Business Lessons from the Olympics

When I was a kid, I didn’t really pay much attention to the Olympics. It was a bunch of people from countries I’d never heard of playing sports I didn’t care about. No thanks.

As an adult, I’ve developed a much greater appreciation for the Games. The dedication, the unparalleled excellence of the athletes. Knowing that you are seeing people push the human body to its absolute extreme, at a level that 99.9% of the world couldn’t dream of, is just amazing.

Business Lessons Learned at the Olympics

As a non-athletic lump of a human, I love the Olympics on a basic “wow” level. But as a guy who runs a small business, I have another level of appreciation for the Games. They are always full of business lessons. Here’s a few.

  1. Aim for your target. Of course, the Olympics are more than just the games. We cheer for our country, but even more, we cheer for the individual personalities that move us. NBC understands that… it’s the philosophy behind their coverage of the Games. While I don’t personally like the reality show feel of their coverage, I understand why they’re doing it. They’ve identified an audience and tailored their product to resonate with that audience. Did it work? Time, ratings, and ad revenue will tell. (A second lesson: Just because you’re aiming for one target doesn’t mean you can’t try to hit others. NBC has done a good job providing online coverage of multiple events for fans who want, you know, sports coverage.) Business implication: From what you say to how and where you say it, is your message appropriate for your target prospect?  Are you saying the things you want to say, or the things they need to hear?
  2. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder. As my wife and I watched Shaunae Miller dive to the finish line and deny Allyson Felix a gold medal in the women’s 400m, she turned to me and asked, “can they do that? It doesn’t seem fair!” She’s not alone, plenty of other people grumbled about the dive. Of course, if Felix had been the one diving across the finish line to claim a gold medal for the US, would we be grumbling? Probably not. Business implication: Equitable treatment matters. For instance, you may think you’re doing a great thing by offering an exclusive promotion for new customers, but what message are you sending to your long-time brand loyalists?
  3. Be human. When Simone Biles and Aly Raisman took gold and silver in the floor routine, they proved their dominance in their sport once again (as though there had been some doubt). But when they were interviewed by Bob Costas afterwards, their banter was a good reminder that hey, they’re human. They are a couple of young women who, in addition to being elite athletes, can’t wait to have some pizza and fries and think Zac Efron is really cute. Was it light on substance? Yes. Was it light on personality? No. Business implication: Even in a B2B setting, people buy from people. The most technically proficient people in the world are still going to fall short if they aren’t relatable. Giving your customers a glimpse of who you really are goes a long way in strengthening relationships.
  4. Know when to shut up. You know those moments when you say something you wish you hadn’t said? And then you go and repeat it, trying to save face? Like Al Trautwig suggesting that Sanne Wevers was writing in her diary after finishing her balance beam routine. Even after fellow commentator Nastia Liukin pointed out that Wevers was actually calculating her score, Trautwig stuck to his guns with a second diary comment. That understandably rubbed some people the wrong way. Business implication: Everyone makes mistakes. It’s important to be able to recognize them, acknowledge them, apologize if necessary, and move on. If your pride won’t let you do that, find someone else who can be the face of your company. We’re all one well-publicized gaffe away from having to find a new job.

As the Games wind down over the next few days, it’s back to reality. That includes making sure you are at the top of your game when it comes to marketing yourself. Your customers are the ones holding the scorecards… how well will you perform?


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