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Celebrating the Great Olympic Brand


The 20th Winter Olympics are here which means for 16 days, the world witnesses great feats of endurance, speed, agility, and the latest acrobatics on ice and snow. We count the days to the opening ceremonies and the chance to once again cheer for Team USA. We celebrate the imagery and pageantry, as the best of the best compete for Olympic gold.

Yes, the Olympic games represent the highest level of athletic competition. The symbol–five interlocking rings over the stark white backdrop–instantly stirs emotions, taking us back, reconnecting us with all the wonderful Olympic moments we’ve experienced since childhood. This only heightens our anticipation to see the newest crop of Olympians in action.

When we look at life through the Olympic lens, we experience a little bit of it all: heart-wrenching tragedy, mind-numbing glory, bizarre scandals, shameless cheaters, sore losers, incredible comebacks, upsets, wipeouts, close calls, glorious victories, and humiliating defeats.

So where’s the tie-in? What can the Olympics teach us about branding? In a word…plenty!

1. Single-minded focus produces limitless rewards. While the truly gifted athletes come away with multiple medals, most Olympians excel in one particular event or category. It’s what they’ve concentrated on with absolute clarity, and trained for with steadfast determination since childhood. Similarly, great brands are driven by people with unwavering passion and singular focus. These are people who have dedicated their lives to being #1 in their chosen field. People like Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Jack Welch, and Howard Stern. Love them or hate them, you instantaneously know the name. They are all exceptional in one focused area of business. Lesson Learned: Don’t be good at lots of things. Be amazing at one thing.

2. Competition brings out the best in all of us. At the Olympics, the difference between good and great often comes down to fractions of a second. That’s what makes the games so exciting. Athletes continuously work to better their skills, techniques, stamina, equipment, and attitude. All this to achieve just the slightest advantage over the competition. The same holds true in many industries where the stakes are high and the competition is fierce. The best brands set the pace, and use whatever means necessary to maintain their competitive edge. Intense competition fuels innovation, discovery, creative thinking, problem solving, new perspectives and new direction. Think about GE, Verizon, Nike, Toyota . . . they’re always inventing, always adapting, always making themselves better. Lesson Learned: Once you’ve discovered your unique ability, never stop raising the bar.

3. Symbols can be powerful communicators. The Olympic logo of five interlocking rings represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from around the world at the Olympic Games. The Olympic flame burns brightly until the closing ceremony, representing purity and the endless pursuit of perfection. Similar attributes can be found in the most enduring of company logos and in the brand imagery we encounter every day. Consider McDonalds’ arches, Disney’s castle, Apple’s apple and Target’s target. All-powerful reminders of what these companies stand for. Lesson Learned: Make your logo count by making it stand for something.

4. There are no shortcuts to victory. Olympic athletes train like no one else. They practice with as much intensity as they compete. Because there are no easy roads to Olympic victory. There is only hard work, dedication, and challenges to overcome at every turn. Branding is similar in this respect. The top brands get to the top because they do more than simply outperform their competition. They excel because they successfully communicate their point of difference to the world. And because there is a lot of competition for the world’s attention, the brands that stay on top never stop telling their stories. Lesson Learned: Like Olympic gold, brand awareness does not happen overnight. Never stop expressing your brand identity.

5. The back-story is the BIG story. What makes the games so exciting? The action comes in small spurts. Many of the events happen in minutes. Which is why the stories behind those few shining moments are what really captivate our imaginations. The stories of how individual athletes faced and overcame the challenges of everyday life are the ones that touch so many of us so deeply; because we can relate these tales of personal struggle and triumph to our own lives. This is also how great brands become near and dear to us. They touch us in very human terms. They embody our values. They become part of our lives. Lesson Learned: Give your customers a reason to develop an emotional connection with your brand, and they will be forever loyal.

And now, back to the games. Go Team USA!

About the Author

Ed is president of Delia Associates, a Whitehouse, NJ-based firm that helps mid-market companies leverage brand awareness and technology to achieve market leadership. He is also the author of Brand Matters, a monthly e-newsletter featuring current commentary on brand-related topics. Ed is a frequent speaker on the subject, and has delivered numerous talks on branding, creative thinking, and technology-based marketing communications. To request Ed as a speaker, please contact Lori Delia ( or call 908-534-9044.


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