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How Aruba is Using Racing Sponsorship to Make Itself a Premium Brand

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Stéphane Van Gelder

Sitting in the Aruba hospitality at the Italian round of the Superbike World Championship in Imola, CEO Stefano Cecconi exudes passion. The love he has for motorcycles in general, and racing in particular, is evident.

Less so is the rational behind Aruba's multi-million-euro-a-year spend to be the title sponsor for the factory Ducati World Superbike team. For Internet industry onlookers at least.

To Cecconi, it's obvious. This sponsorship provides a golden opportunity for Aruba to bask in Ducati's glory.

Making an emotion connection to the customers

As a provider of web services, Aruba exists in a highly competitive and price sensitive market which is devoid of emotional customer attachment. Ducati, on the other hand, is a maker of premium motorcycles and often spoken of as the 2-wheeled equivalent of Ferrari. Now the property of the Volkswagen group, Ducati commands the same level of fervour and uses the same signature red as the Italian sportscar maker. Associating its image with Ducati's means Aruba is no long just another IT company.

The results seem to speak for themselves. Aruba is a market leader in Italy, and also very active in Eastern Europe (primarily the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but also in Poland and Hungary). It is expanding in the West (it already operates in the UK, France and Germany). The company claims 2.5 million domain names under management and over 3 million websites hosted. "Yes the racing team is expensive," says 38-year old Cecconi who founded the family-run business when he was 18 as an ISP and then had the foresight to switch focus to web content services in 2000. "But what we get back in visibility and brand recognition is immense. To get the same results through advertising would have cost us much more."

Although a self-confessed bike fanatic, Cecconi refutes the notion that his company's involvement with Ducati is the result of a CEO whim. "We thought about doing PR through sponsorship almost from day 1," he explains. "Once we had the budget to actually make it happen, we started looking at football. We sponsored the national league in Italy, but we really wanted to reach a more international audience. So we looked for the best place to do this."

The World Superbike championship wasn't the obvious choice. In the world of bike racing, the premier league is the MotoGP series. But just like Formula 1 car racing, the number of teams in MotoGP is capped, meaning that Aruba would've had to settle for being a secondary sponsor. "We've always liked to execute our projects ourselves," says Cecconi. "That's what we did when we built our own datacenters for example. So we wanted our own team, whatever the sport."

Putting the cloud first

Then Aruba started talking to Ducati, and to his surprise, the factory were interested in more than just a sponsor, they wanted a partner. "A unique opportunity to run a team jointly with Ducati, an extremely powerful brand in Italy," beams Cecconi.

Also, a way to display the company's strong focus on cloud services.

The Aruba bikes show two of the company's brands: its own name of course, and DotCloud. Aruba acquired the new gTLD in a private auction for an estimated $12 million. Here again, the rationale for paying so much would be lost on some, but Cecconi seems to have found a way to make it work.

A year after launch, it has over 105,000 domains under management. "Just like the Ducati sponsorship deal, DotCloud was a huge bet for us," admits Cecconi. "And just like our Superbike venture, this TLD is a reflection of our passion. The cloud is what our company's about. It's what's driving where we want to be."

So from the get-go, Aruba made a conscious choice to go for that TLD, and only that one. When ICANN announced the round 1 applicants in 2012, Aruba found itself facing stiff competition. There were 6 other applicants for DotCloud, and some of them were quite daunting. Names like Google, Amazon and Symantec should have been enough to put Aruba off. "But for us, DotCloud was the only focus. Many of the people we were up against had other new gTLD interests as well. So perhaps we just wanted it more than everyone else..."

Once it had the TLD, Aruba took it to market with the same no-discount approach that brought it to motorsports sponsorship rather than betting on price reductions for the services it offers. "We didn't want to go low-cost like XYZ for example," says the CEO. "The name has value, so we adopted a standard-pricing model."

Synergies

Here again, Cecconi's approach is to piggy-back on its sponsorship strategy to develop Aruba's business lines, such as DotCloud. Registrar partners and potential large B2B clients get invited to races and can revel in the luxury of Aruba's sprawling 2-trailer hospitality whilst watching some of the best bike racing on the planet.

Aruba's numbers say this strategy of building bridges between the company's traditional business and its sponsorship is working.

Cecconi won't be drawn on exact figures and as Aruba is privately owned, the actual cost of putting the company's name next to Ducati's can't be verified, but it's clearly reaping the kind of benefits Cecconi is looking for.

"We started the Aruba Racing Team in 2015," he smiles. "So we're now in our third season, and we've just inked a new deal with Ducati for 3 more years..."

By Stéphane Van Gelder, Consultant. More blog posts from Stéphane Van Gelder can also be read here.

Related topics: Cloud Computing, Top-Level Domains

 
   

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