The torch has been passed. In four years Rio will be the next host of the summer Olympics. The closing ceremony in London was joyous, jubilant. Parties went on well into the night. And even if you weren’t actually there in London, you undoubtedly got a whiff of heavily infused Olympic spirit. If NBC's record-setting ratings were any indication, even those with little interest in sport managed to be swept up in the euphoria.
How did this happen? And what can brands learn from it?
I have spent thousands of hours over many years seeking to understand how some brands gain more than just traction. Not only do they manage to capture a core base of followers and continue to attract new ones, but they also gather a legion of satisfied customers who then spontaneously become ambassadors of the brand, attracting even more followers. The answer to how certain brands do it, I believe, lies in 10 key elements. These elements draw heavily on religion for inspiration, including in our desire to be part of a community and to lead simpler lives. Not surprisingly, the Olympic brand is able to tick all these boxes. The mightiest of brands can, too: Apple, Hello Kitty, Mini Cooper, and Guinness beer, among others
Apart from the lengthy bid and preparation processes, the initial hoopla for the London Olympics began way back in May 2012. Princess Anne led the British delegation to Greece where they collected the flame during the course of a special hand-over ceremony at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
Think of the logistics: the flame spent the night at the British embassy. The following day it was taken on a special flight to a Royal Naval base near Land’s End. From there it set out on an 8,000-mile journey around Britain that involved thousands of torchbearers and millions of spectators. On the 70th day it was ceremoniously carried into London’s Olympic stadium where it lit the cauldron signaling the start of the Games of the XXX Olympiad. What a trip! It hardly seems rational for an event that only lasts a few short weeks, but for emotional value it’s indispensable.
Now consider this: how many brands out there are currently plugging into this kind of thinking? Not many. Most tend to put all their goodies into their launch date. Few leading up to it celebrate with any kind of fanfare. Where is the momentum? In 9 out of 10 cases the lack of build-up is for one good reason or another. The time between the product leaving the factory and hitting the shelves is rarely accounted for. Tight budgets, anxious CEOs, and promises to key distribution partners means the vital seeding stages are bypassed.
While undertaking studies for my most recent book, Brandwashed, I learned there is a direct correlation between seeding time and subsequent sales. Quite simply, the longer time you spend seeding a product, the greater the momentum that’s built, and the higher the sales will be.Apart from musicians, politicians, the Olympic Games, and of course Apple, few seem to factor this necessary stage into their budget.
The Olympics also weaves another vital ingredient into their Games—a mastery of mystery. Mystery is found at every point of the proceedings. Who will carry the flame? What’s really goes on between athletes inside the Olympic village? Not to forget which country will take the most gold, and who will win the 100m sprint?
Not that long ago, there was even concern about carrying a little of a swimming pool’s lucky water. Let me explain. It has been said that the Melbourne Olympic pool, which dates back to the 1956 Games, is the pool that has supposedly spawned the most world champions. Naturally, when Sydney won the rights to host the Games in 2000, it wanted a piece of Melbourne’s pool magic. So, one warm summer morning, a delegation from the Olympic Committee arrived in Melbourne, filled an empty bucket with water, and under police escort carried the water some 650 miles (just over 1,000 kilometers) to Sydney, where it was emptied into the soon-to-be-filled pool.
I think brands have become far too rational. They tend to forget that it’s the emotional differences that help consumers rationalize price differences, as opposed to the technicalities of a product. And this brings me to perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects involved in maintaining Olympic magic—the handover.
Have you ever wondered why the Games always seem to come together, no matter what fiascos are predicted ahead of time? In fact, the London Olympic committee’s work goes on. From October until May 2013, they will be preparing a well-planned passing of the torch, so to speak. It’s an inherent part of the responsibilities of the host city. It’s an agreement the hosting countries have
London’s Olympic staff will spend the next few months analyzing every aspect of their Games. They will detail everything from transport to security, food supply, accommodation and ticket sales. They will offer solutions to potential problems. In London’s case, they will for example, give Rio detailed advice on how they approached the threatened taxi driver strikes, how they dealt with rainy weather and held long-distance events in muddy lanes.
Clever brands would do well to sharpen their pencils and take copious notes. Given the fact that senior marketing managers hold jobs for less than two years, there’s an awful lot to be learned from the Olympic brand. Sure, brand manuals are there to codify knowledge, however very few actually detail the experiences before the brand kicked off. It has no record of unpredictable consumer responses, or analyses of why expectations outshine sluggish sales figures. Rarely is the negative experience of brands documented or analyzed in line with anything close to Olympic procedures.
There is one company that famously does do this. The one out in Cupertino employs Stanford University professors to document the Apple experience—it includes everything from best practice to worst practice, and these studies are circulated company wide.
So, even though the flame has been extinguished for now, why not reignite it in your own way? Ask yourself if there are perhaps grounds to reconsider some basic approaches in your company. If the biggest show on Earth manages to succeed every four years, there’s absolutely no reason why yours can’t do the same.
[Image: Flickr user samsungtomorrow]
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Martin Lindstrom is a 2009 recipient of TIME Magazine's "World's 100 Most Influential People" and author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (Doubleday, New York), a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best–seller. His latest book, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, was published last year. A frequent advisor to heads of numerous Fortune 100 companies, Lindstrom has also authored 5 best-sellers translated into 30 languages. More at martinlindstrom.com.[/i]