With the 2016 Rio Olympics fresh in our minds, it seemed appropriate to look back and see what we could learn from a marketing perspective. Instead of analyzing the ads and weighing out the marketing winners and losers, however, we thought we’d focus on the athletes themselves—and see what, as marketers, we could learn from these elite performers—people who clearly know a few things about generating results.
The following is a list of ten gold-medal-worthy lessons you can apply to make your marketing efforts more successful:
- Get clear on your goals. Olympians don’t just dream about standing up there on the winner’s podium. They figure out how to make it happen—by setting goals, developing a plan, and taking consistent action. To get the most from your marketing efforts, you need to do the same—clearly establish your goals, create an effective strategy, develop an efficient action plan, and then execute on your plan. Whether you’re going for the gold medal or converting leads from a marketing campaign, great results always start with a sharp, focused strategy. You have to know your target before you can hit it.
- Consistency is key. Olympic athletes are nothing if not consistent. To reach world-class status, they train for endless hours, day in and day out, ignoring distractions and focusing intensely on their goal. Consistency in marketing delivers better results, too. Campaigns work best when they’re regular, focused, multi-channeled, and ongoing. Sure, a one-off ad or promotional piece can be effective, but in the long term, it’s all about ongoing steady communication. The most successful, enduring brands are built little by little, thanks to years of consistent effort.
- Test your limits. Want to be truly great? Elite athletes aren’t afraid to push themselves, stretch their limits, and step outside their comfort zones to gain an edge. In marketing terms, this means pushing your creativity, trying some new tactics, and taking a few calculated risks. Sure, you may fail once in a while. But when it works, the upside can be huge. In marketing, the companies that get the best results are often those that zig when the competition zags.
- Build on your strengths. While hard work and a powerful mindset can take you far, there’s no denying the benefit of superior genetics. At six-foot-four, with a long torso, short legs, and an impressive 80-inch wingspan, Michael Phelps was clearly born for swimming greatness. So what about you? What is your brand best at? Successful marketers have identified their unique selling proposition. They know what they do better than everyone else. To be a gold medal marketer, you need to identify your strengths and then leverage the heck out of them.
- Eye up the competition. Great performers don’t live in a vacuum. They study the field, and they know who their toughest competition is. They know their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses so they can exploit them for their own advantage. For marketers, analyzing the competition helps you learn how to position yourself in the marketplace. It helps you focus your strengths, clarify your message, and generate new ideas. And let’s not overlook that extra push of motivation that the competition provides. There’s no doubt that Olympians run just a little bit faster when the competition is right on their tail.
- Tell a compelling story. In competitive sports, having the crowd on your side makes a huge difference. In Rio, the athletes we cheered for were the ones we felt like we got to know in some personal way. Who hasn’t gone all weepy after watching a pre-event video about how a particular athlete lost a loved one, overcame cancer, or met with some other insurmountable obstacle? While as marketers, we may not make our audience weep, it’s still important to communicate an effective story that elicits an emotional response. The best marketing is storytelling. It makes a deep connection with its audience, transforming indifferent consumers into passionate fans who blog, tweet, and most importantly, buy.
- Maintain a strong brand. Whether it’s a tweet or a TV interview, Olympic athletes strive to present a strong, likable public persona. After all, they don’t only represent themselves and their team, but their entire country. Everything they say and do—and every outfit they wear—says something. It’s all branding. As marketers, we all know the importance of maintaining one’s brand. It’s arguably a company’s most valuable asset. Which is why it needs to be developed, nurtured, and carefully protected. Every ad, every blog post, every 140-character snippet makes a statement. So make sure those messages are helping, and not hurting, your brand at all times.
- It takes a team. No Olympian succeeds without a whole team of talented people behind them—coaches, athletes, trainers, nutritionists, etc. To set yourself up for success, make sure your team is as strong as it can be. Hire good people. Work with quality vendors. Leverage the skills of recognized experts. See your success as a team effort and you will go much farther than if you try to do it all on your own.
- Tap into technology. Successful Olympians embrace advances in technology to ensure that their training methods—and results—are fully maximized. Successful marketers do the same. They make the most of current ideas, approaches, and innovations in technology as they relate to research, work habits, production, and media. Effective marketers take a multi-channeled approach, using a range of methods and media vehicles to capture attention and build their brand. In today’s competitive business environment, you never know what will give your marketing that extra edge. So keep learning, growing, and expanding your resources as much as possible.
- Seek feedback and make adjustments. Olympic athletes constantly receive feedback on what they’re doing right and wrong. They’re always learning and making minute adjustments so they can improve, even the slightest bit—whether it’s vaulting an extra half inch or shaving a millisecond off their sprinting time. When it comes to your marketing, feedback is also essential. You need to know what’s working and what’s not—and then apply that information by making adjustments that improve your results. Focus groups, interviews, market testing—they all provide valuable feedback that can help you develop better marketing tactics. The best of the best don’t rely on what they’ve always done before. They get feedback, learn from mistakes, make adjustments, and commit to constant, never-ending improvement.
So, are you pumped and ready to go for the gold? Take a few lessons from the world’s top athletes, and you just might find yourself getting better results from your next marketing campaign—and add a few shiny metal objects to your collection as well.