5 Things Marketers Can Do to Get in Shape for the Olympics … in Japan

2020 promises to be an unprecedented arena for brands

Having passed the 100-day mark until the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio last week, and with the torch relay starting today, the countdown to the Games of the XXXI Olympiad is officially on. As new brands enter the fray through the relaxing of the International Olympic Committee's Rule 40 and others navigate a very different Brazillian marketplace from even a year ago, you could say marketing around the games is the real competition now. 

Mary Scott

But even before the Olympic flame is extinguished this summer, there is an unprecedented level of anticipation and focus already on Japan, host of the Summer Olympics in 2020. And for good reason. 

Japan, which has hosted two previous games, is out of the gates early and strong on many fronts. To date, the Tokyo Organizing Committee has shattered all previous Olympic records for sponsorships, signing an unprecedented 15 gold partners, with more and more brands throwing their hats into the ring. Brands that wait too long to plan their activations for the Tokyo Games risk falling behind as competitors race past.

So what should companies be doing now to set themselves up for success in 2020?  Here are five key things to consider for your winning game plan:

1. Win before the games
Just because the Tokyo Games won't take place for another four years, it doesn't mean you should wait to get your planning started. Four years goes by quickly, and it takes time to understand how to navigate the Olympics market and determine how your brand can organically fit within that world. 

One of the most important things to recognize is that the Olympics are much more than just 17 days of sports competition. For example, tapping into key milestones on the Olympic and sports calendar will yield more out of the sponsorship and the association. Taking a test-and-learn approach across these milestones with key stakeholders and channels will yield the insights, proof of concept and data needed to guide further development of programming, integrated marketing spend and overall approach to stakeholder engagement.   

Turnkey applications of the sponsorship and assets can be applied in the short term as part of a company's day-to-day business operations such as organizing an Olympic Day of activities for employees, infusing Olympic themes into sales-trade shows and conferences, linking with Olympic hopefuls and legends to ignite and excite stakeholders, and tapping into the excitement of the 2016 games.

2. Employ rigorous focus on the goal line
Companies should leverage the Olympic platform and assets to support existing company and brand goals—from driving brand reputation to deepening existing and expanding new stakeholder relations, entering new territories and industries, and strengthening thought leadership by example. Many times, companies see the Olympics as primarily a consumer play, but we've seen the power of the rings affect real business, brand and bottom-line goals across business-to-business and business-to-consumer work. Aligning with the company's short-, mid- and long-term goals from the outset and then determining how best to leverage the Olympics to drive desired results will make the asset work harder and provide efficiencies across resources and efforts. 

3. Define your lane
How does your brand authentically fit into the Olympic narrative? How do you avoid being just another sponsor in a sea of sponsors? The most successful campaigns take the time and effort to develop and nurture an ownable and authentic platform that will allow for breakthrough initiatives across all channels and stakeholders. Not everything needs to be tied to the athletes and their performance on the field of play. In fact, some of the more robust storylines and authentic brand integrations come from noncompetition areas. P&G's "Thank You Moms" campaign is a great example of this and heralded as the gold standard within the Olympic world.

4. Keep storytelling at the center
The London games were dubbed the "most digital," Sochi the "most social," but Rio very well might be the "most shared." Where will we be in 2020 given that four years is essentially a lifetime in today's world? With Japan being one of the most tech-savvy countries—reflected in part by its plans for robotic technology at the Games—we certainly could be looking at the 2020 Olympics in Japan as the "most futuristic" games. As brands continue to explore new platforms and mediums to communicate and connect with audiences, the Olympics can provide a robust and rich storytelling backdrop to infuse in a brand's content and storytelling strategy and marketing mix. 

5. Avoid getting lost in translation
No one wants the "ugly American" moniker for not taking the time to understand and incorporate cultural nuances into planning and programs. While this might sound obvious, there have been some embarrassing situations, and with today's digital landscape, it could easily escalate into an undesirable reputational scenario. To avoid getting lost in translation, marketers should align with the priorities of the Tokyo Games and the Olympic ideals and fully understand Japan and its people, and very importantly, the legacy of the games in the country. 

The 2020 Summer Olympics will be here before you know it, and there is a strong likelihood that the most brands in history will be looking to navigate the cluttered and futuristic Olympic landscape. It is therefore as important as ever for companies to get—and stay—in game shape early.

Mary Scott is president, sports & experiential at United Entertainment Group.