport Industry Group spoke to founder Rory Stewart-Richardson to find out how it all works, and what it all means for the sector.
Why does the sponsorship industry need Connexi?
The sponsorship market is a growing market and with that comes its own problems. As data increases and the access and clarity of data is becoming more transparent within the industry, there has never been a better time to pull together different areas of data to drive a more commercially relevant partnership.
Connexi has come together based on commercial relevancy. Historically, a lot of deals are done on the golf course or over the phone, involving a lot of leg work until you reach the nitty gritty of the partnership. By pulling together data points through a technical platform, you can remove that lengthy sales period.
Every rights holder has unsold inventory and by using data to unlock the value, (a.) of unsold inventory and (b.) assets within a niche category, we bring the commercial relevancy to life.
From a brand’s perspective, you can get to the overview of what you’re investing in a lot quicker. This is the most transparent you can be, whilst also ensuring complete security for both rightsholder and brand.
How does it work from a user perspective? Can you walk us through the experience for a rightsholder?
We built the platform with two leading Premier League football clubs and pulled on their advice. We use four data points currently.
The first one is the key USP about the business. What’s unique about them? We then get them to activate their social channels which allows us to pull in real-time audience demographic data and engagement levels.
The rightsholder can then upload their brief, which is targeted, then they input the key inventory around what they wish to showcase to the brand and the pricing around it. This can also be tiered so that if they are looking for a junior brand, they can tier the proposals based on that.
Once they’ve entered the inventory and price, they then also have the option to put in a gold list of brands, that they may have dreamed of. If their proposal matches the brand’s needs, they get served a lot higher up. However, the premise of the platform is basically relevancy.
They can also put in non-compete brands or sectors, if they don’t want to target a specific sector. Or if they are targeting a specific sector and are already in conversation with a few brands within that sector, they just tag those brands and they wouldn’t be shown the relevant brief. The brief can then be saved, and it executes the brief onto the platform.
They also have the offer of our exclusive partnership with SMG, where they can run sector-specific reports.
Finally, we are in the process of building a bespoke bit of tech which connects the audience insight where we will be working with rightsholders to incentivise their fanbase to activate their social channels, so that we can monitor their behaviour online. This will help achieve real first-hand insight into what a football club fan is doing online, providing detailed insight into driving a better partnership.
What about from a brand perspective?
Upon signing up, a brand will enter key aims, such as what they are looking for, budget, sector, brand values, etc. They’ll receive suggested briefs based on what they enter.
They also have the option to proactively search, for instance, male/female audience demographic, age, vocation, sector looking to sponsor in, length of contract, budget, etc. This obviously helps drive a lot more relevant partnership.
When a brand like what they see in a rights holder, having viewed and compared, they can get in touch directly through the platform via a simple messenger tool. It’s then down to the experts to pull together a deal that works for both.
What’s always been at the heart of Connexi is that we in no way, shape or form want to remove human element. We wish to enhance, quicken and make more commercial relevant partnerships over time.
How compatible is a data-driven approach with the evolution of sponsorship towards a more meaningful engagement with consumer audiences?
I think it’s very compatible. We are putting data at the heart of it. We are also using the consumers to drive the decisions. It makes for a more commercially relevant deal to be done off the back of it.
Reach has always been about one thing: brand awareness. However, the way consumers behave online and with traditional media, things are changing across all marketing channels. Brands are also now looking for levels of engagement, what audiences they get, their behaviours, what content are they looking at, what channels are they using.
By using this data driven approach, it’s a lot more compatible for each party moving forward, drilling down to people that are going to be buying or engaging with your product.
How well does the platform handle the more qualitative aspects of brand fit?
I don’t think tech will ever be able to handle every aspect of a brand fit, but by using relevant data and real data and drilling down into the brands values and rightsholders’ values, you can start making better brand fit partnerships moving forward.
Do you see Connexi as a tool that might ultimately replace sponsorship agencies and consultants?
When we first started, we thought they (agencies and consultants) would be our biggest hurdles. Understandable, because it’s potentially a new tool to come in and disrupt the traditional way of working.
Allowing each party to remain in complete control is our mission. We’ve worked with sales consultants and agents at building a user journey that works for them, whilst they remain in complete control.
Historically a sales consultant has got a certain reach of their black book and then obviously have to delve deep into the new business hard graft sales approach. If they upload a proposal to Connexi, they remain in control, but get on with their day-to-day jobs.
As we continue to grow the volume of the platform, through the data we can unlock a brand that they may never have thought of. That for them, and for us, is super attractive.
You’ve launched with the backing of some high-profile industry figures. How beneficial has their involvement been to the business?
Any start-up needs industry experts trusted advice. Jonathan Durden started and built a massive agency in PHD Media. Tim Crow (Ex-CEO of Synergy) is a serious figurehead within the industry, as is Jamie Salmon (Former Rugby International). They each bring a uniqueness to the business and have all been a massive support.
They’ve introduced the business to some fantastic rightsholders, agencies and brands. They’ve been great not just from a context contact basis, but their level of knowledge in the industry and business expertise. They’ve all believed in the product and what we are trying to do for the industry, to innovate and add value to such a traditional industry.
Fiona Chow (non-exec), who joined a little later on, has also been very helpful from the PR and marketing side of things, but also contacts within financial-circles across Europe and Asia.
How important is the data tie-up with SMG Insight?
Both parties can see huge value in what we both bring to the table. SMG are a huge asset to us and by compiling their data, we can get some interesting detail from them on purchase behaviour, brand perception, media consumption and demographic habits.
We allow SMG access to smaller organisations that need the value of their data, but can’t necessarily afford the bigger picture. The data you can get is invaluable and what we offer as a platform is a snippet in to the real potential.
What can you tell us about your business and revenue model?
The great thing about Connexi is that not only does it add a huge amount of value, but it’s free to join. You need confidence in the industry before you can start charging. For now, and the next year, it’s on a commission structure. The rightsholder only pays on completion of a deal and again there’s no upfront cost for them, because we invoice them when they get invoiced.
Because it’s a new way of working, we’ve got to make it as attractive as possible, not just from a data perspective and tech involved, but also from a price point.
Moving down the line across the three-year plan, the plan is to move away from the commission structure and have a tiered subscription, of which one will still be free. The level of insight you get will cost you more. There’s been a huge amount of interest from brands, agencies and rights holders on that, but we’ve got to continue growing at the rate we are to justify that.
What are the future plans for Connexi?
Moving forward, the users are at the heart of what we do. They are the ones that are going to be brokering the deals through it, so as of next year we will be running workshops with a handful of brands, rightsholders and agencies to gain their feedback about their preferences.
We wish to continue building a market place that everyone wants to be a part of, but importantly delivers what every user is after.