The way to win a goldin brand management

Marketers should watch and learn: the strength of the World Cup and the Olympics is a testament to robust brand management.

Last week’s news of the death of Olympics chief Juan Antonio Samaranch and the publication of this special edition of Marketing Week, themed around the World Cup, invite all of us to think about the business of sports management and some of the parallels for day-to-day brand management.

The Olympics brand is now big business – especially for a one-off event that only takes place for a fortnight every four years. During his 21-year tenure overseeing the games, Samaranch delivered a five-fold rise in sponsorship income, headed a movement with worldwide TV revenues anticipated at more than £2bn for London 2012 and had each of the world’s great cities scrambling to host the opening ceremony.

The same transformation has turned the World Cup from a folksy back-pack trip to Latin America (“We’re on the march wi’ Ally’s army, we’re going to the Argentine”) in 1978 to the biggest sporting event on the planet – and this summer it will be the first World Cup to hosted in Africa.
While the sheer scale of the World Cup (and the Olympics) is unusual – most brand managers, somewhat humbly, are preoccupied with this month’s market share or the latest review of the Tesco range – there are some classic lessons for marketers to be taken from these sporting events in how to build a brand.

First, that building a strong consumer proposition starts with a focus on the product: no frills, no gimmicks. The Olympics and the World Cup have retained their worldwide iconic status because they have remained the pinnacle of athletic and football achievement.

While both events face competition from within their own sports (like the now discontinued IAAF World Athletics Final and the Champions League) as well as all manner of worldwide sports, these are the top two global sports events with universal appeal.

Part of this relentless focus on world-class product is that “less is more”. The World Cup and the Olympic Games are iconic events partly because they only take place every four years. Better to have a huge consumer event spaced that far apart than a regular series of lesser events. Better to have a concept that underpins sustained excellence (like Olympic records or the Golden Boot) than an annual “best in” show.

Second, both events emphasise how all strong products can be improved and kept contemporary, while retaining their core values. Both events balance refreshment of the core product (new teams, new events, new venues, new host cities and nations) with consistency of product delivery.
The Olympics remains primarily a celebration of track and field, and the World Cup a knockout 11-a-side football tournament. It’s part of the enduring appeal.

Both the Olympics and the football World Cup understand the value of their intellectual property. Great brands protect what is proprietary and unique to them – even if it ruffles feathers along the way – and then leverage it hard.

Compare that to our other national sports: cricket is now fragmented into three different formats (test matches, one-day internationals and Twenty20), and rugby has a host of experimental law variations and two different codes (league and union) – let alone Aussie Rules, Gaelic Football and American Football, all of which are a variation on an oval-ball theme.

Third, both are bigger events for the consumer stories behind the events. Great brands have a history and an archive of consumer stories. The Olympics and the World Cup feed on the stories of sacrifice and success that set apart gold medallists and World Cup holders from other top-level sportsmen and women.

Most of us frame our perception of these events in the stories of the participants rather than in the actual tournaments themselves: Sir Steve Redgrave and Bobby Moore bring the competitions alive for us.

Next, both events understand the value of their intellectual property. Great brands protect what is proprietary and unique to them – even if it ruffles feathers along the way – and then leverage it hard.

Take the 2012 Olympics. It’s extraordinary that on the one hand politicians have passed laws to help police the Olympic brand during the games; on the other hand, communities and sponsors everywhere are encouraged to embrace the Olympic ideal.

Finally, both “steal with pride”, searching and re-applying best practice from all sectors. Both events have succeeded in marrying not only learnings from the marketing of consumer products, but from the leisure industry too. Here, consumers are treated to more than just a service; the sports consumer gets entertainment, passion and emotion as well.

The best marketing companies have learnt how to harness all this into one package. This might come from official sponsorship (with Coca-Cola’s fizzy upbeat celebration of good times one of the most enduring examples) but can also come from outsiders who understand these dynamics best.

Take Nike, where the ubiquitous swoosh and the “Just Do It” slogan spring to mind, conjuring up images of will-driven athletes moving with astonishing speed and grace, and seeking to achieve what was thought to be impossible. “Just Do It” is a corporate attitude, too, and the corporate side of Nike reflects the same freewheeling philosophy that its slogan demands.

For all brand managers, the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” – which means “Faster, Higher, Stronger” – is not a bad starting point for brand differentiation.

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