January 2010: Let the Games Begin!
When you’re looking at brand awareness and your competition, look no further than the Olympic Games.
From the opening ceremonies on February 12th to the closing ceremonies on February 28th, much of the world will tune in to the 21st Winter Olympic Games. We’ll watch with wonder the individual and team displays of endurance, speed, agility, and grace under pressure. We’ll cheer for TEAM USA, celebrating the imagery and pageantry, as the greatest athletes in the world compete for personal bests, new records, and the aspiration of every competitor – Olympic gold.
To many, the Olympic Games represent the pinnacle of amateur athletic competition. When we look back through the years, we readily recall the high points: the U.S. hockey team’s “miracle on ice” en route to gold in 1980; or Nancy Kerrigan’s perseverance in winning a silver in ‘94, despite the Tonya Harding scandal.
We also remember the heartbreaks, such as the 1988 pre-Olympics favorite, Dan Jansen, skating through emotional pain and falling in both his events even after his sister died the morning of his first race. Along with the highs and the lows, there were the typical drug scandals, tragic upsets, total wipeouts, too close to calls, triumphant victories, and agonizing defeats.
Yet, throughout the years and despite changes in athletes, events and venue, one thing continues to remain the same: the Olympic symbol – five interlocking rings against a stark white background, designed in 1912 to represent the five continents of America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.
One thing the Olympics have taught us is this – although the symbol has withstood the test of time, many aspects of the Olympics brand have – and continue to – change with the times. The same is true of any brand; yours can’t remain static in a world that’s constantly changing. A look at how the Olympics brand has evolved over time may provide a springboard for a frank discussion on where your brand needs to be to stay competitive – now and going forward.
1. A brand needs to evolve to stay competitive: The modern Olympic Games, which began in 1896, permitted competition only among amateur athletes. Flash forward to the 1980’s when the rules on amateurism were relaxed, allowing professional athletes to compete. The U.S. sent the basketball “Dream Team” to the 1992 games – a team of professionals who steamrolled over every other country’s basketball team. Today – professional athletes are able to compete in every event, except boxing, to keep the games competitive. While your brand may remain the same from year to year, key marketing strategies need to change with the times so that you remain competitive in your industry. You can’t be an amateur when you’re in the same arena with professionals. Is it time to step up your game?
2. Competing at the highest levels means embracing new technology and ideas: Olympic skiers probably aren’t using the same equipment to train today that they were using even four years ago. New technology and knowledge introduce more advanced modalities, equipment and exercises to train an athlete to reach his or her highest potential. The same is true for your brand. If your competition is using mobile marketing, for example, you better be using it as well if you want to stay in the game. Why? Because you can’t perform better, gain a competitive advantage and keep today’s customers fully engaged if you’re still using yesterday’s technology.
3. The customer’s perception of the brand is what’s really important: The Olympic logo and the Olympic flame evoke specific feelings and mental images when you see them. Each person’s perception of the meaning of the symbol might differ slightly. Some people might recall daring displays of skill, while others remember disrespectful displays by medal winners standing on the podium. What’s the perception of your brand? What do customers think or feel when they hear your name or see your logo? Your brand symbols and messaging mean something – make sure yours mean something meaningful.
4. Victory doesn’t come by way of luck: Olympic athletes train for hours every day, under difficult circumstances and adverse conditions, when they feel good and when they don’t. They work hard and train hard. When they step out onto the ice, snow, or other surfaces, they’re prepared – for anything. They don’t win the gold medal by luck; they win it by being ready, by staying alert and razor-focused, and by sheer determination. Luck doesn’t figure at all in this equation. Being number one in your industry doesn’t come by way of luck either. You work hard, provide superior service, put out an incredible product. You’re priced right, you deliver on time and on budget and you make sure that you’ve exceeded your customer’s expectations. Luck has nothing to do with it – you’re just more prepared to take advantage of opportunities for growth than your competitors. Your challenge is to stay there by adapting to the times.
5. Often, the back story is the better story: Why do so many people tune into the games? What makes them sit there and watch their favorite events or athletes with rapt interest? It’s because, at some level, they’ve developed an emotional connection to the sport itself or to a particular athlete. Maybe they can relate to the athlete’s upbringing or love of the sport on a uniquely personal level. Maybe it’s the athlete’s show of determination despite overwhelming odds. Whatever it is – it’s personal.
Want better brand awareness and loyalty? Engage your target audience on that same type of emotional level. Make them relate to your product or service in some way. Make it personal because that’s what it is.