The Olympics Through the Eyes of a Marketer

by: Doug Michaelides

What was the most successful marketing campaign of 2010 so far?  Did you pick Apple’s launch of the iPad?  Good guess, but I’d argue that the Vancouver Olympics takes the gold medal.

Most people think of the Olympics as a sporting event.  That’s like saying Apple is about computers.  Sure, the core of the Olympic product is athletics, but what people are buying is a whole lot more.  And that added value is a result of effective Marketing.  It’s a lesson that all companies, especially ones that are tempted to think that their technology sells itself, should consider carefully.

A successful product or company is no more about just technology than the Olympics are just about sport.  You need to recognize that the value of your product and business can be dramatically enhanced through effective Marketing.

What do I mean by “effective Marketing”?  You might think I’m referring to the television ads (after all, most technology businesses consider marketing as collateral, websites and events…).  But effective marketing isn’t window-dressing or something that happens once the important work of winning the product race is done.  In fact, the most important part of marketing happens up front, in the development of strategy, setting of direction and coordination of initiatives.

Consider the Vancouver 2010 Olympics:

  • It started with a clear mission/vision around which to rally the athletes, the organizers and the country:  Own the Podium
  • A clear brand image was established early on through standard colours and clothing design.
  • Long before the “product” was launched, it was promoted in a manner that engaged the country (and the world) through an extended, participative “rolling thunder” pre-launch event:  the torch relay
  • Deep-pocketed partners (sponsors) were recruited to help promote the event (as well as their own products, of course!)
  • The City of Vancouver was prepared to provide excellent customer service and the citizens of Vancouver were coached as “brand ambassadors”
  • Athletes were coached not just for competition but for post-games sponsorship opportunities (you must have noticed how attractive and well-groomed they all were.  I guarantee that wasn’t an accident of genes!)

Just as Canada has many great athletes, we also have many great companies built on innovation and engineering.   The lesson of the Olympics is that becoming a champion in business isn’t just about having the best technology or product.  Being first across the product finish line isn’t enough.  To be true business Olympians, Canadian entrepreneurs and executives need to recognize the importance of investing in marketing. 

So, if you want to “own the podium” in your industry, try taking a page from the Olympic playbook and incorporate marketing early in your business plan.

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